Sustainable Development

Want to understand the world's biggest problems better? Read these 7 books

Assorted title book lot

The UN has identified 17 interconnected goals for a sustainable future, from tackling poverty to climate action. Image: Unsplash/Ed Robertson

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Sustainable Development?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Sustainable Development is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Sustainable Development

  • The UN has identified 17 interconnected goals for a sustainable future, from tackling poverty to climate action.
  • The aim is to achieve all of these goals by 2030.
  • Unesco’s Cities of Literature have picked books to reflect each goal.

Reading, studies show, increases empathy and charitable thinking. Fiction has even been credited with helping readers improve their understanding of others and make changes in their own lives.

Knowing the power of reading, a network of cities around the globe has developed a recommended reading list inspired by the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the global benchmarks designed to help the world work toward a better future.

Sustainable Development Goals
17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations Image: United Nations

UNESCO's Cities of Literature – a group that includes Durban in South Africa, Manchester in the UK and Baghdad in Iraq – selected novels and true-life stories on key SDG themes, including poverty, hunger and sustainability.

Use their picks to widen your own perspectives and help fuel the world’s progress toward achieving the UN's global goals. Here’s a selection of their recommendations:

Have you read?
Friedrich Engels: The Condition of the Working Class in England
Friedrich Engels: The Condition of the Working Class in England Image: Penguin Random House

1. The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels

Manchester recommends Friedrich Engels’ classic book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, a call to arms sparked by the poverty Engels saw in the country in the 1840s. German-born Engels explores the human cost of the industrial revolution, depicting overcrowded housing, abject poverty, child labor and sexual exploitation. It is considered a pioneering work of social history.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum's Book Club?

Halldor Laxness:  Independent People
Halldor Laxness' Independent People Image: Penguin

2. Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness’ book Independent People, recommended by Reykjavik, tells the story of a sheep farmer’s heroic determination to eke out an independent living in the harsh landscape of rural Iceland. The brunt of his obsessive quest is felt most by his family as his own daughter becomes equally determined to become independent from her father. Laxness tells this battle of wills with humor in a book writer Annie Proulx calls “sardonic, clever and brilliant.”

Kristín Eiríksdóttir: A Fist or a Heart
Kristín Eiríksdóttir's A Fist or a Heart Image: Amazon

3. A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir

The novella A Fist or a Heart by Kristín Eiríksdóttir tells the story of Elín Jónsdóttir, an isolated woman in her seventies who makes props and prosthetics for theater and television programs. She meets a younger woman, also a loner, and they discover common ground in their difficult childhoods. The connection unearths painful memories as Elin’s grasp on reality weakens. The book, selected by the city of Reykjavik, explores themes such as trauma and personal connection. It won the Icelandic Literary Prize and author Eiríksdóttir is considered one of the most original voices of her generation.

Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi's Taking Up Space
Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi's Taking Up Space Image: Penguin.co.uk

4. Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi

Written by two recent graduates from the University of Cambridge, Taking Up Space tackles the struggles faced by women of color in predominantly white institutions. This non-fiction book functions as a manifesto for change and helps students advocate for themselves at university, covering everything from academics to activism, mental health and relationships. Called “groundbreaking” by the Guardian, this book was recommended by the city of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Mira Harrison: Admissions
Mira Harrison's Admissions Image: Miraharrison.com

5. Admissions by Mira Harrison

Admissions is a collection of short stories that shares the experiences of eight women – doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners – who have dedicated their lives to caring. The fictional tales, selected by the New Zealand city of Dunedin, recount the highs and lows of working in clinical medicine. The book demonstrates the many ways different women from all walks of life keep a struggling institution up and running while navigating their lives at home.

Darren Simpson: Scavengers
Darren Simpson: Scavengers Image: Darren Simpson Writes

6. Scavengers by Darren Simpson

Darren Simpson’s young adult book Scavengers tells the story of two characters, Landfill and Old Babagoo, who live in a walled kingdom. Old Babagoo looks after Landfill on the condition that he follows his rules: never come looking outside and never rise above the wall. The book, selected by the UK’s city of Nottingham, explores themes such as sustainability, prejudice and control in a work packed with twists and turns.

Meg Mundell: The Trespassers
Meg Mundell's The Trespassers Image: MegMundell.com

7. The Trespassers by Meg Mundell

Meg Mundell’s The Trespassers tells the story of a shipload of migrant workers leaving the UK and looking for a fresh start in Australia. When a crew member is murdered and people start falling gravely ill, it becomes unclear where the real danger lies. The book is inspired by the true story of the Ticonderoga, a ‘fever ship’ full of migrant workers that reached Melbourne in 1852 and led to the creation of Australia’s first quarantine station. This book, selected by Australia’s Melbourne, was called “clever,” “gripping” and “powerful” by reviewers.

For more books that bring the UN's global sustainability goals to life, search for #17booksfor17SDGs on Facebook or Twitter.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Sustainable DevelopmentBook ClubESGEconomic Progress
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Al Gore: 3 ways to scale green investment in 2024

Andrea Willige

February 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum