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10 Books You Should Read If You Want to Have an Impact

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Why Give a Damn:

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by hard problems, here is a list of resources to help you increase your understanding of the world and then take action.


The author of this post, Paul Polak, has brought 22+ million farmers out of poverty. His work is dedicated to designing products for the Other 90% (the 2.6 billion customers who live on less than $2/day).

Following is a list of the ten books that have been most helpful in increasing my understanding of the world.

  1. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E. F. Schumacher (Blond & Briggs, 1973)
  2. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly (Penguin Press, 2006)
  3. Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, by Frank Dikotter (Walker & Company, 2011)
  4. Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948, by Madeleine Albright (Harper, 2012)
  5. Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way, by Jon Krakauer (Anchor, 2011)
  6. Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine, by Diarmuid Jeffreys (Metropolitan Books, 2008)
  7. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang (Simon & Schuster, 1991)
  8. Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf, 2005)
  9. Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, by Arthur Herman (Random House, 2012)
  10. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, by C.K. Prahalad (Wharton School Publishing, 2004)

What are some books that have had an impact on your understanding of the world?

Paul Polak

About the author

Dr. Paul Polak is Founder and CEO of Windhorse International, a for-profit social venture with the mission of inspiring and leading a revolution in how companies design, price, market and...

Paul Polak has written 16 articles for UNREASONABLE.is

  • Kait Harman

    This is a simple yet helpful article. I want to try some of these books, I am totally clueless about most these subjects. I am learning about some of the chinese books in one of my general education classes and they are pretty interesting. I would like to make a recommendation, if you ever do a post like this again you should put descriptions about eat book.

  • barczakdm08

    Thanks for the post! I found this very helpful, I am currently not the biggest reader ( never give it a chance) but these books look very interesting. Hopefully I will pick one of these up in the near future, I need to start reading more books! Thanks again for this helpful article.

  • stangleram13

    Thanks for the post. I think this is really nice. I will have to read some of those. This is useful because I want to make a impacted. Out of those book which one is the most insightful to you?

  • AndreaBehling

    Dr. Paul Polak, thank you for this list of books. I’m always looking for meaningful books to read and this will be a good resource. If you could choose, which book is your favorite in this list?

    I know this book probably isn’t in the same league as the ones in your list, but it was meaningful to me—The Art of Racing in the Rain By Garth Stein. The narration is surprising and wonderful, and the message is about the colorfulness of the human spirit and the beauty of life, as only a dog could describe.

  • DuCharmeDR11

    Thank you for the insight Dr. Polak. One book I have recently read that challenged me was called Spiritual Leadership by Henry and Richard Blackaby. It made me stop and think about the way I was treating others as well as myself, and how to best maximize the projects I take on to accomplish something bigger than the immediate task. Great read when split into chunks by chapters!

  • Matthew Gust

    Thank you Dr. Polak. A book I am currently reading is The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell. I have learned so much already about how personal insight can influence others. A lot of this book has to do with how we move people and how we can lead. What I realized is that people are drawn to those who have a purpose and great perspective. From what I have read so far it is a very insightful book.

  • Bucky Fuller

    I would highly recommend “King Leopold’s Ghost” – for a lengthy, sobering history of the Congo, fits well in this list…lots of monumental history, terrorism, and heroism to consider.

  • LevenhagAL14

    Love this, thank you for the list! I’m constantly looking for new reading material and I made a note about these on the list. Besides those authors mentioned, do you have any personal favorites?

  • Kyle Schiedemeyer

    Great list! I have heard of a couple of books on that list. I think that this information is great. As I have gotten older, I have realized that I can learn so much by reading books, I used to hate to read as a kid because I felt that I was forced to read things for school I was uninterested in. Now, I have no problem reading things that interest me and that will benefit me. If I could ask Paul Polak a question it would be, which book should I read first and why?

  • Tammy Hartmann

    Paul, thank you for taking the time to write the list of the books. Reading the books you recommended definitely will help me answer all of my questions. Which book do you recommend to start with? I also really liked how you designed the tree art.