As the summer wraps up, we’re looking back on some of our favorite page-turners of the season while jumping into new books for the fall. Take a look at our staff’s recommended reads:
Nat Paynter, director of water programs
A Dance With Dragons
by George R.R. Martin
This is the fifth book in a seven-part series (“A Song of Fire and Ice”), that I get a little too addicted to. In my previous life at a literary agency, we represented the author, but I didn’t start reading the series until I was living in Africa. It’s an incredibly rich story of five or six families (it’s hard to keep track; some get killed off and others rise up) vying for the throne of a fictional kingdom.
Martin, in addition to being a terrific writer, has no compunction about killing off main characters — so the stakes are high. I highly recommend it, but it’s a commitment — each book is at least 800 pages, so you can easily spend a year with the characters. The other warning is that Martin takes years to write his books, and there are two more to go!
Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
Stiglitz was a big guy at the World Bank (and won the Nobel Prize for Economics), and this book describes the economic dangers of globalization for the developing world. I haven’t cracked the spine yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I’ve been on a bit of an Americana kick lately, alternating between Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy. I had to read “GoW” for my freshman English class in high school, and loved it. But it’s been about 20 years now, and I wanted to see if it holds up. It’s about a family in the 1930s suffering through the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and Texas before moving west to California during the Depression. It’s a beautifully written book, and incredibly compelling. But be forewarned; it’s kinda dark.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I borrowed my wife’s copy years ago, but after the first chapter it got loaned to a friend — then we moved to Africa — then we had a child — then we moved to D.C. — then we had another child — then we moved to NYC — and I never got a chance to pick it up again. Until now. This is a memoir of an unbelievably dysfunctional family with a brilliant, insane father and a completely disconnected mother. It’s also wonderfully written and one that makes you appreciate how grounded your own family is.
Working by Studs Terkel
An incredible radio storyteller’s collection of interviews with people around the country about one thing: what they do for a living an why. Amazing, in-depth interviews. I live for these kind of stories.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I’m about to dive into this guy. Everyone I know who has read it tells me either (1) they loved it, it’s one of their favorites or (2) they absolutely could not get through it. We’ll see!
A Peoples’ History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Nothing like reminding myself that the vast disparity between America’s social classes has existed (and been exploited) since the day our country was born. And that most of my history teachers probably got it all wrong. Zinn puts it out there — he’s being selective with this account of American history but in a sort of reparation to the working or minority classes that are so seldom covered by other historians. Took me a bit, but I finished this book earlier this summer. Everyone should read it.
Sarah Cohen, communications + development manager
5 stories by Willa Cather
Cather builds beautiful western landscapes with her writing. I always feel transported by her stories.
Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience by Sharon Salzberg
Personal story by one of my favorite Buddhist teachers.
The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall
Colorful romp with an Indian detective. Definitely a fun beach read, but be careful — you’ll be craving dosas like crazy once you start reading!
Jonna Davis, water programs manager
Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven
I always want to read more about Pakistan; I’m reading this now. Lieven is a professor where I attended grad school, and I have been looking forward to reading this book for awhile.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa by Jason Stearns
Just finished this one and I’d recommend it for anyone who has ever wanted to better understand the D.R.C. This book is accessible and transcends the familiar narratives to discuss a deeply complex situation through stories of individuals. Stearns also has a great blog called Congo Siasa.
Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide by Rebecca Hamilton
This is on my list. Hamilton, a former Darfur activist, explores the actual impacts of the Darfur advocacy movement. Good intentions do not necessarily lead to a desired result, and I am always interested in reflective, honest accounts from which we can draw lessons for the future.
Lindsay Ratowksy, executive assistant
by Tina Fey
If you like smiling, laughing, and happiness — this is a great summer book for you. “Bossypants” gives hilariously honest insight into the crazy world of entertainment and fashion; it definitely caused sudden bursts of out loud laughter. When I grow up, I want to be as successfully self-deprecating as Tina Fey. Listening to it on tape with her very own intonation is probably a super way to experience this one as well.
The Emperor’s Children
by Claire Messund
According to the back of the book, this story is about the lives of friends on the cusp of their 30s in New york City… I just moved to NYC and am nearing the cusp of my 30s… so this book feels like a great next read.
Greg Phelan, acting CTO
Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks
A prize winning writer, Tim Parks suffered from an embarrassing, debilitating and unexplainable pain in his pelvic area. This is the story of his journey to find health, through traditional and alternative medicine, and ultimately though Vipassana meditation. Candid to say the least, and enlightening, too.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A favorite from a lifetime ago (back in college), this classic novel was even better the second time around. Kundera’s style seems so effortless and his fiction feels true. He unpacks sentimentality and cliche, to give us readers direct experience.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
This is the true story of Louie Zamperini, a world class miler who went from meeting Hitler at the Berlin Olympics to being a World War II bombardier brutally imprisoned and tortured for years in Japanese POW camps. Why did Louie survive in this hell when so many didn’t? Was it his thirst for living, his optimism, his faith? I won’t ruin the ending but Billy Graham plays a part in his difficult reentry coming home.
Vik Harrison, director of creative
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
It’s a collection of lessons and stories from a guy who wasn’t afraid to run his business in his own, unique way. He started an online company and learned some excellent lessons. It’s also an almost step-by-step guide to starting a business from nothing. And, it’s a really fast read. I read it in the car in Central African Republic in one hour.
Greg Yagoda, designer
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Chef, food author and my childhood friend wrote this book that will be published in October. I got a sneak peek at her poetic writing and revolutionary culinary advice. She’s encouraged me (and most likely will encourage you) to make use of vegetable stems, bread ends, left over rice and pasta water — essentially, to cook more simply and sustainably. Check this book out when it officially hits the shelves in October.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Historical fiction at its best. This World War II journey made me laugh, cry and cringe — all at the same time. I couldn’t put it down, and now that I’m done, want everyone I know to read it.
Oceana by Ted Danson
There couldn’t be a more timely and pressing issue than the problems facing our Oceans. Ted Danson does a great job simplifying and explaining many of these problems with compelling, personalized stories and eye-catching infographics.
Erica Brooks, development officer
Give Smart by Thomas J. Tierney and Joel L. Fleishman
This one is referred to by many as the Bible for billionaires who’ve taken the “Giving Pledge” set forth by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. I want to learn more about what’s happening on the donor end, and what accountability looks like from their perspective.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The most engaging book I’ve ever read. I inhaled it in two days on my family summer vacation. It’s the first in a trilogy about a futuristic world where people must battle for food and resources, and how they deal psychologically. Survivor meets “Lord of the Flies” meets… “Legends of the Fall”? Can’t wait to read the next two!
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
After watching Sinek’s TED talk, I was hooked. Eighteen minutes was not enough, though; I’m reading his book to see what else he’s got to say.
Jasdeep Gosal, developer
The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan
I’m currently reading this book, because several people have told me over the past 10+ years that I would really like it. And they were right, I do.
Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges
Next on the list, because I live for intellectual rigor.
Cakephp 1.3 Application Development Cookbook by Mariano Iglesias
Unfortunately, I’ll probably end up reading this instead of anything else. I have work to do.
Robin Jones, senior accountant
Beyond Shelter: Architecture and Human Dignity edited by Marie J. Aquilino
This is a collection of 25 field reports written by leading architecture and engineering firms, research centers and international non-profits.
Aquilino discusses the role architects and designers play (or should play) in disaster-prevention and recovery. The humanitarian aid principles and business models presented are relevant across sectors, not just architecture and design. I would highly suggest this for anyone interested in pursuing a truly intelligent and principled approach to aid.
Theophilus North by Thornton Wilder
Wilder is hands down my favorite author! This is a story of a young man who breaks free from his stable yet tedious job and sets out to see the world in the summer of 1926. Per the book cover, “Theophilus North gets as far as Newport, Rhode Island, before his car breaks down. To support himself, Theophilus takes jobs in the elegant mansions along Ocean Drive [...] Soon the young man finds himself playing the roles of tutor, spy, confidant, lover, friend, and enemy as he becomes entangled in the intrigues of both upstairs and downstairs in a glittering society dominated by leisure.” I highly recommend this novel due to Wilder’s ability to mix page-turner fiction with philosophy and witty prose.
Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
I was just reading this while driving down the Atlantic coast this summer with my sister. I think, and Steinbeck more eloquently writes, that the open road is built into our nature, particularly in American culture. Hitting the road tends to be a sort of universal language, and undeniably draws interest and conversation from nearly everyone who finds out you’re en route to… somewhere. In the fall of 1960, Steinbeck set out to discover America with his French poodle. He documents his encounters, observations and philosophies along the way. You’ll close the book with a sense of nostalgia for American culture along with the sense that, at the root of it, perhaps not much has changed since 1960.
director of digital engagement
White Man’s Burden by Bill Easterly
A deep and intelligent critique of some of the historical practices in international development. A good primer on some of the issues in the sector, and it has been good to see that several of our principles (transparent reporting, working with local partners, focusing on a root issue) line up with the type of development work that Easterly believes will deliver results for the world’s poorest people.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
This is on my ‘to read’ list. I was given it by a friend’s dad as I’m trying to deepen my knowledge of American history. I’m looking forward to getting a better picture of the man behind the legend of Abraham Lincoln, and I’m looking forward to learning about his leadership and principles.
Emily Matos, development officer
Another Day in Paradise: International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories by Carol Bergman
This by far was one of my favorite reads in Grad school and highlighted the realties of working in the field. I appreciated the honesty of each story and the inside perspective from some of the most significant humanitarian disasters of the last two decades.
Curries Without Worries: An Intro to Indian Cuisine by Sudha Koul
Why I want to read it: Because I am determined to prove that a Puerto Rican girl from NYC can make Indian food just as well as anyone else. I love Indian food and I love the challenge of blending all the spices and mastering the special techniques.
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I feel like I am the last among my friends to read this book. It seems like a great blend of theology and basic principles of faith. Plus the only other exposure I’ve had to C.S. Lewis is through the Chronicles of Narnia series (the movies not the books).
Michael Letta, director of finance
The Baseball Codes: The Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime
by Jason Turbow
There’s actually a code of conduct and principles about how the game should be played. They’re shared and understood by all players from the Minors to the Major leagues. If you violate the code, you get drilled by the opposing pitcher. I love the simplicity and humor in that.
I’m fascinated by this man’s impeccable track record of sound decision-making.
How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche
The Bard is my guilty pleasure. This one’s on the docket.
Shayna Crowell, Chief Happiness Agent
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
One of my favorites. An incredibly sad but an eye-opening experience into the hearts of four lives in India during the Emergency. The characters have found a place in my heart forever. I recently let a friend borrow it and while it was hard for her to get through certain points, the book quickly became one of her favorites as well.
A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the
New World by Tony Horwitz
The book is about the discovery of the Americas before the Pilgrims hit the Mayflower. I grew up in Boston and let me tell you Plymouth Rock is not all that. It’s been fascinating to read about the incredible people who explored our country decades — even centuries — before the Pilgrims left England and to learn about why they get all the credit!
Bossypants by Tina Fey (again!)
I bought this book the first week it came out and I keep picking it up and putting it down depending on my reading mood (I tend to get into serious nonfiction phases). It’s like reading a 30 Rock episode. I can’t wait to finish it… and the 10 people I promised could borrow it from me can’t wait either.
Merry McCarron, online community manager
In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson
Larson’s latest popular history book. It’s about the American Ambassador in Germany during the rise of the Third Reich. I haven’t started this one yet, but it’s getting great reviews. I loved “Devil in the White City,” so I’m looking forward to this one… Once again, I have revealed myself to be a big geek.
Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Beautifully written. Eco is a professor of semiotics, so it’s filled with captivating, ornate descriptions of medieval religious and spiritual symbolism. And it’s a murder mystery! Doesn’t get much better than that.
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Yep, I jumped on the “Song of Ice and Fire” series train! They really are addictive. A nice summer read — both literary and soap opera-y at the same time, if that makes any sense.