Image: Penguin

Image: Penguin

These days, there are a lot of reasons to want to make a difference: climate catastrophe, a new Civil Rights movement, mental health crises and continuing discussions over LGBTQ rights and representation.

The good news is that there are lots of brilliant books about how we can get involved and make our voices heard, too. Here are some of the best for those who want to educate themselves, then help change the world. 

Becoming: Adapted for Younger Readers by Michelle Obama (2021)

Learning from someone who actually did change the world isn't a bad place to start. Michelle Obama's bestselling triumph of a memoir, Becoming, won acclaim for its candour and inside story of how a girl from the South Side of Chicago ended up becoming the first African-American First Lady. 

While there are details about life inside the White House in Becoming, it's a vital read for young people wanting to make a difference because of Obama's inspirational accounts of her life – from her first kiss, to being First Lady – and what it is to become a crucial part of history. Becoming is a book that makes you think: who are you, and what do you want to become?

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (2019)

American historian Kendi's level-headed opus on issues including intersectionality, colourism and white nationalism became an international bestseller in the summer of 2020, when Black Lives Matter protests erupted around the world following the murder of George Floyd. How To Be an Antiracist is unequivocal, empathetic and essential. Upon its release, The Guardian praised Kendi's book for being 'brilliantly simple"'. As he told last year: "We have to believe in the ability to change in order to bring it about".  

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg (2019)

There is shameful about the fact it took a 16-year-old girl to create true global awareness around the climate catastrophe – doing the work that politicians have failed to do for decades – but Thunberg's message and ethos are inspiring. This collection of 11 of her most rousing of speeches contextualises Thunberg's powerful quotes that have been shared in their thousands on social media. A book that is impossible not to be galvanised by. 

Cheer the F**K Up How to Save your Best Friend by Jack Rooke (2020)

Comedian Jack Rooke's hilariously honest book about his own experience of suicide and mental health may, ostensibly, be about helping that one friend in need, but it contains enough wisdom and kindness to make the whole world a better place. It arrives after several years as an awareness campaigner for CALM and a journalist on the topic for the BBC. Scarlett Curtis calls the book "a memoir that will stand the test of time". 

Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows edited by Christine Burns (2018)

Trans rights continues to be a big topic in politics and popular discourse. This essential 2018 collection of writing gives much needed context and history to the struggle, exploring how activists spent decades on the margins fighting for rights and recognitions that today make mainstream news. It's a perfect guide for those with unanswered questions about the trans community, and has been recommended as vital reading by bestselling YA author Juno Dawson and prominent journalist, presenter and transgender rights activist Paris Lees. 

Brit(ish) On Race, Identity and Belonging, Afua Hirsch (2018)

Journalist and broadcaster Hirsch's debut memoir became a bestseller for its searing examination of race and idenity. Hirsch folds her own fascinating narrative in with that of Britain's Black history. In doing so, she shows how much of the latter has been erased from the country's popular consciousness – and why that needs to change. David Olusoga called it "the book for our divided and dangerous times".

The Courage to Care: A Call for Compassion by Christie Watson (2020)

This year may have seen the country clap for our carers, but there has never been a better time to argue why we all need the power of compassion exemplified by those on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis. Nurse-turned-author Watson returns to the wards where, every day, miracles happen and lives are saved because of the hard work for nurses. It's a book that insists upon the value of it in making the world a better place. 

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)

Seatbelts, iPhones, bricks, PPE, pavements: a mere handful of the everyday objects that are designed with men's bodies in mind. Here the campaigner and activist known for putting Jane Austen on the £10 note explodes the data gap at the heart of every facet of society in an award-winning book. And, if you need proof of it making change, it already has: Criado Perez has consulted on governmental policy around the world to make life more equal.

This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook by Extinction Rebellion (2019)

"By the time you finish this book you will have become an Extinction Rebellion activist", this timely tome promises. Created by the team responsible for bringing climate catastrophe protest to our streets and making the issue mainstream, This Is Not A Drill offers a practical and inspiring guide to acting upon anxiety about the future of the planet.

Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual For a Sexist WorkplaceJessica Bennett (2017)

The #MeToo movement may have opened up conversations about sexual assault, harassment and discrimination, but as Jessica Bennett argues, there's plenty more to change where that came from. She offers practical advice on how to correct unconscious bias and deal with those male colleagues who won't stop interrupting – all with infectious humour. Don't believe me? Ask Sheryl Sandberg, happy to "proudly proclaim myself a card-carrying member of the FFC".

Who Cares Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World by Lily Cole (2020)

It's easy to feel beleagured when it seems like there's so many enormous problems to solve, but Lily Cole makes a convincing case for a sunnier solution: that optimism and care really can change the world. In this useful, uplifting book, Cole takes advice and intel from world-leading thinkers such as Stella McCartney, Farhana Yamin and Gail Bradbrook to establish how to make a positive impact – and be cheerful about what is already happening. 


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