8 books about courage to help us craft and change our worlds

Change can be fast and slow. Lately it has felt like the world has changed seemingly overnight, while other transformations are slowly unravelling.

We keep hearing that it’s a time to reassess the “normal” we go back to. But equally, it’s a powerful moment to think about our power to create change and build stronger frameworks for how we live, love, and express ourselves.

That can mean using our voices and making what we want to exist in the world. Choosing how we spend our days, how we run businesses, and how we love and support others. Creating our own utopia.

That may be on a small scale, but it’s some of the most important work we can do. Having the personal realisation that things don’t have to stay the same is huge.

I’ve always looked to books to find courage, reassurance, and a nudge to take action. Here are some I’ve been turning to lately for lessons on courage, bravery, and creating change in my own life.

1. Letter To My Daughter by Maya Angelou

“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters,” writes Maya Angelou. “You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.”

Letter to My Daughter is Maya Angelou’s genre-transcending guidebook, memoir, and gift for all of us to live well and craft a life with meaning.

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

2. Playing Big by Tara Mohr

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of inner work to play bigger and speak up in my life and work. That’s meant looking back to my years of shyness and insecurities, understanding the triggers behind it, and getting clear on what is still hanging around.

Playing Big is one book I read several years ago that helped to break my habit of hiding and keeping myself invisible. Showing both my successes and my weaknesses doesn’t come naturally, but I’ve come to realise this: the more uncomfortable you feel about sharing your voice, the more impactful it will be.

“The costs of women’s self-doubt are enormous. Think of all the ideas unshared, businesses not started, important questions not raised, talents unused. Think of all the fulfillment and joy not experienced because self-doubt keeps us from going for the opportunities that would bring that joy and fulfillment. This is the bad news around women’s self-doubt: how pervasive it is, and how much has been lost because of it.”

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

As I write this post, I’m thinking of the racial tensions and injustices across the Atlantic that are a mirror for much of the world.

As in many other places, it’s clear that there has never been a true foundation of equality in the U.S. With no better example to roll back to, a new way of doing and being is called for, with more voices rallying together – many of which have never done so before.

This is the classic book about courage and standing up for underrepresented voices.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

4. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer quickly joined my list of all-time favourite books. Barbara Kingsolver’s writing is baggy and often ambles leisurely around what is barely a plot, but I adore it.

While Flight Behavior didn’t grab me in quite the same way as Prodigal Summer, it makes a better addition to this list.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she became pregnant at seventeen. As we open the novel, we find her on the cusp of ruining the marriage and life she’s found herself in for a younger man she barely knows. But as she hikes up the mountain road to meet him, she finds what looks like a mountain of fire.

With guilt already hanging heavy, she can only understand this as a cautionary miracle. She flees back to the farm, and what follows sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media.

It’s a book about the delicate balance between humankind and nature, but it’s also about using our voices and reassessing how things are done.

“Mistakes wreck your life. But they make what you have. It’s kind of all one. You know what Hester told me when we were working the sheep one time? She said it’s no good to complain about your flock, because it’s the put-together of all your past choices.”

5. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

“Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself,” writes Derek Sivers. This is my favourite business book, but it’s also informed the philosophy behind how I choose to live: to make beautiful things and share what I know.

When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.

6. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning is a tough book to read, but an important one. On the one hand, it teaches us to look head-on at the suffering in the world and the people who cause it, rather than keeping quiet.

But on the other, it also shows us that nothing is ever totally lost – better than any other book I’ve read. Frankl reminds us to look for the sunsets, the glimmers of hope, and the strength and love that remains in the world during the hardest moments.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

7. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

As with the Harry Potter universe and other awe-inspiring fantasy worlds, my love for Tolkien’s writing is two-fold: I love the universe that he created, but I equally adore the work and focus he put into creating that universe.

When creating his mythos, Tolkien first created its languages, starting with what he originally called “Qenya”, the first primitive form of Elvish. What surrounds it is a world detailed enough to guide us across the border from our own reality and hold us deep inside it. What could be more affirming of our power to design, imagine, and create?

“Courage is found in unlikely places.”

8. How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

After all, one of the most courageous things we can do is love. That starts with ourselves.

“Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.