16 Books that Every Future Change Maker Should Read

Inspired by our Critical Issues programs, which aim to help our students become future change makers, we reached out to Rustic Pathways staff to see what books they would recommend.

We asked them which books had the most profound impact on the way they think and act. And we got a ton of responses. So many that we’re breaking this list into multiple posts, so stay tuned. We’re starting with nonfiction.

A lot of books have impacted my life, but one that I think about a lot is Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Self-awareness, and more specifically, understanding the way you think is key if you are going to make change in any realm. As someone who gets really excited and passionate about things, the “thinking fast” part comes easily. This book continues to help me be a little more analytical in my thought process. In other words, it helps me with the “thinking slow” part. Even after a few years, the anecdotes from this book constantly remind me to stop and recognize when a decision is emotional, rather than rational, and to check my assumptions before I dive into something.

2. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
| Kate Lubina, Dominican Republic Country Manager
I’m grateful to be surrounded by fun, smart, strong female friends who exchange advice about how to live and be our best selves. A lot of that advice comes in the form of sharing articles and books. I was on vacation recently with a group of current and former Rustic Pathways colleagues and we passed this short but impactful book around amongst us, each devouring it quicker than the last so we could participate in the impromptu book club we were creating on the beach. Though the title includes the words “Feminist” and “Manifesto,” which might imply this book is very academic or might be off-putting to some people in some way, it’s actually a beautiful letter from Adichie to her friend about how to raise a daughter. It’s advice I think everyone, male or female, young or old, parents or not, could benefit from hearing. For me, this book is a great reminder of the humanity we all share, how important it is to listen to the perspectives of others, and the need to continue fighting for basic rights like gender equality.

3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
| Jen Whalen, Travel Logistics Manager
This is one of the only books in my life that I truly wish I had read sooner! I am more proactive, organized and goal-focused because I have followed the guidance in these pages. As well as offering excellent tips for streamlining my internal processes, the author gives suggestions for working through difficult external relationships like becoming a better listener and team player. I found the book to simply be a practical, user-friendly guide for how to be a better human being.

4. The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz
| Andrea Bouch, Rustic Pathways Foundation Executive Director
One of the foundational books about social entrepreneurship, this book is a must read for anyone interested in making a positive impact in the world. Jacqueline Novogratz is the founder of Acumen and a leader in the social impact sector. Hearing the stories and experiences that shaped her career is truly inspiring.

5. The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman
| Stephanie Sadler-Drake, Financial Administration Manager
One of the best books I’ve ever read and super relevant in today’s world. The book is basically an investigation into how globalization (with consequences across the whole socioeconomic spectrum: politics, finance, health care, economics, etc.) affect nations and cultures around the world. This book showed me how the world really works and how to think critically about the big picture.

6. Bossypants by Tina Fey
| Patrick Ziemnik, Tanzania Country Director
A fascinating look from someone who has developed a highly-intentional leadership style. Tina Fey is often credited by others with turning around the reportedly hyper-competitive, backbiting culture at SNL to a collaborative and supportive one, ushering in a new wave of commercial and artistic success for the legendary show. Her lessons from improv and her ability to balance employee needs and strengths with a clear team vision serves as a masterclass in effective leadership. Also, she’s hilarious.

7. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
| Amanda Cortes, China Country Director
This book is not your typical book about the steps one takes to make change. It’s not a how-to manual or a self-help book in the classic sense, and it feels strange to have it listed directly after a book by a comedian. That said, I can’t think of anything more important for our students to read. It’s an extremely powerful book that takes the form of a letter from Coates to his young son explaining what life is like as a black man in the United States. It’s very personal in that Coates writes about his own life experiences in order to help us understand the history and present state of racism in the United States. While the book’s lessons about race are the most important takeaway, it’s also valuable for our students, future change makers, to see how personal stories can illustrate broad concepts in a way that captures people’s attention and makes them care.

8. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
| Dave Dennis, Safety and Risk Management Director
This is one of the most influential books I’ve read and return to it often. I first opened “Start with Why” during a pinnacle period in my life as I was figuring out how I wanted to advance my career. I’ve since shared this book with everyone I encounter that is looking to find clarity in their life journey. Simply put, whenever a job or other life pursuit becomes an extension of a personal passion or connection, there are no boundaries. Sinek also gave a TedTalk about his book.

9. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
| Lauren Anderson, Director of Program Staffing and Training
Sometimes the most complex problems and failures can be solved with the simplest of tools – a checklist! From pilots, to surgeons, to Walmart and Hurricane Katrina, Atul Gawande looks at the role of checklists across industries and organizations. Whenever I am trying to solve a tricky problem or make a process more efficient, I always come back to the principles of teamwork, communication, simplicity, and autonomy addressed in this book.

10. The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis
| Kevin Porter, Global Program Operations Director
Davis explores and celebrates the contributions of ancient cultures in answering fundamental questions of human purpose. The book also acts as an elegy for the 3,500+ languages that stand to go extinct in our lifetimes and the irrecoverable loss of knowledge and understanding associated with that tragic phenomenon. In highlighting lost or vulnerable wisdom, the reader is forced to confront their own (mis)conceptions of “progress” and what it is that our cultures are driving, and indeed striving, toward.

11. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
| Ellery Rosin, Program Staffing Assistant
A beautiful, captivating autobiography of a Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia in the midst of civil war, moved around the Horn of Africa and East Africa while growing up, and eventually fled to the Netherlands seeking asylum, later becoming a member of Parliament. Ali’s is an inspiring coming of age story that explores Islam, feminism, and personal development. This is the first book that showed me the human side of Islam. It shows how a female growing up in a Muslim society experiences the universal struggles of growing up and becoming your own person, challenging the belief system you learned from your family and community, but it also shows the very real and more unique dangers and challenges of growing up in the Horn of Africa and trying to get asylum.

12. A Brief Guide to World Domination (essay) and The Art of Non-Conformity (book) by Chris Guillebeau
| Aimee Gunn, Fiji Program Manager
I read both of these in college at the beginning of figuring out a direction in my life and recognizing my traveling dreams. Both pieces pushed me to think beyond what I know and allowed me to broaden my ideas of the way “life should be.” They laid out simple, straight forward ideas that pushed me to set goals and challenge myself beyond my expectations of what was possible.

13. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
| Carly Caldrone, Gap Year Administrator
I consider Brene Brown to be my own virtual therapist; I turn to the lessons in this book often when faced with challenges or situations that scare me. She kicks off the book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, “It’s not the critic who counts” and she goes on to explain how vulnerability is the most vital component for living an authentic, wholehearted life. Being “all in” is the best gift we can ever give ourselves. I constantly catch myself when I know I’m not being authentic or true to my values, and have begun to notice in others as well. Family is messy, friendships are messy, being a parent is messy – the lessons in this book have changed the way I think, act, and approach relationships in all these areas of my life.

14. Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith
| Lauren Alvarez, School Partnerships Manager
Ted Dintersmith, a venture capitalist, traveled to all 50 states to learn about the state of education and how schools are innovating for the next generation of yet uninvented jobs. With Tony Wagner, a thought leader in education, he wrote this book (and a documentary of the same name) to discuss their findings and how we can prepare students for work and life. This book challenges your assumptions about education structure, learning, and the skills we will need in the future. This book has completely permeated my life in so many ways – in the way I approach my job, and the way I explore the world with my child, and in how I talk to young people about their futures. This book is challenging and will change the way you think about learning.

15. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Cheryl WuDunn
| Anna Lugosch-Ecker, Vice President of Sales
Through stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.

16. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
| Alyssa DeAngelis, Personal Travel Advisor
Confession: I haven’t finished this book, but I still want to add it to this list. Duhigg focuses on reprogramming your mind to get rid of bad habits and routines. What I found most interesting is how the book claims the only way to make the change permanent is to add in support from a group or community. I think that we hear about these famous heroes who have impacted our world and it seems like they did it all on their own. While some did, it’s more true that most change makers are surrounded by people who support them, which is a great lesson for future change makers. The book also gets at the idea that shared experiences make it possible to believe you can change. I think Rustic Pathways experiences often do this for our students.