4 Powerful Books to Read When Things Seem Terrible

The world may seem pretty grim right now, with President Trump’s administration rolling back civil rights, regular gun violence in the news, and the disturbing reports of sexual assaults and rapes that, for years, have been overlooked and silenced.

But there are reasons for hope. If you’re like me, in troubled times I often turn to books in order to find new things to think about, to console myself, and to find a way forward. Below is a list of four books that may help give a fresh perspective on the world today or provide some solace as we try to forge ahead.

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker

1. “The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence In History And Its Causes” by Steven Pinker

Did you know that, statistically speaking, the world is actually getting far less violent both globally and domestically than at any other time in our civilization? That’s the basic thesis of “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, and it is one that renowned linguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker supports with careful and detailed facts. Looking at studies about warfare and assessing the causes that have driven conflict–from global wars and terrorism right through to violence in the home–Pinker makes the case that violence is on the decline. The Better Angels of Our Nature is a mammoth book of 800+ pages, but it earns the right to be that large when it is so well argued and ceaselessly reasonable.

Far from being a book that is solely about positivity however, Pinker does make challenging arguments that may at times make us pause, but it is almost impossible to read this book and not come away with a sense that, though our day to day slew of news may seem absolutely terrible, the world as we know it is in fact a much safer, much more pleasant world than it was even a few generations ago.

(It’s worth noting that, even after a turbulent year, 2017 actually saw the world become a more peaceful place according to the Global Peace Index.)

My Anxiety Companion by Mel Bonthuys

My Anxiety Companion by Mel Bonthuys

2. “My Anxiety Companion” by Mel Bonthuys

As regular readers will know, like many others I deal with depression and anxiety disorders. As such, I have read a number of books on the subject. Some of those books focus on CBT and other therapy-related practices. Some have been accounts of living with these disorders and how the authors overcame their difficulties. This latter aspect of the self-help genre is meant to be inspiring, and for many people I suppose it would be, but it left me with a problem: My disorder isn’t likely to ever go away completely. These books, therefore, cannot speak to me because they hinge on an idea of recovery that is out of my reach.

And then there’s Bonthuys’ book. “My Anxiety Companion” is a very personal account from someone who has lived with anxiety. It details on the page the realities that sufferers will know only too well but are so often overlooked or underestimated.

For example:

“The only thing I can tell you is how lonely, fearful, miserable, and terrible it made me feel. I used to describe it as being similar to having that feeling of having to speak in front of a huge crowd and feeling butterflies, but only ten times worse. It feels like you are always expecting something bad to happen, you have a permanent knot in the pit of your stomach, and you feel every possible negative emotion that could exist.”

In “My Anxiety Companion,” the author lays out her situation with frank detail, and then takes us through the steps she found helped in her own life.  This book speaks in terms of what it means to live alongside anxiety, accepting it as a reality, and still living a happy and fulfilling life. Of course, no approach will be right for everyone (something the book also makes very clear) but I found that in the sea of self-help books around mental health, this was a work that was refreshingly candid and straight forward.

While this book focuses on clinical anxiety (and its adjunct depressive disorder) its advice does translate for those who are feeling anxiety as a specific result of the current political situation, so it may be useful even if you don’t have a diagnosis or a longstanding problem.

Full disclosure: I was offered a free copy of this book by the author for my honest opinion.

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Our Choice by Al Gore

3. “Our Choice” by Al Gore

Al Gore is well known to many as the face of “An Inconvenient Truth.”

However, it is his 2009 book “Our Choice” that, for me, stands out. While the book is a few years old now, its through line remains relevant: the renewable energy sector is our best hope to reverse much of the damage caused by industrialization and the climate change caused by fossil fuels. In straightforward and clear prose, Gore demonstrates why he continues to be one of the go-to speakers on the topic of climate change. There may be more in depth books out there on this subject, and there are certainly more detailed books in terms of number crunching and discussing the science at work, but that level of detail isn’t the focus of this book. Instead, Gore creates a cogent argument that we really do have the power to rescue ourselves from the worst effects of climate change.

I particularly recommend the young reader’s edition of this book as it loses none of its power but is specifically tailored for a younger audience.

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

4. “No Matter the Wreckage” by Sarah Kay

The above books are non-fiction, but this choice is a book of poetry from one of my favorite poets, Sarah Kay. I read “No Matter the Wreckage” while I was having a rough time with my mental health at the start of this year. I would read a poem or two a night, and I would let Kay’s clear and effecting lines soothe me. Poetry comes in many forms and from many voices, but Kay’s warm insight into what it means to feel fragile, to feel small, and also what it means to be alive and be part of something so much bigger than ourselves is truly engaging.

As Kay is a spokenword poet, many of her poems appear on YouTube. For example, there’s Ghost Ship:

Those are my picks. What are the books that are giving you hope this year? Please suggest some in the comments below. 

Photo by Albertus Galileo on Unsplash.

61 comments

Chad A
Chad A2 months ago

Thank you.

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y2 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J2 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Lesa D
Lesa D4 months ago

& re~read...

thank you Steve...

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Paulo R
Paulo R6 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R6 months ago

ty

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Paulo R
Paulo R6 months ago

ty

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Emma Z
Emma Z6 months ago

Good to know. Thanks.

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