100 Best Books for Humanitarians
While college courses can teach you many things, sometimes it’s better to seek out information on a given topic on your own. If you’re interested in learning more about humanitarian crises, famous humanitarians, social entrepreneurship or other issues related to these topics, sometimes books can be the best way to do so. Here are 100 books that are excellent reads for anyone wanting to learn more about humanitarian endeavors.
Fiction and Memoirs
These books provide both fictional and true-life accounts of some of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.
- What Is the What? by Dave Eggers: This book tales the story of Valentino Achek Deng, a boy forced to flee his home in Sudan and the struggles he faced there and once moving to the US.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: Want to know why Afghanistan is the way it is today? This book blends history and politics with a moving tale about friendship.
- Africa: Stranger Than Fiction: Memoirs Of A Humanitarian Aid Worker by Steven VanOrden: Learn about the realities of being an aid worker in Southern Africa from this man who experienced both the terror and joy of it firsthand.
- They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan by Benjamin Ajak, Benson Deng, Alephonsian Deng and Judy Bernstein: Here, you’ll find a book that allows you to learn about the lives of three boys pushed out of their homes and how they’ve struggled to adapt to a new life abroad.
- God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir by John Bul Dau and Michael S. Sweeney: This book tells the tale of John Bul Dau, just 13 when he was forced from his home during the civil wars in southern Sudan.
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah: We often do not think of soldiers as being children, but in Sierra Leone that is often tragically not the case. This book will let you see the life of a young man who became a soldier at 12 and the struggles he endured to move past the experience.
- Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat: See how the Six Day War and its aftermath affected this young Palestinian woman’s life in this moving book.
- On That Day, Everybody Ate: One Woman’s Story of Hope and Possibility in Haiti by Margaret Trost: In this book, Margaret Trost shares her experiences working in Haiti, exposing the faith, hope and determination that lie in some of the most desperate places on Earth.
- Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children by Faith J. H. McDonnell and Grace Akallo: Learn how thousands of Ugandan children have been kidnapped by rebels and forced to fight, like the young Grace Akallo pushed into combat at only 15.
- When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip and Jay Wurts: Read this book to learn one woman’s account of the terror and heartbreak of the Vietnam War.
- Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Wartime Sarajevo by Zlata Filipovic: Those old enough to remember the struggles in Bosnia will remember that they were brutal and violent. This book offers a firsthand look at what it was like to grow up during such a chaotic time.
- Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti by Frances Temple: In this novel, readers will find a powerful tale set against the poverty and oppression in modern day Haiti.
- Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer and Damien Lewi: While we’d like to think that slavery no longer exists in the world, the reality is that many, including the author of this book, are still affected by it.
- The Translator: A Memoir by Daoud Hari: This book follows Hari, who, after escaping the massacre of this village, returns to Darfur to be a translator for reporters and UN investigators.
- Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur by Halima Bashir and Damien Lewis: Learn what Sudan was like in the days before the war and bloodshed they are so well-known for today and the tragedies that arose when religious conflicts took over in this book by native Halima Bashir.
- We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch: This book is filled with stories of the tragedy and human kindness that occurred during the bloody struggles between Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda.
- Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan: This collection of short stories about children living through a variety of difficult situations in Africa shows the resilience of the young and their drive to survive.
- Night by Elie Wiesel: Perhaps one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen, this Prize-winning book takes a look at the guilt and pain one Holocaust survivor feels.
- However Tall the Mountain: A Dream, Eight Girls, and a Journey Home by Awista Ayub: While many enjoy few freedoms at home, learn about a group of Afghan girls who travel to the US to play soccer in this book.
- First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung: See the horrors of the Khmer Rouge firsthand in this author’s life story, now a spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine-Free World.
Inspiration and Education
These books can help you learn more about those involved in humanitarian projects and what more needs to be done or changed to help a greater number of people.
- The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur by Brian Steidle and Gretchen Steidle Wallace: This book allows you into the world of an observer who could not intervene only document the horrors that occurred in Darfur.
- Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John: In this book you’ll learn about the fugees, a soccer team composed of African refugees struggling to make a new life in a new country.
- Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast: Learn how to better make a difference in speaking out and helping to end the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
- Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld: Here, you’ll find a unique perspective on the Rwandan crisis, hearing what those responsible for the killings themselves have to say.
- Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen: This book presents a controversial position that eliminationism is the leading cause of large-scale violence in the world today.
- Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Read this book to learn more about a man who has constructed schools and attempted to improve access to education in the impoverished village of Korphe.
- Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: These authors believe that the world can be improved by helping women get on their feet and make a living.
- A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman by Lisa Shannon: Through this book, you’ll learn about the journey of one woman from Portland to the heart of The Democratic Republic of Congo and the help and compassion she extended to the women who need it there.
- The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz: Learn what this woman is doing through social entrepreneurship and charity to help those who need it around the world.
- Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Greg Mortenson: Greg Mortenson will inspire you in this extended account of his work to build schools and promote peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- Crimes of War 2.0: What the Public Should Know edited by Anthony Dworkin, Roy Gutman and David Reiff: This book is essential to those hoping to work in humanitarian or human rights fields, with a list of wartime atrocities and broken rules of war.
- The Evolution of International Human Rights by Paul Gordon Lauren: In this book you’ll learn how human rights and the struggle for them have changed over the past decades.
- 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: You might not agree with the author, but this book on the role of outsiders in local conflicts and crises is interesting nonetheless.
These books will help you better understand humanitarian movements and the laws, politics and spin that come with them.
- Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action by Thomas George Weis: This book will teach you what humanitarian intervention is and showcases some of the problems it poses.
- Condemned to Repeat?: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action by Fiona Terry: This head of the French section of Doctors Without Borders explains why humanitarian aid sometimes fails in its mission.
- The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War by Gary D. Solis: Check out this textbook for an excellent discussion of the laws that apply in war with regard to human rights.
- Humanitarians in Hostile Territory: Expeditionary Diplomacy and Aid outside the Green Zone by Peter W. Van Arsdale and Derrin R Smith: In this book, you’ll learn about the brave and kind souls who go into some of the most dangerous areas of the world to help those who need it most, and the struggles that come along with that kind of work.
- Dangerous Sanctuaries: Refugee Camps, Civil War, And the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid by Sarah Kenyon Lischer: Learn how refugee camps have spurred on international conflicts and read a discussion of how aid organizations can better learn how to prevent these kinds of issues.
- Careers for Good Samaritans and Other Humanitarian Types, 3rd edition by Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler: If you’re looking for a career in a humanitarian field, consider reading this book for job ideas.
- The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War by Conor Foley: Humanitarian aid isn’t always cut and dry in its mission as this book will show.
- The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All by Gareth Evans: This book looks at the idea that we are all responsible for stopping genocide when it occurs in the world.
- War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times by Linda Polman: Here, you can learn about the big business of foreign aid and how much of it never gets to the intended recipients.
- And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts: In this well-known and regarded book, you’ll be able to learn about how the AIDS epidemic started and where it’s gone from there.
- Dual Disasters: Humanitarian Aid After the 2004 Tsunami by Jennifer Hyndman: Read this book to look at the issues that arose when humanitarian funding for the victims of the tsunami had to be divided up between existing conflicts and the new disaster.
- Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention by Gary Jonathan Bass: This book is an excellent resource for learning about the beginnings of humanitarian military intervention.
- An Imperfect Offering: Humanitarian Action for the Twenty-First Century by James Orbinski: Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, this author shares his experiences working for Doctors Without Borders.
Read these books to learn more about a variety of humanitarian topics.
- Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises by Architecture for Humanity: Learn how architecture can make a real difference in the world from this acclaimed book.
- Even in Chaos: Education in Times of Emergency by Kevin Cahill: This book will show you why it’s so important to continue to educate the young even when things are falling apart around them.
- When Plague Strikes: The Black Death, Smallpox, AIDS by James Cross Giblin: Learn what a tragic toll illness can have on those least prepared to fight it off and ways that these crises are being dealt with today in this book.
- Children at War by P. W. Singer: Here, you can learn what a toll war takes on children– especially when they’re forced to engage in combat themselves.
- Child Soldiers in Africa by Alcinda Honwana: Take a look at this often sad book to learn more about the children who have been forced to fight in Africa.
- unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson: This book will teach you how to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the media.
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath: Want to make your humanitarian mission succeed? Consider reading this book about what can make it stick.
- The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma by Annie Rogers: Learn how to better understand those you’ll be working with in humanitarian crises through the help of this book.
Biographies and Autobiographies
Read these books to learn more about some of the greatest crusaders for human rights in recent history.
- Susan B. Anthony: Rebel Crusader, Humanitarian by Alma Lutz: This book will teach you about the tireless efforts of Anthony to gain equal rights for women and other disenfranchised groups.
- Diana, Princess of Wales: Humanitarian by Sherry Beck Paprocki: Learn more about the humanitarian work this famous princess did by reading this book.
- Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela: You can become inspired to change the world by reading the biography of this amazing man.
- Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth by Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi: One of the best known human and civil rights activists, Gandhi’s policy of peaceful resistance still resonates with us today.
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr. and Clayborne Carson: This book is a great tool to learn more about the life and work of MLK.
- Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink: If you admire the dedication to humanitarian efforts Mother Teresa had, read this book about her life.
- Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography by Albert Schweitzer: You might not know the name, but you are likely aware of the ideas and movements this humanitarian started.
- Sweet Relief: The Marla Ruzicka Story by Jennifer Abrahamson: American aid worker named Marla Ruzicka and her Iraqi colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, were killed by a suicide bomber in 2005 on their way to visit an injured girl. Her friend tells her tale in this sad, but inspiring book.
- Apostle of the Poor: The Life and Work of Missionary and Humanitarian Charles D. Neff by Matthew Bolton: You might not support missionary work, but you can’t deny the impact this man had on helping the world’s poor, documented in this book.
Here you can find some books written by well-known humanitarians.
- Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter: Learn about the tireless efforts of this former president to bring peace to the Middle East in this book.
- Sister Girl by Jackie Huggins: You can learn more about the efforts this activist has made for the rights of aboriginal people in Australia in this book.
- No Greater Love by Mother Teresa: You don’t have to be a Catholic to enjoy the message of this book, promoting loving, giving and sacrifice for the betterment of humanity.
- Healing Anger: The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective by Dalai Lama: Increase your patience and relieve your anger through the advice offered in this book.
- An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by The Dalai Lama and Nicholas Vreeland: The lessons taught in this book could help you to become a more compassionate person.
Find out more about how businesses can change the world with their ideas in these great reads.
- Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Prize winner Yunus shares his thoughts on how businesses can make a difference in this book.
- Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus: Learn more about the power of social entrepreneurship and business that serves a greater need in this book.
- Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty by Muhammad Yunus: This book describes the lending policies that earned Yunus a Nobel Prize.
- How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideasby David Bornstein: This book is an essential read for those interested in pursuing social entrepreneurship.
- The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World by John Elkington, Pamela Hartigan, and Klaus Schwab: Learn how businesspeople on the fringes of the mainstream might hold the key to a socially conscious marketplace.
- Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know by David Bornstein and Susan Davis: Find out what being a social entrepreneur is all about by reading this book.
- Mission, Inc.: The Practitioners Guide to Social Enterprise by Kevin Lynch and Julius Walls: These two social entrepreneurs lay out helpful guidelines to help others get started in the field in this book.
- Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change by Alex Nicholls: This book is a great introduction for those hoping to learn more about the social entrepreneurship movement.
- Tactics of Hope: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing Our World by Wilford Welch: Read the stories of numerous people around the world who are using their businesses to change lives.
- Social Entrepreneurship: A Modern Approach to Social Value Creation by Arthur C. Brooks: If you’re studying social entrepreneurship or nonprofit management, this book is a great learning tool.
- Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World by Alex Counts: Here, you can learn how people like Muhammad Yunus are truly making a difference in the lives of people through their social entrepreneurship.
These books will teach you more about charitable actions and how to make your philanthropy count.
- The Seven Faces of Philanthropy by Russ Alan Prince: Whether you’re managing giving on a large, non-profit scale or just for yourself, you’ll find valuable information here.
- Wealthy and Wise by Claude Rosenberg: Learn how to get the most out of your giving with this book.
- Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks: This book exposes some surprising truths about who gives and who doesn’t in America.
- Strategic Giving: The Art and Science of Philanthropy by Peter Frumkin: This book will teach you loads about the benefits of planned giving.
- Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission by Robert L. Payton and Michael P. Moody: Read this book to learn more about the history and meaning of philanthropy in society.
- Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy by Paul Brest and Hal Harvey: You might find yourself working in an organization that needs a smart way to donate money. Learn more about it here.
- The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey R. Solomon: If you’re looking for a career in a humanitarian field, this book can help you learn the basics of combining business with philanthropy.
- Change Philanthropy: Candid Stories of Foundations Maximizing Results through Social Justice by Alicia Epstein Korten and Kim Klein: If you’re looking to promote a social justice organization, this book is good read to better understand how to get more funding and help more people.
- The Wisdom of Generosity: A Reader in American Philanthropy by William J. Jackson: This book is a great primer on the history of American religious philanthropy.
- Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World by Matthew Bishop, Michael Green, and President Bill Clinton: Learn how the world’s leading philanthropists are helping change how we give and changing the world.
- Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker by Bill Somerville: This book will teach you how to do a better job getting grants and managing your foundation.
Every humanitarian cause needs a little financial help to get off of the ground, and these books can help make you better at getting those funds when you need them.
- Fundraising for Social Change by Kim Klein: Those involved in fundraising will appreciate the advice on campaigns, special events and donor support found in this book.
- Raise More Money by the Grassroots Fundraising Journal: Want to learn how to raise more money for your organization? This book can help.
- Grant Proposal Makeover by Susan Fox: Many non-profits get a large portion of their funds from grants. Learn how to better write proposals for these grants to increase your chance of winning them.
- Storytelling for Grantseekers by Cheryl Clarke: How you present your mission and your organization can go a long way towards determining whether or not you get the money you need, skills you can learn from this book.
- Achieving Excellence in Fund Raising by Hank Rosso: Learn how to be a better fundraiser in a variety of ways from this book.
- Writing for a Good Cause: The Complete Guide to Crafting Proposals and Other Persuasive Pieces for Nonprofits by Joseph Barbato and Danielle Furlich: This book is a great guide for improving your grant proposals.
- Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work by Ilona M. Bray: Tired of books that promote fundraising strategies that aren’t realistic? Then check out the methods touted by this book instead.
- The Zen of Fundraising: 89 Timeless Ideas to Strengthen and Develop Your Donor Relationships by Ken Burnett: Build better relationships with your donors by reading this book.
- Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future by Mal Warwick: Times may be tight right now, but you can learn how you can still get the funding you need with help from this book.
- Ask Without Fear!: A Simple Guide to Connecting Donors With What Matters to Them Most by Marc A. Pitman: This book will help you to better communicate with your current and potential donors.