Acumen Blog


10 Books We’re Reading This Summer

What are you reading? It is a common question here at Acumen, an organization full of avid readers constantly trading favorite book titles that discuss leadership, impact, development and branding. Here are 10 stellar books we’re reading this summer. These books and others provide a framework of thinking, a spark of new ideas, a platform for debate. So, what are you reading?

Georgia Stevenson, BD & Communications Pakistan Summer Associate

Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams

“I enjoyed this book as a thoughtful and poetic reflection, through the metaphor of mosaic, on the bringing together of brokenness and beauty. The book reflected many of Acumen’s values through its exploration of dignity and beauty. The latter part of the book details the construction of a Genocide Memorial in Rwanda. Here, mosaic is used as a means of community healing, as members of the community, both victims and perpetrators, worked together to create an expression of unity and remembrance. Despite the positive feeling I was left with at the end, the book did not gloss over the challenges faced by working in difficult areas of raw emotion and suffering.  The mosaic metaphor is quite an inspiring way to view challenges; “shards of glass which can cut and wound or magnify a vision.”​

jacqueline 1Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO

Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World, Chris Lowney

“If you are interested in leadership, I cannot recommend this book more highly. Chris Lowney spent seven years as a Jesuit seminarian and then pursued a long career with JP Morgan as a Managing Director. He found himself asking why we have a crisis of leadership given all the corporate money spent on leadership training, and so explored the work of building the Jesuit “company”. He describes the four pillars of Jesuit training — self-awareness, ingenuity (embracing change), love and heroism (energizing ambitions) – and connects these pillars to historic characters, and inspires the reader to want to do and be more. I’ve come back to read this book twice already and see it as almost a handbook for the kinds of organizations we need to develop in our complex world.”

kerry1Kerry Yang, Portfolio Summer Ghana Associate

Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

“A must-read for anyone remotely interested in women’s issues. It presents the most serious problems women face in developing countries with unapologetic intimacy: child prostitution, maternity health, honor killings, and FGM, and discusses a few potential ways to alleviate these problems.”

keya 1
Keya Madhvani, Innovation Associate

Scarcity, Sendhil Mullainathan

How does having ‘a little’ influence the way people behave, think and act especially at the bottom of the pyramid? Mullainathan explores the impact that the struggle for limited resources can have on someone’s psychology in this compelling book.”

khubaibKhubaib Siddiqui, Pakistan Portfolio Associate

Getting Better, Charles Kenny

“In the context of the widely prevalent claims that global development efforts over the last 50 years have largely failed to bring about significant change in the lives of the poor, this book reports the good news about global progress. It presents evidence of widespread improvements in health, education, political rights and even happiness across African, Asian and Latin American countries during the last 50 years in which global development efforts have played a role. I think it is a good read for everyone concerned with the global development sector.”

rhea 2Rhea Rakshit, Communications Summer Associate

Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind, Biz Stone

“I loved it because it’s a book about innovation and creativity from a designer’s perspective, which relates a lot to understanding human behavior and the importance of empathy in building products and services that can change the world. He also has a really interesting personal story, which he does a great job telling along with Twitter’s story, and is refreshingly different from the stereotype of the young tech billionaire that I had in my head. I’d highly recommend it!”

rohit 1Rohit Gawande, Impact Associate

Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson

“A great book on innovation, a light read and makes you re-think how we try to come up with new ideas”


tom 1Tom Addams, Director of Impact

The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier

“Engagingly written, and superbly succinct, the Bottom Billion highlights various traps that are keeping a billion people in absolute poverty – bad governance, civil war, resource curse, and geography. The book avoids tired clichés and myths – it neither polarizes aid or capitalism as either failed or a panacea – but instead highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both, as well as other interventions such as peacekeeping. Essential reading for anyone interested in development.”

tomoko 1Tomoko Matsukawa, Senior Innovation Associate

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

“Professor Kegan teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is the Associate Director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group and a founding principal of Minds at Work, a leadership-learning professional services firm. He provides change management workshops around the world in companies, academic institutions, nonprofits. He recently taught an EdX course on this topic. He insists that desire and motivation is often not enough to change ourselves and describes how we (especially adults and organization) could change by applying his research in cognitive development. Strong relationship with +Acumen’s Adaptive Leadership content. (Prof. Heifetz talk about Kegan’s book The Evolving Self).”

yao 1Yaou Zhao, Summer Associate

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo

“It’s a depiction, up close and personal, of life in the slums and the harsh realities people face, financially, culturally and politically. It’s relevant to me because I have never been to India and don’t really understand the situation on the ground, and this gives me a better picture of the world we are trying to change.”



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