Like last year, we’re excited to publish a year-end list of our favorite courageous reads of 2015! Use the index below to see books under each topic (the order is random).
Best of 2015 for Everyone
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden? Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward. #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER
The Road to Character
by David Brooks
In The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Brooks challenges us, and himself, to re-balance the scales between our “résumé virtues”—achieving wealth, fame, and status—and our “eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed. Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how they have built a strong inner character. Blending psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional, The Road to Character provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth. #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
by Brene Brown
As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort. Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. The rising strong process is always the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, until it becomes a practice and creates a revolution in our lives. Rising strong is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
The Light of the World: A Memoir
by Elizabeth Alexander
In The Light of the World, acclaimed poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist Elizabeth Alexander finds herself at an existential crossroads after the sudden death of her husband. Channeling her poetic sensibilities into a rich, lucid price, Alexander tells a love story that is, itself, a story of loss. As she reflects on the beauty of her married life, the trauma resulting from her husband’s death, and the solace found in caring for her two teenage sons, Alexander universalizes a very personal quest for meaning and acceptance in the wake of loss. The Light of the World is at once an endlessly compelling memoir and a deeply felt meditation on the blessings of love, family, art, and community. NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness
by Mark Nepo
In the midst of our most trying circumstances lives a miraculous gift—a healing process that shapes our journey of becoming our better, more wholehearted selves. With Inside the Miracle, Mark Nepo offers a collection of poems, reflections, and essays that explore how we can inhabit the endless reservoir of aliveness that abides within our most difficult challenges. Speaking with the authenticity and compassion of one who’s been there, Mark relates his own journey through cancer to share hard-earned lessons for everyday living. For anyone grappling with serious illness or a dramatic life transition, these wise teachings help us access the courage and grace to face our situation “head-on and heart-on,” one step at a time.
A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life
by Brian Grazer
For decades, film and TV producer Brian Grazer has scheduled a weekly “curiosity conversation” with an accomplished stranger. From scientists to spies, and adventurers to business leaders, Grazer has met with anyone willing to answer his questions for a few hours. These informal discussions sparked the creative inspiration behind many of Grazer’s movies and TV shows. A Curious Mind is a brilliantly entertaining, fascinating, and inspiring homage to the power of inquisitiveness and the ways in which it deepens and improves us. NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert
From the worldwide bestselling author of Eat Pray Love comes a new book on the path to a vibrant, fulfilling life. Elizabeth Gilbert digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy. #1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
Can’t Not Do
by Paul Shoemaker
With so many social challenges facing our world, trying to effect change feels daunting. Yet, every day there are regular heroes making a significant impact on our most intractable social issues. “Can’t Not Do” is a catchphrase for the urge that captures the heart of effective social change agents—explaining, in their own words, their passion and drive: “I can’t not do this.” “It’s not that I can do this, it’s that I can’t not.” If you feel an internal, persistent call to do more for the world, Can’t Not Do will help you to bridge the gap between “wanting to do” and “doing”—to access the drive of an effective change agent, to break through self-imposed barriers, to learn key principles for success, and to start seeing yourself acting as a change agent.
by Oliver Sacks
No writer has succeeded in capturing the medical and human drama of illness as honestly and as eloquently as Oliver Sacks. During the last few months of his life before he passed away in August 2015, he wrote a set of essays in which he movingly explored his feelings about completing a life and coming to terms with his own death. “It is the fate of every human being,” Sacks writes, “to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. ”Together, these four essays form an ode to the uniqueness of each human being and to gratitude for the gift of life.
This is Woman’s Work: Calling Forth Your Inner Council of Wise, Brave, Crazy, Rebellious, Loving, Luminous Selves
by Dominique Christina
“A woman’s work is to define herself,” writes award-winning slam poet Dominique Christina. While this task is important for everybody, Dominique says, “There is an urgency for women. When you have inherited a construct that names, describes, and practices an ideology that women are somehow less important, less necessary, then the work of defining yourself carries with it a kind of fury.” This Is Woman’s Work introduces us to our council of inner women, delving into the secret wisdom of the Willing Woman, the Rebel, the Shapeshifter, the Warrior, and more. Dominique helps us make an intimate connection with each inner woman so we may integrate their voices, realize their wisdom, and open ourselves to our full expression and power.
Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
by Sherry Turkle
Renowned media scholar Sherry Turkle investigates how a flight from conversation undermines our relationships, creativity, and productivity—and why reclaiming face-to-face conversation can help us regain lost ground. We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and the workplace, Turkle argues that we have come to a better understanding of where our technology can and cannot take us and that the time is right to reclaim conversation. The most human—and humanizing—thing that we do.
Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently
by Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur
When asked about their biggest challenges at work, employees all cite a common problem: other people. This response reflects the way we have been taught to focus on the gulfs between us rather than valuing our intellectual diversity—that is, the ways in which each of us is uniquely gifted, how we process information and frame questions, what kind of things deplete us, and what engages and inspires us. Through a series of practices and strategies, the authors teach us how to recognize our own mind patterns and map the talents of our teams, with the goal of embarking together on an aligned course of action and influence. Collaborative Intelligence is the culmination of more than fifty years of original research that draws on Dawna Markova’s background in cognitive neuroscience, and her work with Angie McArthur, a “Professional Thinking Partner” to some of the world’s top CEOs and creative professionals.
The Givenness of Things: Essays
by Marilynne Robinson
The spirit of our times can appear to be one of joyless urgency. As a culture we have become less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind, and more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield material well-being. But while cultural pessimism is always fashionable, there is still much to give us hope. In The Givenness of Things, the incomparable Marilynne Robinson delivers an impassioned critique of our contemporary society while arguing that reverence must be given to who we are and what we are: creatures of singular interest and value, despite our errors and depredations. Exquisite and bold, The Givenness of Things is a necessary call for us to find wisdom and guidance in our cultural heritage, and to offer grace to one another.
The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
by Francis Weller
Noted psychotherapist Francis Weller provides an essential guide for navigating the deep waters of sorrow and loss in this lyrical yet practical handbook for mastering the art of grieving. Describing how Western patterns of amnesia and anesthesia affect our capacity to cope with personal and collective sorrows, Weller reveals the new vitality we may encounter when we welcome, rather than fear, the pain of loss. Through moving personal stories, poetry, and insightful reflections he leads us into the central energy of sorrow, and to the profound healing and heightened communion with each other and our planet that reside alongside it.
Best of 2015 in Poetry
by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, celebrates love in her new collection of poems. “If I have any secret stash of poems, anywhere, it might be about love, not anger,” Mary Oliver once said in an interview. Finally, in her stunning new collection, Felicity, we can immerse ourselves in Oliver’s love poems. Here, great happiness abounds. Our most delicate chronicler of physical landscape, Oliver has described her work as loving the world. With Felicity she examines what it means to love another person. She opens our eyes again to the territory within our own hearts; to the wild and to the quiet. In these poems, she describes—with joy—the strangeness and wonder of human connection. As in Blue Horses, Dog Songs, and A Thousand Mornings, with Felicity Oliver honors love, life, and beauty.
The Everywhere Oracle: A Guided Journey Through Poetry for an Ensouled World
by Caryl Ann Casbon
The poems in this collection serve as a witness to the outpouring of grace and guidance available to everyone, everywhere, every day. They celebrate how to listen for the intricate moments of synchronicity and meaning permeating our surroundings, friendships, and experiences in nature. They acknowledge the important role questions play in our development. Finally, they examine the complexities and paradoxes of the change process, including moments of confronting our shadows, resisting change, and growing through its ongoing alchemy of transformation in our lives. THE EVERYWHERE ORACLE is unique for a collection of poetry in two distinct ways. First, by nature, these poems are accessible. Second, the book offers a “user’s guide” in the Appendix. Using the questions written for each poem, readers are encouraged to find their own relationship to the stories and themes, as well as create soulful community dialogue with others. Order THE EVERYWHERE ORACLE JOURNAL as a companion
So Much Beauty
by Marcia Eames-Sheavly
This fine collection by Marcia Eames-Sheavly brings into sharp focus what it means to be a daughter to a dying mother. This is surely a landscape of loss as Eames-Sheavly travels the back roads of Central New York to be with her mother through assisted living and then hospice care. Plants and birds and a deep well of faith reassure Eames-Sheavly and her mother on her mother’s final journey. These poems touch on how we choose to make sense of the time we have left with a loved one. Eames-Sheavly gives us stepping stones of grace on the unfamiliar path. Click here to read a blog article about the book
In The Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax
by Robert Lax, edited by
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
by Ross GayCatalog of Unabashed Gratitude is a sustained meditation on that which goes away—loved ones, the seasons, the earth as we know it—that tries to find solace in the processes of the garden and the orchard. That is, this is a book that studies the wisdom of the garden and orchard, those places where all—death, sorrow, loss—is converted into what might, with patience, nourish us. The American Poetry Review writes, “I’m bowled over by how Ross Gay reaches again and again toward stating what’s beautiful, what’s sweet, what’s most emotionally moving to him: he is genuinely ‘unabashed.’ He is definitely interested in the sentimental, but the poems don’t feel remotely treacly to me. They feel bold and wild and weird.”
Best of 2015 in Leadership
Becoming a Leader is Becoming Yourself
by Russ Moxley
People yearn for leaders who are authentic, who show their own face and not a game face, who find and use their voice in appropriate ways and act with a tangible sense of integrity. Those who engage in the process of leadership want to do so as our true self. But staying true to one’s self is not easy. We are continually moving in and out of authenticity. We are present one moment and absent the next. We often say “yes” when we want to say “no.” We act from our core values some of the time, but give them a wink when the heat is on. There is no formula for being integral and authentic. Becoming and being ourselves requires confidence and courage. Drawing on his 40 years in leadership training, Russ Moxley discusses the things we can do along the way—recognizing our strengths and limitations, speaking truth to power, trusting our companions—as we strive to fulfill our leadership potential. Click here for an excerpt from Moxley’s book
Wayfinding Leadership: Ground-breaking for Developing Leaders
Dr Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and John Panoho
This book presents a new way of leading by looking to traditional waka navigators or wayfinders for the skills and behaviours needed in modern leaders. It takes readers on a journey into wayfinding and leading, discussing principles of wayfinding philosophy, giving examples of how these have been applied in businesses and communities, and providing action points for readers to practise and reflect on the skills they are learning.
Best of 2015 in Education
The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools?
by Dale Russakoff
When Mark Zuckerberg announced to a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the downtrodden schools of Newark, New Jersey, then mayor Cory Booker and Governor Chris Christie were beside him, vowing to help make Newark “a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation.” But their plans soon ran into the city’s seasoned education players, fierce protectors of their billion-dollar-a-year system. It’s a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark’s children. Dale Russakoff delivers a riveting drama of our times, encompassing the rise of celebrity politics, big philanthropy, extreme economic inequality, the charter school movement, and the struggles and triumphs of schools in one of the nation’s poorest cities. The Prize is an absorbing portrait of a titanic struggle, indispensable for anyone who cares about the future of public education and the nation’s children. NEW YORK TIMES Bestseller
Designing Transformative Multicultural Initiatives: Theoretical Foundations, Practical Applications, and Facilitator Considerations
edited by Sherry K. Watt
Higher education is facing a perfect storm as it contends with changing demographics, shrinking budgets and concerns about access and cost, while underrepresented groups are voicing dissatisfaction with campus climate and demanding changes to structural inequities. This book argues that colleges and universities need both to centralize the value of diversity and inclusion and employ a set of strategies that are enacted at all levels of their institutions. It argues that individual and institutional change efforts can only be achieved by implementing “diversity as a value” – that is embracing social change efforts as central and additive rather than episodic and required – and provides the research and theoretical frameworks to support this approach, as well as tools and examples of practice that accomplish change.
Best of 2015 in Health Care
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande
Although this was published in late 2014, we still wanted to include it on this list. In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. In the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of modern medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.
Best of 2015 in Faith & Spirituality
Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe
by Erin S. Lane
“The thing I am most desperate to keep you from finding out about me is . . . I want to belong, but I do not know how.” There was a time when being a part of a church was not a decision you made but a reality you inhabited. But today belonging to the church has become a lost art, especially for millennials whose church experience is often summed up in one word: none. Erin Lane’s church experience might be better described in two words: “It’s complicated.” Having grown up in a church, she has an appreciation for liturgy and covenant community. Having graduated from divinity school and taken a job in spiritual formation, she appreciates the structured, shared pursuit of theological and spiritual integrity. Having married a pastor, she sort of had church coming. Yet she wasn’t always sure how to belong. With earnest persistence, Erin practiced the hard (and often surprising) lessons of community. Her story is an invitation to reclaim God’s promise of inclusion and live like we belong to one another. Click here to read an excerpt from the book
Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change
by Pema Chödrön
Is it possible to live well when the very ground we stand on is shaky? Yes, says everyone’s favorite Buddhist nun, it’s even possible to live beautifully, compassionately, and happily on shaky ground–the secret being that the ground is always shaky beneath us, and everyone who has ever learned to be happy has done so with that understanding. Pema Chödrön presents a simple Buddhist practice that we can use to commit ourselves to a life of profound sanity, even when it seems like there’s only nonsanity all around us. Using this practice, called the Three Commitments, can really change things.
Personality and Place: The Life and Times of Pendle Hill
by Douglas Gwyn
Pendle Hill is a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. Founded in 1930, it has been a resource for Quakers (Friends) and a variety of other religious seekers, to refresh their spirits and discern new directions of service in the world. The center has maintained a prophetic witness to the world through lectures, workshops, conferences and publications that critique modern trends of militarism, racism, and a variety of social and economic injustices. At the same time, the Pendle Hill community models more peaceful, equal and sustainable patterns of living. This book follows Pendle Hill’s development through its first 80 years, showing how the center has been shaped by wider social and religious trends, while simultaneously offering prophetic alternatives to some of them.