15 Books that will Change How You See the World

What the global service and development crowd is reading

Warm weather is here in many parts of the world and, with it, summer reading season.

Looking for something more thought-provoking than the normal beach-side offerings? If so, you’ll enjoy this list of 15 books recommended by some of our partners and friends, here at OLAM. We asked for their top picks related to service and international development – books that have inspired, challenged and changed them.

Micha Odenheimer’s Top Picks

Micha Odenheimer - Copy

Rabbi Micha Odenheimer is the founder and director of Tevel b’Tzedek.

Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible by Ellen Davis – One of the best books about the Torah I have ever read. Shows how the Bible’s supremely relevant in principle, though not necessarily in the details of practice, to questions of economic and environmental justice today.

Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Your Heart Knows is Possible by Charles Eisenstein – Super inspiring and thought-provoking. Advocates for a complete and radical change of the story of human civilization, away from a narrative of scarcity and separation to one of abundance and reunion.

Kabbalah and Psychoanalysis by Michael Eigen – You don’t have to be a Kabbalist or an analyst to gain immensely from this book by someone who has spent a lifetime contemplating the turbulence and mysteries of the human soul, which is, after all, what everything we are doing is about.

The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkenson and Kate Pickett – Analyzes huge amounts of data to show how societies that are more equal “almost always do better” in measures of physical and mental health, violence, and many other areas. Imagine how good a more equitable WORLD would be?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry – This book about the caste system, untouchables and the slums of Mumbai during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in the 1970’s is, to my mind, one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s been translated into Hebrew too. Not for the weak of heart.

Aliza Inbal’s Top Picks

Aliza Inbal - Copy

Dr. Aliza Belman Inbal is Director of the Pears Program for Global Innovation at Tel Aviv University.

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoğlu and James A. Robinson – Provides a really convincing explanation of why some countries developed rapidly and others were left behind.

Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo – Don’t let the word “economics” scare you. It’s about why poor people behave in ways we think are irrational, but really aren’t.

The Black Man’s Burden by Basil Davidson – Traces the roots of corrupt African regimes of today (although things are getting much better in most places over the past decade or so) to the evils of colonialism.

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen – My favorite economist of all time. Asks the question: How do we define poverty and what do we mean when we talk about ending poverty?

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C. K. Prahalad – Our Bible at the Pears Program for Global Innovation.

Shmuly Yanklowitz’s Top Picks

Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz 1

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of Valley Beit Midrash and the Founder and President of Uri L’Tzedek.

Dignity of Difference by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – It was enriching to explore the ethics of globalization and opportunities for religious co-existence from one of the leading Jewish public intellectuals of our time.

Spiritual Activism by Rabbi Avi Weiss – I found it inspiring and meaningful to learn the art and principles of protest from one of the great activists of our time.

The Sabbath by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – This masterpiece reminded me how important ritual and spirituality is for global transformation.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder – Farmer is a role model for how we cannot just change systems but must invest our own lives in the struggle to support the most vulnerable on our planet.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof – This book reminded me that addressing the plight of girls and women worldwide is of central importance to addressing global poverty and inequality.