25+ Books for Transforming Work & Our World

With the arrival of National Book Month, it is a perfect time to pay tribute to those whose ideas are inspiring the transformation of our lives, our work, and our world. As the daily headlines remind us, ours is a world that requires new paradigms, mindsets, and approaches to create foundations for our businesses, personal and professional lives, and approaches to challenges at home and around the world. That means ensuring we have the brightest minds and a diverse range of voices shaping these conversations — many of which have been excluded throughout history simply because they are those of women.

It is still common for women to be given less public space, publicity, and support for their ideas. And, yet, from working to change our overarching narratives to revisting business, economics, technology and leadership to drawing attention to shared challenges like the climate crisis and inequality to thinking about wellbeing, female thought leaders are expanding our collective horizons and forging important new frontiers. Here is a collection of some of these women’s books from the past five years. Many are known and recognized while others are less so. And, there are far more than I can list that are worthy of our attention.[1]

Please share and cite this list and these female thought leaders’ work. Ask for permission to use it and compensate and fund them where appropriate.[2] As always, do your own due diligence and form your own views. This is not an endorsement of the range of ideas shared here, which I continue to learn about myself, but is rather an invitation to explore.

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist–Kate Raworth (Random House, 2017)(Financial Times Best Book and 800-CEO-Reads Best Book) Based on the premise that what is taught in economics shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, business people, and entrepreneurs, and therefore shapes our societies economist Raworth sets out seven key ways to fundamentally reframe our understanding of what economics is and does. At the heart of this is shifting our mindsets to live inside the space within which we can meet the needs of all while remaining within the means of the planet or the “doughnut”. “Raworth’s magnum opus. . . . A fascinating reminder to business leaders and economists alike to stand back at a distance to examine our modern economics.”―Forbes

Renewal: From Crisis to Transformation in Our Lives, Work, and Politics — Anne Marie Slaughter (Princeton University Press, 2021) (Porchlight Business Book Awards) Anne-Marie Slaughter’s candid and deeply personal account of how her own odyssey opened the door to an important new understanding of how we as individuals, organizations, and nations can move backward and forward at the same time, facing the past and embracing a new future. She connects her experience to our national crisis of identity and values as the country looks into a four-hundred-year-old mirror and tries to confront and accept its full reflection. “An illuminating synthesis of reflection, reckoning, and aspiration about what America has been and what it can be…” — Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn

Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World — Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston (Public Affairs/ Hachette, 2018) (Axiom Business Book Awards Gold Medal and a Success Magazine Best Book) Type R introduces the concept of transformative resilience, drawing on science, neuroscience, psychology, business, social impact and more to demonstrate how to use challenges as a source of growth, innovation, and new strengths. Through research and stories that touch on purpose-driven business and tech, climate, economic upheaval, health crises, racism and gender bias, it illuminates how we must begin to shift our paradigms and mindsets to transform the challenges of our time from the personal and professional, to the individual and collective, local and global. “An impressive step towards reimagining how we live, work, and lead, going beyond past thinking to draw on research and a brave new vision for the future to help guide us to success in our complex world.” Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, and Former President of Ireland.

Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want — Ruha Benjamin (Princeton University Press, 2022) Part manifesto, part memoir, in Viral Justice, Ruha Benjamin, Princeton sociologist and professor of African American Studies, offers a framework to understand the ways in which our everyday choices can add up to societal growth. Born out of the Covid pandemic and reflections on anti-Blackness and police violence, she reflects on her own family’s experience of confronting the impacts of the stress of racism and the criminal justice system. And, she ultimately looks at how we transform our relationships and communities, and build a more just and joyful world. “A book as urgent as the moment that produced it.” — Jelani Cobb, Dean of the Columbia University Journalism School

Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change — Stacey Abrams (Henry Holt & Co, 2018) (NY Times Bestseller) This book captures hard won insights from Abrams’ career in politics, business, and the non-profit sectors- namely that differences in race, gender, and class provide vital strength, which are an asset and can be harnessed for leadership and creating lasting change. She looks at how ambition, fear, money, and failure function in leadership, while offering personal stories that illuminate practical strategies and includes exercises to hone your skills. “Minority Leader is a special book with a special mission: to push ALL people to know that their greatness and worthiness is a birthright. Stacey’s story is not just uplifting, but instructional as well.” — Wes Moore, CEO Robinhood

Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World — Jacqueline Novogratz (Henry Holt & Co, 2020) (Longlisted for Porchlight Business Book of the Year Award) Drawing on inspiring stories from change-makers around the world and on her own experiences, Novogratz, former investment banker and Acumen founder, reflects on leadership mistakes and the mind-sets needed to rise above them. This book offers insights for those seeking to leave the world a better place whether working in business or the social sector. “Novogratz introduces the quiet warriors for a better world, and shows how each of us can be part of the moral revolution, starting today.”―Arthur C Brooks, president emeritus, American Enterprise Institute & Professor of Practice, Harvard Kennedy School

The Power of Ethics: How to Make Good Choices in a Complicated World — Susan Liautaud with Lisa Sweetingham (Simon & Schuster, 2021) (Axiom Business Book Awards Gold Medal) We are operating in an increasingly complex world. It is one in which ethics are both declining and leaders and people generally are faced with an increasing number of new ethical questions and gray zones. This book looks at how ethics can create a sea change of positive decisions that can ripple outward while explaining the six forces driving virtually every ethical choice we face. “Reading it is a pure joy.”- Michael Schur, Creator and Producer of the Good Place

Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons — Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (MIT Press, 2022) Women make up less than ten percent of national leaders around the world. Through conversations with some of the world’s most powerful and interesting women- the authors- Australia’s former Prime Minister and Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, explore gender bias and ask why there aren’t more women in leadership roles. The book is a rare insight into life as a leader and a powerful ‘call to arms’. “This book is worth reading for the insights into these remarkable women — a dream dinner party guest lis — but the authors also examine the statistics, the biases (conscious and unconscious) and the structural obstacles that face women.” — Natasha Stott Despoja, Sydney Morning Herald

The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future — Orly Lobel (Public Affairs, 2022) Lobel, a labor rights law professor and tech specialist, details the opportunities as well as the discrimination engendered by new technology, especially artificial intelligence. She reflects on the ways that technology can be lifesaving as well as the perils that come with it and argues that the problems of technology preceed progress. Orly Lobel shows how a smart architecting of our technical environment can make us better humans, in a healthier environment. This is critical thinking and insight when — and where — we need it most.” — Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard University

Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good — Ann Mei Chang (Wiley, 2019) (Porchlight Books Bestseller) Inspired by the modern innovation practices, popularized by The Lean Startup, Lean Impact turns our attention to social good. Ann Mei Chang brings a unique perspective from across sectors, drawing upon her years as a tech executive in Silicon Valley to her recent experience as the Chief Innovation Officer at USAID. She illustrates the book with real stories from interviews with over 200 organizations across the US and around the world. “Ann Mei’s call to embrace innovation to advance the cause of social justice will help reshape the way we think about fighting inequity around the world.” — Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President, The Rockefeller Foundation

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design — Kat Holmes (MIT Press, 2020) (800-CEO-Read Awards) Holmes shows how inclusion can be a source of innovation and growth, especially for digital technologies. It can be a catalyst for creativity and a boost for the bottom line. And she argues that each time we remedy a mismatched interaction, we create an opportunity for more people to contribute to society in meaningful ways. “Kat Holmes shows us how to make inclusion a source of innovation. An important read for anyone who aspires to build great products for the greatest number of people.” — Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism — Mariana Mazzucato (Harper Collins, 2021)(Porchlight Business Books Long List) In this book Mazucatto draws on her experience as an internationally renowned economist and founding director of the University College of London Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. She argues that to solve the crises facing us, we need to think bigger and mobilize our resources in a way that is as bold as inspirational as the moon landing— we must use collaborative, mission-oriented thinking bringing together partnerships across sectors that share both risks as well as the rewards of innovation and technology. “The debates Mazzucato has been trying to open for years are now unavoidable. So let’s have them.” — Ezra Klein

Build the Damn Thing: How to Start a Successful Business If You’re Not a Rich White Guy — Kathryn Finney (Penguin Random House, 2022) An investor and entrepreneurship champion, Finney’s book is for those striving to build their businesses in a world that has overlooked and underestimated them, providing guidance for knowing, breaking, and building their own rules of entrepreneurship. She provides guidance from developing a business plan to finding investors and growing a team. “Finney is the mentor every founder needs. Her irreverent, pragmatic, personal advice shows entrepreneurs from all backgrounds how to win a seat at the table.” — Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures

Impact Imperative: Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investing to Transform the Future — Pamela Ryan (Greenleaf Book Group, 2019)(Axiom Business Book Awards Gold Medal) Impact Imperative stems from consultations with over 130 people working in the impact investment and innovation space. It shares insights from these conversations, reflecting on how we define impact as well as the varied roles for an ecosystem of designers, entrepreneurs, investors, influencers and philanthropists. And Ryan looks at a handful of scenarios we may be facing in the coming decades as these various players look to steer us towards a more hopeful future. “Because of its insights into both human activity and human psychology Impact Imperative has the capacity to trigger change at a very profound level.” — Betty Sue Flowers, PhD, Professor Emerita, University of Texas at Austin

Leapfrog: The New Revolution For Women Entrepreneurs — Nathalie Molina Niño and Sara Grace (Tarcherperigee, 2018) (Porchlight Business Book Awards) Reflecting on her own experience as a tech entrepreneur, investor and an advisor to entrepreneurs at Barnard College, Molina Niño (with writer Grace) looks at what has enabled startups to build from the ground up, reflecting on tips for how to overcome the hurdles faced by those without family money, cultural capital, or connections. “[Leapfrog] is the secret weapon we all need in the face of rich white male privilege to help level the entrepreneurial playing field.” — Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO, MakeLoveNotPorn and AllTheSkyHoldings

Cast: The Origins of Our Discontents — Isabel Wilkerson (Penguin Random House, 2020)(Time Book of the Year + one of NY Times Best Books of the Year) This book looks at the powerful caste system, which Wilkerson, a Pullitzer Prize-winning journalist, argues influences people’s lives, behavior, and the nation’s fate even more so than race and class. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations and shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She looks at how they are connected — for example, the Nazis studying U.S. racial caste systems in their treatment of Jewish people in Europe. And, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions. “Required reading for all humanity.” — Oprah

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the Twenty-First Century — Alice Wong (Ed) (Penguin Random House, 2020)(One of the Progressive’s Best Books of the Year) Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent — but all are underrepresented in the media and much of everyday life. This anthology gives insight into the complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and lives of this diverse community. It educates while reflecting on the past and looking to the future with hope. “Wong’s discerning selections, bolstered by the activism that shines through, will educate and inspire readers.” — Kirkus Reviews

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men — Caroline Criado Pérez (Penguin Random House, 2019)(Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award)Writer and activist Pérez shines light on gender bias and the ways in which women pay the costs for it in time, money, and their lives. The book brings together case studies and new research from across the world that illustrate the ways in which women are excluded from the building blocks of the world we live in. From policy and medical research, to technology, and workplaces, this book focuses on gender biases encapsulated in data, which contributes to the exclusion and undervaluing of women, and makes the urgent case for change. “Invisible Women lays out in impressive detail the many ways that human beings are presumed to be male, as well as the wide-reaching effects of this distorted view of humanity.”―Katha Pollitt, The Nation

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis — Ayana Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson (eds.) (One World, 2021)(A Smithsonian Magazine Best Book of the Year) Curated by two climate leaders, the book is a collection of dozens of diverse women leading on climate in the United States — scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, innovators, wonks, and designers, across generations, geographies, and race — and aims to advance a more representative, nuanced, and solution-oriented public conversation on the climate crisis. These women offer a spectrum of ideas and insights for how we can rapidly, radically reshape society. “A mosaic that honors the complexity of the climate crisis like few, if any, books on the topic have done yet.” Rolling Stone

Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future — Mary Robinson (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) Robinson uses her powerful platform as former President of Ireland, Former UN Climate Envoy and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to reflect on her experiences defining the global agenda and engagement with communities around the world facing the worst impacts, framing it within a human rights and justice. She shares stories of ordinary people whose resilience and ingenuity had already unlocked extraordinary change from Mississippi to rural Uganda. “Robinson makes a powerful and compelling case that the climate crisis is a crisis of humanity, requiring far more than mitigation and adaptation, but a renewed sense of shared destiny.” — Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group

Saving Us — Katherine Hayhoe (Atria/One Signal Publishers, 2021) Hayhoe, chief scientist at The Nature Conservancy, tackles polarization around climate change and the online hate increasingly received by scientists. She argues that facts can only deliver so much change and that we have to find shared to connect our unique identities and create collective action. This book combines science, faith, and human psychology. Drawing on interdisciplinary research and personal stories, Kayhoe shows that small conversations can have astonishing results. “Contains profound insights on human behavior, and it shows us how our conversations can launch us on the journey away from despair toward awareness and engagement.” — Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self — Thema Bryant (TarcherPerigee, 2022) Dr Thema Bryant, the American Psychology Association President-Elect, draws on her experience as a trauma specialist and minister as well as a survivor of sexual assault, racism, and evacuation from a civil war in Liberia in this book. In it she provides guidance for healing and reclaiming ourselves, our voices, and our time. “A wise and empathic guide to (re-)discovering and befriending who you really are, no matter how much you may have drifted away due to stressful and painful life events” — Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy — Jenny O’Dell (Melville House, 2020) (A Porchlight Book of the Year) Writer and Stanford professor Odell questions “what we currently perceive as productive” and focuses on ways to reclaim our attention. She argues that this is our most precious and scarce resource, which we must actively and continuously choose how to use. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress. “She struck a hopeful nerve of possibility that I hadn’t felt in a long time.” — Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker

On Repentance And Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World — Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (Penguin Random House, 2022) While rooted in Judaism, this a book for anyone who cares about creating a country and culture that is more whole than the one in which we live, and for anyone who has been hurt or who is struggling to take responsibility for their mistakes. It focuses on various aspects of repair, including naming and owning harm; starting to change/transformation; restitution and accepting consequences; apology; and making different choices. “A modern and impressive blueprint for confronting and engaging the effects of harm and the potential for reconciliation.” — Sherrilyn Ifill, author of On the Courthouse Lawn

Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World — Sharon Salzberg (Flatiron Books, 2020) From one of most prominent figures in the field of meditation comes a guidebook for using mindfulness to build our inner strength that will ultimately allow us to help creating a better world. Consulting with change-makers in a variety of fields, Salzberg collects and shares wisdom and offers insights to foster transformation in both ourselves and in society. “Inspiring, loving, and empowering. The perfect medicine for these difficult times.” — Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart

· The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America — Ai Jen Poo

· The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times — Jane Goodall

·Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants — Robin Wall Kimmerer

· Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land- Toni Jensen

· The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir — Samantha Power

·The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age — Danielle Keats Citron

· Had I Known — Barbara Ehrenreich

· Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities — Rebecca Solnit

· How to Stay Safe Online: A Digital Self-Care Toolkit for Developing Resilience and Allyship — Seyi Akiwowo

· It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated Into Your Greatest Advantage — Arlan Hamilton and Rachel Nelson

· Mother of Invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men — Katrine Marçal

· My Broken Language: A Memoir — Quiara Alegría Hudes

· The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move — Sonia Shah

·No Choice: The Destruction of Roe V. Wade and the Fight to Protect a Fundamental American Right — Becca Andrews

·No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference — Greta Thunberg

· The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age — Bina Venkataraman

· Poet Warrior: A Memoir — Joy Harjo

· Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change — Morgan Simon

· The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together — Heather McGhee

· Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World- Olga Khazan

· We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

· All About Love- Bell Hooks

· Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance — Angela Duckworth

· If Not Now When: Reclaiming Ourselves at Midlife — Stephanie Marston

· In the Age of the Smart Machine, The Future of Work and Power — Shoshana Zuboff

· The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours — Marian Wright Edelman

· Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — Carol S. Dweck

· Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age — Sherry Turkle

· Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem — Gloria Steinem

· The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home — Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung

· Silent Spring- Rachel Carson

· Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family- Anne Marie Slaughter

· When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times — Pema Chödrön

[1] There are wonderful books by women that fall more in the instructional category whether about business, building community, teams, organizations, or developing careers. As useful and thought-provoking as many of those are, this list largely focuses on shaping discourse, introducing and furthering new ideas as well as sharing a handful of memoirs that bring important issues of leadership or under-represented communities’ experiences to light.

[2] Research has shown that women more frequently have their ideas shared without being credited for those ideas. It is not exclusively done by men, though often is, which has been termed “hepeating”. Anecodatal evidence also suggests that female thought leaders are more frequently asked to present their work at commercial or business events without compensation.

Ama Marston is a mission driven leader and author of TYPE R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World. She is internationally recognized for her work on five continents across a range of policy, social impact, and purpose-driven business issues with leaders like Mary Robinson, first female President of Ireland, FTSE& Fortune 500 companies, the United Nations, and numerous NGOs and philanthropic organizations.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Ama Marston

Ama Marston is an internationally recognized strategist & thought leader & is the author of Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World.