Reading Our Way to A Better World



An overview of The Athena Advisors’ top reads for 2022, by Coordinator of Research and Capacity-Building, Lucy Hart.

If you’re anything like me, you have more books you intend to read than you could possibly manage in your lifetime. It’s true, there are a lot of good books out there. At The Athena Advisors, our team have varied skill sets and, to that end, varied reading interests. Yet much of what we have read comes back to the same theme: social justice.

I’m here to give you a few books that our team have read this year and would recommend you do too. The holidays are a busy time, and whilst the concept of picking up a book may seem fantastical, I urge you to head down to your local, independent bookshop, pick your favourite book from this list and, rather than flicking on the TV or scrolling on your phone, pick up your new book.

So, let’s get to the exciting part.

First up are two recommendations by
Vice President of Strategy and sustainability expert,
Laetitia Pancrazi

Laetitia is a Chartered Environmentalist with the Society of Environment and is a fully certified member of The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. She holds an MSc in Sustainable Urbanism from UCL and an MSc in Development Management from The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, Laetitia writes, “is very well known and its core concepts have influenced so much in the past five years. It explains how we can reshape the world to be more socially just and environmentally safe. It introduced the concept of the doughnut.” Laetitia advises us to search on google for a fantastic diagram and explains that the doughnut is “about how we must meet minimum social foundation for everyone to be safe, whilst ensuring we do not overshoot our environmental ceiling”.

Laetitia also recommends Our Biggest Experiment by Dr. Alice Bell. According to Laetitia, “this book traces the history of climate change and particularly innovations that created our climate crisis”. She assures us that “it’s not as depressing as it sounds, but actually really inspiring”. What she particularly likes is that it “traces the gender inequality of innovative processes. A woman actually discovered the greenhouse gas effect, but her research was never recognised, got lost, then a man was credited. Also, we learn from our history and history always repeats itself!”

Next, we have recommendations from
President at The Athena Advisors, Robin Heller

Robin is a big reader, from audiobooks of fiction (such as thrillers by Harlan Coben and Tana French) to powerful books relevant to our work on social justice. This year, Robin was most influenced by these three books.

Caste: The Lies that Divide Us, by Isabel Wilkerson. Robin read Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns, in 2015 and “never forgot the stories of people migrating northward from “Jim Crow” southern states, in the hopes of a new life in racially-complex America”. Fast forward five years, and Robin advises us that Wilkerson’s new book, Caste (2020), “is truly a classic, grappling with the blind spots in so much of American life: race; caste; and privilege. These issues in the hands of an outstanding journalist brought me deeper into the paradox of living in a clear-eyed way in my home country.”

Robin loved Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain, by Sathnam Sanghera and wants to read it again and often. Robin sings high praise for Sanghera. She says: “Writing with the great wit and detail of the memoirist and dramatist that he is, Sanghera explained to me as a new resident in London the role of imperialism as an abiding framework in the United Kingdom. He urges us to focus more on imperialism, not less, to understand its origins, its residue, and its place (and misplace) in contemporary global society”.

Last but not least, Robin applauds Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt. This 2005 book was recommended to Robin by a journalist in the middle of a 2015 meeting with the Open Society Foundation, London. Robin recalls how “every head around the table nodded with respect”. Robin has read chapters over the years, when she needed to better understand a country’s evolution to the present day: Germany; France; the UK. Robin plans to read it from cover to cover in 2022 because she “senses at times the endurance of The Great War, even as the powers and players shift in modernity.”

Next in line is a recommendation by
Senior Consultant, Mira Philips

Mira is passionate about using her expertise in research to further social justice initiatives, and she particularly endeavors to work with organizations that advance the rights of minorities. She holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Toronto and an MSc in Social Policy from the London School of Economics.

Mira’s top read for 2022 is Mediocre, the Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo. Mira has followed Ms. Oluo on twitter for several years and has long admired her striking combination of wit and thoughtfulness, and uncanny ability to take apart the most dangerous ideologies and claims taking over our communities. Mira writes, “Mediocre is a combination of all these things. It is both a historical account and critique of white male mediocrity (which has packaged itself as supremacy) and its consequences for everyone. Ms. Oluo also does a wonderful job of dismantling the narratives that hold it in place. She goes beyond discussing superficial ideas or individuals, to break down the actual oppressive systems so pervasive in our society which centre white men. As a woman of colour, it was gratifying to read something which so thoroughly put to bed the idea that concerns over white male racism, aggression, etc., are just anecdotal. They’re not. They’re very much rooted in our culture.”

Finally, here are some recommendations by me,
Coordinator of Research and Capacity-Building
and gender and conflict scholar, Lucy Hart

My background is in international development, with expertise in gender analysis within global conflict and peace-building contexts. I hold an MSc in Women, Peace and Security from the London School of Economics and a BA in Human Geography from University College London.

Me Not You, The Trouble with Mainstream Feminism by Alison Phipps is an accessible overview of, as the title suggests, ‘the trouble with mainstream feminism’. It serves as a stark reminder that mainstream feminism has historically served white, middle-class women, often at the expense of other marginalised groups. Mainstream movements like #MeToo, Phipps argues, are oftentimes not only centred on white women’s concerns and rather than ‘me too’ decry ‘me, not you’ but co-opt the work of women of colour. Markedly, the #MeToo movement was started by black feminist, Tarana Burke, in 2006. The hashtag only went viral eleven years later following a tweet by white actor, Alyssa Milano. This book, therefore, urges us to stop and consider who does mainstream feminism best serve and how can we make it more inclusive?

The final book I recommend to you this festive season is Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This book cleverly weaves together the lives of a dozen, mainly black, British women through generations and social classes. It’s a polyphonic novel about the intersections of identity and a timely reminder of the need to be attentive to intersectional oppressions. It is arguably one of the finest examples of post-colonial literature. I must confess, at first glance the lack of punctuation threw me: each new sentence, with no capital letter, begins on a new line.  There are no full stops, just a new line. But this does not detract from the narrative. In fact, there is a unique fluidity resulting from this unconventional format. I might be biased, but I think you should read this.

All that leaves me to say is that we loved every one of these books, and we hope you do too. Let us know what you think.