7 Must-Read Books for Community Builders in 2022
Despite being filled with many ups and downs for us individually, 2021 was a groundbreaking year for the community-building profession. Alongside increased demand for community-building skills and accelerated technological innovation, there were also a handful of indispensable books on community that were published in 2021.
Need a place to start? Check out the list below. It highlights the titles from 2021 that I most recommend for all community professionals.
- Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown, PhD, MSW
Dr. Brown’s much-anticipated book arrived at the close of 2021, and it could not have come at a better time. Think of it as a reference guide for dealing with your own or others’ states of emotional well-being. In this book, she compiles and curates her own and others’ research on the immense topic of human emotions. The book’s design itself is awe-inspiring; it could be a coffee table book in addition to a reference resource. And it’s a departure from Dr. Brown’s previous work, which is primarily narrative-driven. This guide was developed to be picked up and put down whenever you need it (rather than reading it cover-to-cover). Read the introductory material and browse the rest of the book when it feels right. It’s like having a friendly social scientist by your side to help you navigate our complex emotional landscapes. In today’s world, nothing could be more important.
- Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection by Marissa King, PhD
Allow me to preface this recommendation by saying that the subject matter is my area of graduate research and inquiry: If you only read one work-related book in 2022, make it this one. It is filled with stories, research (that never reads as stodgy), and applications for our work. This book, written by Yale Professor Dr. Marissa King, will open your eyes to the social science of connection and networks. Through this book, you’ll see the big picture about the social science of networking—and why some forms of connection expand our communities and others keep us stuck.
- Together: The Healing Power of Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World by Vivek Murthy, MD
United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is one of the most influential American medical figures to declare loneliness an epidemic. Since his declaration in 2017, the epidemic has worsened; and today we need answers for how to move forward (I wrote about that topic for community builders in 2020). Dr. Murthy defines the problem clearly and outlines some potential solutions at the individual and cultural levels. If you are curious about how the “Loneliness Epidemic” may be impacting your work, this is a must-read.
- Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance by Erica Dhawan
Erica Dhawan tried to publish this book for many years. But it wasn’t until the pandemic left us with little to choose but digital connection that this book got the green light. We are lucky it did! If you’re building online communities today and you want to get better at communicating digitally, this will be a helpful guide for you. As Dhawan puts it, the book “decodes the signals and cues of who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done in our ever-changing world.” This book is an especially great primer for those who are newer to digital connection—especially those who never believed it was possible to create meaningful relationships online until recently.
- The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart by Alicia Garza
Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, writes a compelling story of community organizing. She traces her community organizer roots back to her upbringing in California and traces back the historical roots of today’s racial tensions over the last twenty-plus years. This book is a powerful read about what is possible when we work together—even if your work (ostensibly) has nothing to do with racial justice.
- Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
Though focused on American history, this book presents a compelling case for why we now face a leadership crisis globally. Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, writes passionately and personally about these issues and how we got to where we are today. Oluo helps delineate between leadership that seeks to grab credit and fuel egos and leadership that lifts us all up. The latter is the kind of leadership we community builders should be practicing. It’s important to know what it looks like—and what it does not.
- Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini, PhD
In his long-awaited follow-up to Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses how to create the ideal conditions for priming audiences and making them more receptive to influence and change. If you struggle to understand why your community isn’t working quite right, I recommend this read. It is a comprehensive guide to setting the stage for influence, although I would have preferred he include a more robust primer on the ethics of influence. These ideas on their own are neutral, but their application never is.
One of the key takeaways for me was this statement: “Our ability to create change in others is often and importantly grounded in shared personal relationships, which create a pre-suasive context for assent.” This helps explain why community builders and organizers are so effective at creating large-scale change over time. And it goes to show the power of our often unscalable work of deepening real relationships.
What community building books do you recommend reading in 2022? Screengrab your title and share it with me on Instagram!