2024 book & podcast guide for activists and optimists

9 great ideas for the readers, thinkers, and pod-lovers in your life.

If there's one thing we know at AGO, it's that for every big problem, there are extraordinary people already working on it.

Some of these people are our partners, fighting for human rights, democracy, and equity across the globe. Some are the writers and thinkers listed below, who feed our optimism and activism outside of working hours. Our job—and yours, if you want it—is to give them our ear, get other people listening, and figure out how best to support them.

The list contains a smorgasbord of juicy topics: democracy, urbanism, agriculture, design, climate, social justice, strategy, politics, and more.

We hope you and yours will be as inspired and energized by them as we were.

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Have you ever looked around and wondered why so much prime real estate in American cities is dedicated to empty parking lots? Or why continual road and freeway expansions never seem to ease traffic? In Walkable City, urban designer Jeff Speck explains what makes places like Paris and New York City so fun and walkable, how much of the US ended up with zoning codes that make it impossible to build thriving urban centers like these, and how we can reverse course—making our cities better for humans and less disastrous for the climate.

“I did the no-car experiment for six months in Los Angeles. It changed my life and my relationship to my community. Walkable City makes it clear just how much we've sacrificed by building our towns and cities around cars, and how much we have to gain—as individuals and communities—by doing things differently." — Gillian O'Neill, Managing Director

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org, Audible (audiobook)

Your Undivided Attention

Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin are most well-known for the The Social Dilemma, a 2020 docudrama about social media and the willingness of tech companies to make harmful, addictive products. In Your Undivided Attention, they invite experts on to discuss a wide range of topics—cult deprogramming, generator functions, artificial intelligence, bliss points, zombie values, venture capital—and how those topics intersect with the technologies that shape our culture and our lives.

“This podcast always forces me to rethink how the world works, particularly in terms of the overbearing weight and unintended consequences of technology. But it also provides some hope because there are many brilliant people with important ideas trying to turn the tide towards a more fair and generous world.” — Carla Yuen, Strategy Director

Listen to it here.

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fukuako is a lone farmer taking a stand against a wasteful and ill-conceived approach to modern agriculture. As Japan abandons its traditional practices in favor of a chemical-fertilized and pesticide-driven approach, Fukuako abandons his work as a scientist to build his own food system. The idea comes to him after a sunrise flash of inspiration: nature is already amazing at this job. His "do nothing" approach leverages the existing soil and plant systems to do the heavy lift.

“It's an inspired mediation on living a rich life—a manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge. If you've ever wanted to improve your backyard veggie garden but ended up inventing a petrochemical hellscape, you'll love this book." —Andrew Kessler, AGO co-founder

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org, Libro.fm (audiobook)

MC24 by Bruce Mau

In his book Massive Change, Canadian designer and educator Bruce Mau looks at how design processes and tools can be used to address socio-political issues like poverty and sustainability. With MC24, Mau introduces 24 design principles that leaders in any field can use "to envision a better future across the spectrum of human activities and devise a systematic approach to achieving their vision."

“What I love about these two books is that Mau approaches the world's problems with a designer's mind. Big, complex problems make people feel overwhelmed, but Mau is able to frame them in a way that makes the problems simpler to understand and the solutions more accessible." —Rafa Teixeira, Creative Director

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org

Saving Us by Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe is a distinguished climate scientist. She's also a born-again Christian living in Texas, and this gives her some unique insights into the particular way the climate crisis has been politicized and what we can do about it. As in her famous Ted Talk, Hayhoe argues that the single most important we can do to fight climate change is to talk about it—a provocative and exciting concept that she defends with data and anecdotes in Saving Us.

“This book is a handguide for how to have compassionate and constructive conversations about climate change. Hayhoe shares ideas for how to connect with people through common values so we can realize a better future for all." —Patrina Couling, Engagement Lead

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org, Libro.fm

Psych by Paul Bloom

Psych is an introduction to psychology from one of the greatest psych professors of our time. Bloom explores what we know about the biological reasons our brains work the way they do, and what psychology can tell us about current moral and political questions. Additionally, Bloom has a great flair for anecdote. As one reviewer wrote, "Who wouldn’t want to learn about failed hamburger campaigns, novel ways to smoke out spies, or pigs that learn to do the fox trot?"

“Exceptional communications strategies require understanding how minds work. A message doesn't resonate on its own. It resonates—or not—based on how it works in a person's mind." —Prab Laoharojanaphan, Senior Strategist

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org, Libro.fm (audiobook)

Words to Win By

Like Paul Bloom, Anat Shenker-Osorio is also interested in human psychology, but her focus is much narrower. Shenker-Osorio is a strategic comms expert who uses cognitive linguistics and data science to build winning messaging campaigns. Each episode of Words to Win By tells the story of a different campaign, beginning with the particular challenges and opposition, and how the team eventually landed on the winning message. In addition to her podcast, there's also a great overview of her work in "The Art of Messaging" chapter of The Persuaders, which was included in the 2022 AGO book guide.

"This podcast is for comms nerds and anyone else who is interested in the cultural and psychological reasons why some messages are effective and others backfire. Shenker-Osorio is a giant in the field of strategic comms, and each episode of this podcast is an inspiration." —Rachel Thomas, Senior Writer

Listen to it here.

Rights Refused by Elliott Prasse-Freeman

This book is a rigorous academic look at activism and rights frameworks in Myanmar. Prasse-Freeman documents grassroots advocacy for workers across the country, deconstructs the country's decade of "democratic transition," and explores the mass uprising across all levels of society against the ongoing coup attempt by the Myanmar military.

"Rights Refused provides an intimate look into activism in Myanmar. It’s an eye-opener for understanding Myanmar’s unique cultural and political landscape, and offers a deep dive into how people in Myanmar understand the concept of human rights itself. It’s a great insider view on what strategies work and what challenges activists face." —Mariana Botero, Senior Strategist

Where to buy it: Amazon

Some People Need Killing by Patricia Evangelista

Some People Need Killing chronicles the years of Rodrigo Duterte's presidency in the Philippines, a time marked by many thousands of government-sanctioned extra-judicial killings. In riveting and haunting prose, Evangelista tells the story of Duterte—a strongman and a bully who inspired a cult of personality—the political tides that shaped his ascent to power, and the devastating toll his reign had on the country. Above all else, the book is a plea to understand that violent rhetoric has real-world consequences and that when leaders tell us who they are, we should believe them.

“Governments like Duterte's would prefer for their many victims to be faceless and nameless. But Evangelista brings them to life, gives them names, families, ambitions, and dimension. She makes the story of violence personal, and the fight for justice and human rights visceral." —Gillian O'Neill, Managing Director

Where to buy it: Bookshop.org, Libro.fm (audiobook)