5 Social Change Books For the Winter Months

Expert opinion
Philanthropy Advisor

Winter is the perfect time to hunker down for some serious reading.  If you’re looking for a good read that’s based on solid research, check out these terrific social change books.

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in AmericaThese are two of the best and most recent books about poverty in America. Evicted shines a light on the maddening shortage of affordable housing–combined with a profusion of slum landlords–in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In Two Dollars a Day, the authors  demonstrate the destructive effect of 1990’s welfare reform on America’s chronically poor.

Both books read like novels thanks to their authors’ extensive and sensitive interviews with people living in poverty. Neither highlights specific nonprofits addressing the issues the authors raise, but both include thoughtful policy prescriptions.

  • The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? Remember when Mark Zuckerberg made his big announcement to invest $100 million in Newark, New Jersey’s public schools? This is the story of why that epic philanthropic gift failed to deliver the hoped for change. The story and its characters–Chris Christie, Corey Booker, teachers and parents–are engrossing even for those with little background in educational reform. In short, it’s the story of why good research is invaluable in philanthropy.


  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. Mountains Beyond Mountains is an introduction to international public health with a fantastic feel good quality.  A physician and anthropologist, Dr. Farmer has studied and served the poorest of the poor around the world. The book will make you seriously consider supporting the nonprofit Partners in Health, co-founded by Paul Farmer.


  • Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work that Matters and Make Smarter Choices About Giving Back. Author William MacAskill is an Oxford Philosophy professor obsessed with the data behind charitable work. This book offers a convincing method for evaluating the work of mostly health-related nonprofits.

Lauren Janus is the Director of Thoughtful Philanthropy, where she offers research-based advice to inform her clients’ charitable giving. Lauren has a master’s degree in International Relations and an MBA from the University of California, Davis. She’s spent over 15 years in the charitable sector both in her native California as well as here in the UK. Lauren lives in Edinburgh and can be reached at lauren@thoughtfulphilanthropy.com