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12 Books for DIFFERENCE MAKERS

Are you like me? Do you know deep in your bones that you were created on purpose for a purpose? Is there something in your core that is screaming for you to make a difference in this broken world?

The truth is, chasing crazy big dreams (like oh ya know, changing the world) takes insane amounts of perseverance and grit. We live in a universe that tells us to fend for ourselves, to seek as much personal pleasure as possible, and happiness is found in material possessions.

Yet, we know the truth. We know that Real Living is found in loving God and loving his people. There is no greater feeling than helping someone in need.

[Feeling Motivated? Check out my post 12 Ways to Change the World]

So today, I share 12 of my favorite books to encourage you on this journey to make a difference. Never stop chasing a life that is fully and recklessly alive my friends. It’s out there and it’s waiting for you. Let’s make a difference!

12 Books

***The book descriptions are from Amazon.com, because well, those people get paid to write beautiful book descriptions and I… super don’t.


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1. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

The Jist: After writing a successful memoir, Donald Miller’s life stalled. During what should have been the height of his success, he found himself unwilling to get out of bed, avoiding responsibility, even questioning the meaning of life. But when two movie producers proposed turning his memoir into a movie, he found himself launched into a new story filled with risk, possibility, beauty, and meaning.


A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s rare opportunity to edit his life into a great story, to reinvent himself so nobody shrugs their shoulders when the credits roll. Through heart-wrenching honesty and hilarious self-inspection, Donald Miller takes readers through the life that emerges when it turns from boring reality into meaningful narrative.

Miller goes from sleeping all day to riding his bike across America, from living in romantic daydreams to fearful encounters with love, from wasting his money to founding a nonprofit with a passionate cause. Guided by a host of outlandish but very real characters, Miller shows us how to get a second chance at life the first time around. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a rare celebration of the beauty of life.

My Three Cents: This is one of my absolute most favoritest of books of all time (hopefully I didn’t just oversell it for you). I read it every year.

Favorite Quote: “I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”

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2. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

The Jist: In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Mountains Beyond Mountains unfolds with a force of gathering revelation,” says Annie Dillard, and Jonathan Harr notes, “[Paul Farmer] wants to change the world. Certainly this luminous and powerful book will change the way you see it.”

My Three Cents: This was required my freshman year of college and so many of my classmates were crazy negative about it. Yet, I when I closed the book after reading the final page, I was changed. I knew I had to do bigger things with my life than what I was currently doing. I knew I wanted to go to Haiti and last summer I did.

Favorite Quote: “And I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

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3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Jist: Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

My Three Cents: You all know I have invented some crazy project over the years. The How Can I Help Project when I spent 30 days helping someone every single day or when I did 26 Acts of Kindness for my 26th Birthday. I think when life’s biggest funks hit, we need to do something a little crazy and totally out of the ordinary. Finding out what truly makes you happy and freeing yourself of the person you think you should be will allow you to just be you. A crazy, happy, beautiful you.

Favorite Quote: “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.”

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4. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

The Jist: Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena—whether it’s a new relationship, an important meeting, the creative process, or a difficult family conversation. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.

My Three Cents:  Few books have truly impacted me the way this book has. (If you want a taste of what you’re in for, watch Brene’s viral Ted TALK here in which this book is based off of). Her research has truly led me to lead a more authentic and beautiful life and I couldn’t be more thankful for her work and this book.

Favorite Quote: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

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5. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

The Jist: In this stunning new book, Malcolm Gladwell takes us on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers”–the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful. He asks the question: what makes high-achievers different?

His answer is that we pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. Along the way he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.

Brilliant and entertaining, Outliers is a landmark work that will simultaneously delight and illuminate.

My Three Cents: I have spent a lot of hours trying to define what success means to me. We are taught to believe that the most successful people are merely the brightest, strongest, best looking. I could not put this non-fiction book down as Malcolm looks at “success” in all arenas and what is actually behind many of the most successful people around us.

Favorite Quote: “It’s not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether or not our work fulfills us. Being a teacher is meaningful.”

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6. Platform by Michael Hyatt

The Jist: To be successful in the market today, you must possess two strategic assets: a compelling product and a meaningful platform. In this step-by-step guide, Michael Hyatt, former CEO and current Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, takes readers behind the scenes, into the new world of social media success. He shows you what best-selling authors, public speakers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and other creatives are doing differently to win customers in today’s crowded marketplace. Hyatt speaks from experience. He writes one of the top 800 blogs in the world and has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter. His large and growing platform serves as the foundation for his successful writing, speaking, and consulting practice.

In Platform, Hyatt will teach readers not only how to extend their influence, but also how to monetize it and build a sustainable career. The key? By building a platform. It has never been easier, less expensive, or more possible than right now. . .  The book includes:

  1. proven strategies

  2. easy-to-replicate formulas

  3. practical tips

Social media technologies have changed everything. Now, for the first time in history, non-celebrities can get noticed―and win big!―in an increasingly noisy world.

My Three Cents: Do you have a message to share with the world? This book has been an essential tool on my quest to tell people that there is hope no matter how dark and hopeless life may seem. It is empowering my work towards a world with zero suicides.

Favorite Quote: “It’s not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether or not our work fulfills us. Being a teacher is meaningful.”


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7. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Jist: A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave–“Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

My Three Cents: We hear over and over in our lives that life itself is fleeting, that we only have a little time on this ride they call life and we never quite know when it will stop. This book is just beautiful, heart-warming, and wicked inspiring. A short and quick read that will leave you to live each day to the fullest and make an impact while you’re here.

Favorite Quote: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”



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8. The Bible

The Jist: This little known book contains the stories of struggle, failure, defeat, love, overcoming, and resurrection that tell us who we are and where we came from. No one can deny that this is one of the most influential books in history and for good reason. It still goes against everything this world tells us we should be and encourages us to love with all our hearts. [Struggle to get into the word of God? Check out my post 1o Ways to Fall in Love With Your Bible]

My Three Cents: I am not the poster child of every day bible reading. Yet, when I read this ancient and mysterious book, I find a little bit of the person God created me to be.

(One of many, many, many) Favorite Quotes:

if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. -Isaiah 58:10

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9. Freedom Writer’s by The Freedom Writer’s

The Jist: As an idealistic twenty-three-year-old English teacher at Wilson High School in Long beach, California, Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. One day she intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature, and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust—only to be met by uncomprehending looks. So she and her students, using the treasured books Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo as their guides, undertook a life-changing, eye-opening, spirit-raising odyssey against intolerance and misunderstanding. They learned to see the parallels in these books to their own lives, recording their thoughts and feelings in diaries and dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers” in homage to the civil rights activists “The Freedom Riders.”

With funds raised by a “Read-a-thon for Tolerance,” they arranged for Miep Gies, the courageous Dutch woman who sheltered the Frank family, to visit them in California, where she declared that Erin Gruwell’s students were “the real heroes.” Their efforts have paid off spectacularly, both in terms of recognition—appearances on “Prime Time Live” and “All Things Considered,” coverage in People magazine, a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley—and educationally. All 150 Freedom Writers have graduated from high school and are now attending college.

With powerful entries from the students’ own diaries and a narrative text by Erin Gruwell, The Freedom Writers Diary is an uplifting, unforgettable example of how hard work, courage, and the spirit of determination changed the lives of a teacher and her students. 

My Three Cents: As a teacher myself, it’s easy to see why this book would appeal to me. But even for my friends outside the education system, this story is an unbelievable look at what it means to refuse to accept the way things are and never stop chasing the way things could and should be.

Favorite Quote: “It would be easy to become a victim of our circumstances and continue feeling sad, scared or angry; or instead, we could choose to deal with injustice humanely and break the chains of negative thoughts and energies, and not let ourselves sink into it.”


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10. Tattoos On the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

The Jist: For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith.

Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom.

These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.

My Three Cents: This beautiful book shares stories of God’s boundless love from the unlikeliest of places. Written in short essays, it’s the perfect book to read in short spurts but you definitely won’t want to put it down.

Favorite Quote: “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.”


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11. Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life by Steve Weins

The Jist: Have you ever found yourself at the beginning of a big life change? Maybe you’re getting married, or divorced. Maybe you’re having a child, or burying a parent. Maybe you’ve been promoted, or lost a job you loved. Maybe you’ve moved; maybe you feel stuck. These big changes hit us hard―it’s easy to lose our way. It’s easy to think that God is leaving us alone in them.

The good news is that the God who spoke the world into existence, who lovingly brought into being everything seen and unseen, is speaking into your big change. Drawing from the story of creation in Genesis, Beginnings offers an empowering message of how God works through the transition in our lives. As God orchestrated the ultimate transition when he created everything from nothing, he can handle the overwhelming details in your life. Beginnings is for everyone who faces significant transition―in career, in relationships, in life stage, whether good or bad. By exploring the first chapter in Genesis―day by day, creative act by creative act―Steve Wiens shows us how beginnings work, and how God works through our beginnings.

My Three Cents: When I was lost in the darkest season of my life, I somehow had the courage to wander into this large and hip church. I remember almost leaving several times while the rock band played. Then, a young preacher got up to speak and I cried and cried. Then I came back the next week and the next week. That man was Steve Weins and this book captures his authentic heart and uncanny ability to inspire everyone to chase the beautiful, messy, unbelievable life that God has planned for us.

Favorite Quote: “Hope is not like standing on dry ground after the snow melts. Hope arrives as snow is still on the ground. Hope is lifting your eyes up and seeing the bigger story in which you live, the one that includes the whole wide world  and your place within it.”

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12. Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis

The Jist: What would cause an eighteen-year-old senior class president and homecoming queen from Nashville, Tennessee, to disobey and disappoint her parents by forgoing college, break her little brother’s heart, lose all but a handful of her friends (because they think she has gone off the deep end), and break up with the love of her life, all so she could move to Uganda, where she knew only one person and didn’t even speak the language?

A passion to follow Jesus.

Katie Davis left over Christmas break of her senior year for a short mission trip to Uganda and her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. Katie, a charismatic and articulate young woman, is in the process of adopting thirteen children in Uganda and has established a ministry, Amazima, that feeds and sends hundreds more to school while teaching them the Word of Jesus Christ.

Kisses from Katie invites readers on a journey of radical love down the red dirt roads of Uganda. You’ll laugh and cry with Katie as she follows Jesus into the impossible and finds joy and beauty beneath the dust. Katie and her children delight in saying yes to the people God places in front of them and challenge readers to do the same, changing the world one person at a time.

My Three Cents: Katie Davis knew she was made to make a difference. She unbelievable story shares the victories and immense struggles of chasing your calling, the motions of defeat and the unparalleled joy of truly changing the world.

Favorite Quote: “It may take place in a foreign land or it may take place in your backyard, but I believe that we were each created to change the world for someone. To serve someone. To love someone the way Christ first loved us, to spread His light. This is the dream, and it is possible.”

Well, there you have it my friends. 12 Books that have encouraged me on my journey to be a difference maker.

Have you read any of these books? (If so let us know what you thought!)

What books would you add to this list?

Happy reading book worms!

Love,

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