This time last year, we asked some of our favourite pathfinders on psychology and politics what they’ve most enjoyed reading this year, added in a few recommendations of our own, and published a blog with Larger Us’s 2021 books of the year. Lots of people said they liked it, so here’s the 2022 edition. Happy reading!
Jon Alexander, co-founder, New Citizenship Project – Longpath by Ari Wallach. Wallach’s prescription for the practice of “Longpathing” has two pillars, “transgenerational empathy” and “futures thinking”. The book offers some great introductory exercises for each, along with deeply evocative storytelling. Reading of the black woman paying tribute at the site of a lynching, then being joined by a white trucker who said he feared his grandfather might have been part of the original act, left me in pieces.
Claire Brown, head of external relations, Larger Us – Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. I read this in the summer and the final chapter still haunts me. A beautiful story about connection, personhood and loss told from the perspective of a solar powered AF (artificial friend) for children. Just gorgeous.
Alex Evans, founder, Larger Us – The Molecule of More by Daniel Lieberman and Michael Long. I read this while preparing for our most recent podcast episode with Dan, and found it endlessly fascinating, especially in his exploration of how some people are more ‘dopaminergic’ than others and how that shows up politically in all kinds of interesting ways.
Claire Foster-Gilbert, director, Westminster Abbey Institute – Islands of Abandonment by Cal Flyn. Lyrical, evocative, troubling and heartlifting. A description of her journeys to places long abandoned by humans such as Chernobyl, the buffer zone in Cyprus, vast swathes of former USSR collective farms, places where only a few anarchic individuals remain, and utterly toxic places drenched in chemicals, nerve agents or landmines. Nature shows an astonishing power to live again, and Cal sees redemption, even forgiveness, at play, not necessarily for humans.
Mónica Guzmán, director, Braver Angels and author, I Never Thought of It That Way – Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement by Buster Benson. This book by a delightfully creative technologist offers one of the most helpful frameworks for thinking about disagreement that I’ve encountered — the distinction between having conversations about what is true, what is meaningful, and what is useful. Core ideas from this book come up again and again for me, and it’s accessible and fun to read to boot.
Kirsty McNeill, chair, Larger Us – Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh. I absolutely loved this when it came out and I’ve revisited it a lot this year as the phenomenon he critiques – that of ‘political hobbyism’ – reached a new peak during the breathless commentary about all the chaos in UK politics. His thesis is a simple one: politics is about how we make decisions in our common life, about building power together through collective action. Politics is not – or at least it shouldn’t be – about trading talking points on Twitter or just following along like a sport or a soap. This book is both a rallying cry and a guidebook for everyone who wants to live out loving our neighbour even when – especially when – we disagree.
Elizabeth Oldfield, senior advisor, Larger Us – Faith, Hope and Carnage by Séan O’Hagen and Nick Cave. Two friends who are coming from quite different places in terms of politics and religion in a respectful, funny and intimate book-long dialogue. Extraordinarily beautiful on grief, creativity and the possibility of love beyond us.
Kate Pumphrey, design director, Larger Us – The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller. I was unexpectedly clobbered by grief this summer: grief that seemed to encompass everything from the death of my father through to lost dreams, past relationships and pain for the world we are fast losing. This book was hugely helpful to me – and made me really think about how one of the biggest blocks to making any kind of change (personal, professional or political) is failing to acknowledge and properly process loss.
Mónica Roa, founder, Bridges – Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez. She is an Argentinean writer who is proving me that I can like (actually love) terror literature. Who knew! It is engaging beyond belief. Disturbing and brilliant at the same time.
Julia Roig, founder and chief network weaver, the Horizons Project – The Persuaders by Anand Giridharadas. I enjoyed this book because I believe that human beings can change and that no one should be considered “written off” or out of reach and therefore not worthy of engagement. During times of division and toxic polarization it feels like we’re at war with each other sometimes, and especially when we treat “adversaries” only as voter and the “moveable middle” we focus our energy on those we feel we can move closer to “our side.” This book helps us to remember that in a democracy we need pluralism of ideas and perspectives and within the public marketplace of ideas our job is to try to persuade others of our argument, and hear them out as well. We need to get back to that mindset as social change agents.
Ella Saltmarshe, founder, the Long Time Project – Bewilderment by Richard Powers. This is such an acutely-observed searing love story, about romantic love, parental love and love for the planet. The last line of the book sits on the wall by my desk, I won’t give any spoilers by quoting it, but its sentiment is reflected in this from Brian Eno “I’m more and more convinced that our only hope of saving our planet is if we begin to have different feelings about it: perhaps if we became re-enchanted by the amazing improbability of life.” That’s something I’ll be drinking to this Christmas.
Amiera Sawas, director of programmes and research, Climate Outreach – Finding Me by Viola Davis. Her stories provide inspiration to so many people born into oppression. Her emotions feel raw, unfiltered and necessary. She validates our experiences but also shows how she rose above and conquered. The book balances reality with hope.
Liz Slade, chief officer, the Unitarians – The Marmalade Diaries by Ben Aitken. An account of a 30-something writer who took part in a scheme to match people looking for cheap rent with older people who needed help around the house, thereby finding himself living with an 85-year old widow, just when a covid lockdown arrives. It’s moving and funny, and makes me cheer for for the power of intergenerational relationships.
Beck Smith, mental health advocacy lead, Wellcome Trust – Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP, New York, 1987-92 by Sarah Schulman. I learned so much from this book and would recommend it to anyone involved or interested in activism. Drawing from nearly 200 (!) interviews, Sarah tells the fascinating, multi-faceted story of ACT UP NY and how they achieved so much – the impact of which we still feel today. Sarah also challenges dominant narratives associated with the crisis, including rightly reasserting the role of women and people of colour in the movement’s history.
David Steven, senior fellow, UN Foundation – How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey. We spend a lot of time trying to learn stuff (or helping others get educated) – but too little understanding how learning happens, why forgetting is important, and which strategies work best for different types of information. How We Learn is both an overview of the science of learning and a guide to make learning “more a part of living and less an isolated chore.”