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June 12, 2019

HU Summer Reading List

Summer is right around the corner, and with that comes summer reading. We asked our staff to write about the books they’d recommend most highly. Below, you’ll find a list of all types of books that have captivated us in one way or another. We hope this list inspires you to join us in reading and learning something new this summer.


Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang (2019)

“A beautiful collection of short stories that explores philosophical questions through a speculative fiction format. Really sharp ideation, coupled with an underlying compassion for the different characters that take center stage.”

-Lucas Hansen, Legal Fellow

The Moral Imagination,
by John Paul Lederach (2004)

“This book was a beautiful reminder that a tolerance for, or even appreciation of, ambiguity isn’t possible without humility. It resonated with me on a few levels — as a social impact professional attempting to change systems for the better, and as a parent as I strive to communicate values rather than rules to my daughter.”

-Sandy Tesch Wilkins, Senior Manager, Investments

Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity
, by Jennifer Garvey Berger (2019)

“What do you do when you can’t know what’s next? This concise and accessible book provides practical tools for navigating complexity and growing as a leader. With a lovely balance of theory, narrative and useful advice, Jennifer Garvey Berger’s work focuses at the intersection of complexity and adult development. Building on her previous two books (which I also recommend!), readers take away powerful questions and tools to help find new approaches to complexity and uncertainty.”

-Naomi McQuaid, People Manager

, by Carl Sagan (1980)

“Sometimes I need to take a break from being intensely and singularly focused and zoom out. (Way, way, way out). Contemplating our place in the unknowably vast universe is both engaging and strangely peaceful, and it grants me a clearer focus when I zoom back in.”

-Aaron McQuade, Communications Manager

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
, by David W. Blight (2018)

“As we consider how to best solve the many complex challenges facing humanity, it’s always helpful to seek wisdom and lessons from our own history. This book is a terrific education about the life of Frederick Douglass; as well as the struggles, setbacks, and triumphs of the 19th century abolitionist movement in the U.S.  As an organization dedicated to combatting “modern day slavery” we continue to learn from Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists about endurance, the human spirit, leadership, and adaptability in the face of overwhelming challenges.”

-Tim Isgitt, Managing Director

by Michelle Obama (2018)

“If you haven’t read Becoming yet, do it! Michelle Obama offers an intimately personal look into her life before, during, and after her tenure as First Lady of the United States of America. Her memoir made me laugh, cry, and think deeply about my own story that continues to shape me. Michelle is honest, fun, and incredibly witty— as soon as I finished her book, I wanted to pick it up and read it again.”

-Sharla Mittone, Communications Associate

East West Street
, by Philippe Sands (2016)

“This book is about the origin of laws outlawing genocide and crimes against humanity, which sounds heavy, but it’s a beautifully written memoir tracing the author’s family history as it intersects with the Nazis who perpetrated genocide and the lawyers who eventually held them accountable. No, it’s not classic summer beach read, but it’s vivid and evocative of the European world lost as a result of Nazi crimes, and a challenge to those of us who forget how such atrocities emerged from otherwise ‘normal’ society.”

-Dan Viederman, Managing Director

Lily and the Octopus
, by Steven Rowley (2016)

Lily and the Octopus is about a writer living in LA and his beloved, aging dachshund named Lily. The story is about love and loss, with plenty of humor and fantasy sprinkled throughout.”

-Jackie Johnson, Executive Associate

Giovanni’s Room
, by James Baldwin (1956)

Giovanni’s Room is a literary classic that transcends any category. The story is about a gay American man in Paris, and the people he meets – and the story is interesting in itself. But the theme is universally relevant: the problematic role of shame in our lives and our societies, and the efforts we take to escape and overcome shame. The prose is unmatched, and the philosophy is profound. I found myself wanting to underline and meditate on almost every sentence.”

-Jen Heeg, Manager, Strategy, Learning & Impact

Signs Preceding the End of the World
, by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman (2009)

“This book is a trip. As you turn the pages, this simple story quickly morphs into a multidimensional allegory. Herrera’s fresh voice and unique writing style are addictive, but be careful of falling into this rabbit hole. When I arrived at the end, I gave into my desire and read it again.”

-Tim Isgitt, Managing Director

The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding
, by Severine Autesserre (2010) 

“Over the course of several years, based on ethnographic interviews with hundreds of international aid, development and peacebuilding professionals in Congo, Autesserre’s insights open up a line of clarity about how our wider systems of international ‘help’ too often contribute to sustaining the patterns of the things we hope to change and minimize the capacity and transformations pursued by those engaged from and with the context locally.”

-John Paul Lederach, Senior Fellow

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
, by Robert Wright (2017)

“Skillfully balancing the deeply rational with the drolly personal, Robert Wright explores the Buddhist diagnosis of the human experience from the perspective of evolutionary psychology and finds that the latter is finally starting to catch up with what the former has been diagnosing for thousands of years. As the author notes, mindfulness meditation (for all its current ubiquity) can be deeply boring at first — but it may just offer a practical way of managing the feelings of anger, despair, hatred, and greed that natural selection has hardwired into our brains in order to get our genes into the next generation.”

-Stephen Wicken, Investments Manager

The Power
, by Naomi Alderman (2016)

“This dystopian take on the power dynamics between men and women – and what would happen if they flipped – was thoroughly engaging and gave me a lot to think about. If women suddenly got super powers, but still had to navigate personal and geopolitical relationships, how would that change how society saw us? And how we saw ourselves?”

-Rebecca Offensend, Associate, Working Capital Fund

Half of a Yellow Sun
, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

“The details in this book, from the smells in the air to the different idioms and dialects in the character’s conversations allowed me to be immersed in the social, political and emotional turns of Nigeria’s Biagra war in the late 1960s. While reading this book, I felt like I was literally sitting in the living room, standing in the doorway of the kitchen, or walking down the dusty path alongside the characters as the amazing narrative unfolded.”

-Leslie Wingender, Manager, Strategy, Learning & Impact – Peacebuilding

The Bernal Story: Mediating Class and Race in a Multicultural Community, by Beth Roy (2014) 

“Based on local urban conflict involving layers of racism, cultural difference, and class divisions, Beth describes in rich detail how a community-based initiative approached this differently — an intriguing story of local first that took seriously the divides that exist right in heart of the Bay Area.  By the way — an early book, Some Trouble with Cows: Making Sense of Social Conflict, is also an excellent read, based in India where the author lived.”

-John Paul Lederach, Senior Fellow

Wake Up, Sir!
by Jonathan Ames (2004)

“This is the story of an eccentric alcoholic writer and his personal valet, Jeeves (the product of an unstable imagination). It’s a hilarious confessional that follows the hero doing what he can to negotiate the unpredictability of life.”

-Melissa McLean, Office Manager

Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category
, by David Valentine (2007)

“Reflecting on his experience working as a safer-sex advocate among vulnerable populations in NYC in the 1990s, Valentine’s book is a super engaging series of anecdotes and narratives that unpacks the complicated respectability politics of the early separation of gender identity and trans*ness from sexual orientation and gay and lesbian movements. Focusing on how exclusionary and patriarchal attitudes within gay cis male circles at the time began to refuse membership to gender non-conforming folks in the broader community, the individual stories of sex workers and trans people of color attempting to access resources reminds us of how even human rights-based movements can be undermined by the compulsion to define, demarcate, and police the borders of individual protected classes.”

-Ryan Heman, Investments Manager

The Big Orange Splot
, by Daniel Pinkwater (1977)

“This is a funny book with a great message—we don’t all need to be the same, in fact the world, (in this case, a street) is more beautiful when we each embrace our individuality. I read it to my toddler’s preschool class recently and it received two (sticky) thumbs up from each member of the class!”

-Liliana Giffen, Senior Manager, Communications

The Art of Gathering
, by Priya Parker (2018)

“This book gave me the tools and confidence needed to completely shake up how I host gatherings in my personal and professional life! It’s a quick and engaging read filled with fascinating real-world examples. When you finish the book, you’ll have a serious itch to host a lively dinner party with new and old friends or plan a fruitful convening with others in your field.”

-Leanne Newman, People Associate

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