At our twice-weekly all-hands meeting, the staff of America Walks often shares what we’re reading or watching. Our Operations and Program Manager, Nicole, is especially voracious. She reads and listens to dozens of books each year. If you want to know which books you should read, she is always ready with a recommendation.
Which got us thinking: Should we share our favorites? Make our own list of books everyone should read (or films everyone should watch) in the new year?
So we did. Earlier this month, we all compiled our list of the books that most impacted us and our work. Some are directly related to the America Walks mission. Others are more broadly related, shifting our mindset and understanding of the world around us.
If you’re looking to expand your horizons in the new year, here are the books we recommend.
The Books You Should Read In 2022
Mike McGinn, Executive Director:
The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson
The great migration of Black folks from the America South to the cities of the west, midwest and northeast defined our cities and our culture. I don’t think you can understand America (including our land use and transportation) without understanding the great migration. The Warmth of Other Suns is an engaging read that tells the story of those times through the stories of individuals.
With all of the controversy around the 1619 project, I decided to do some reading. I’m siding with Hannah Nikole Jones. The history isn’t the myth. If you’re ready to confront nuance and reality, this is a great historical overview.
Additionally, a movie recommendation: “Crip Camp.” It starts out as a movie about a unique camp, and it turns into an inspiring movie about the power of organizing to create change..
Electrify, by Saul Griffith
One of the best books I’ve read this year is Electrify, by Saul Griffith, which is about the need to electrify all facets of our lives currently powered by fossil fuels while ramping up clean energy production very quickly to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of climate change.
The book points to the need for massive policy and systems changes to keep planetary warming in check, but it also offers a role for the individual beyond the ballot box and lobbying for policy change. Instead of focusing on smaller decisions, like the types of shampoo bottles we buy, Griffith argues individual choices are consequential where bigger-ticket “personal Infrastructure” is concerned – decisions like what type of house we live in, the type of roof we have, our heating and cooling systems, and the types of cars we drive. He says whatever fossil-fuel-fired things we own now should be our last.
One area I don’t recall him mentioning is the types of communities in which we live. However, I think his argument could easily be extended to this realm. Particularly if we can’t currently afford to drive Teslas and break free from the utility grid with solar roofs and backup batteries, the shape of our neighborhoods figures as an important part of our personal infrastructure inventory. Where we have a choice, we should make every effort to live in low-carbon-footprint neighborhoods – the sorts of places where we can walk, bike and take transit to get to everyday needs – and expend effort on policies that make them accessible to more people.
Ian Thomas, PhD; State and Local Program Director
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn is a true story about the healing power of walking. In response to twin disasters – learning that her husband, Moth, was terminally ill and losing everything to bankruptcy – Ray and Moth decided to walk the 630-mile Cornish Coastal Footpath. Lashed by Atlantic storms, this rugged trail climbs over cliff tops and descends steeply to small beaches. Camping wild, eating what they could afford on a tiny social security check, and putting one foot in front of the other, they eventually complete the walk and recover their lives in the process.
A big audiobook lover, Nicole stated that this is one of those books that also required a hard copy. “It’s a highlighter,” she describes. And she’s right. This book, which opens on a fascinating story about something that seems gender-neutral on its face: Snow clearing. But when elected officials in Sweden joked that there was no way in which clearing snow from city streets could possibly be sexist, further examination proved otherwise.
Brianna Carrol, Fund Development Manager
Wild (the movie, and maybe the book)
Most of us know about Cheryl Strayed’s Wild by now. The true story of a young woman walking the Pacific Crest Trail and finding herself, it became a captivating film featuring Reese Witherspoon. Bri says that she loved the message of the film and the way that walking and the outdoors were so central. However, she hasn’t read the book — though she has it on her own to-read list.
Hanna Brooks Olsen, Interim Communications Manager
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City, by Matthew Desmond
Perhaps one of the best examples of the impact on policy and the built environment on the mental and physical wellbeing, this book won a well-deserved Pulitzer in 2017. It’s a deeply human portrait of the ways that poverty impacts the ability for families to plan and make decisions, ultimately leading them to one undesired outcome after another. Matthew Desmond is a Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” winner, so he’s got the credibility to back up the hype of his work. This is a great book for anyone who’s ever wondered how, exactly, people get trapped in the cycle of poverty.
A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Bears), by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling
What happens when a tiny township decides to experiment with the absolute rejection of government intervention? Building codes go out the window. The library becomes a shell of itself. Structure fires become a daily event — and, without a fire department, there’s no one to extinguish them. Oh, and there are a lot of bears. Like, really a lot of bears. This is a well-written and interesting book that answers some of our biggest “what-ifs,” while also providing an example of the vitality of local governments.