Our Top Reads for Summer 2018

"Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood." - John Green. Enjoy this summer reading list curated by Habitat Chicago staff and year-long volunteers that we hope will spark in you the same understanding they have in us.


David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Recommended by: Jen Parks, Executive Director

You might have heard of the story of David and Goliath, but I suggest, you’ve never thought of it like this before. In his latest book, Malcolm Gladwell challenges us to flip the script in several different scenarios, such as a person with dyslexia or the loss of a parent at a young age, and change our perspective to view those challenges as potential advantages in disguise. In the biblical tale, David’s size is told to be a disadvantage to the towering Goliath, but with his small stature and slingshot expertise he actually had a distinct advantage over the brute strength of Goliath. His perceived disadvantage was actually to his advantage in battle. I see this in the way we live out our mission here at Habitat Chicago. Each day we are challenged to change our perspective and look at perceived disadvantages through a lens of advantage. Rather than viewing a lot as “vacant”, we can change our perspective on this asset and view it as “green space” that is perfect for beautifying and enhancing the neighborhood aesthetic. Or it could be space ripe for new development. David and Goliath is a great book if you’re looking for a new outlook. Give it a read, and start challenging conventional wisdom’s idea of “disadvantages.”


The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

Recommended by: David Chudy, Corporate Partnerships Manager

This book is an engaging piece on a somewhat forgotten part of US history. The Color of Law takes an in-depth look at the public policies that helped to shape the racial make-up of our cities and suburbs over the last 80 years. Starting with the creation of the Federal Housing Authority in 1934, this book analyzes the dark, and unknown to most, history of how our local, state, and federal governments played a major role in creating the racial segregation that still persists today in our country. While it can be a difficult and sometimes frustrating read, I think The Color of Law tells an important story, and gives much needed context to the origins of many of the problems that our society currently faces.


Sustainable Nation: Urban Design Patterns for the Future by Douglas Farr

Recommended by: Kelly Bandman, Construction Project Manager

The book Sustainable Nation is about creating the next great story of the United States - the journey to sustainable living and carbon neutrality. Sustainable Nation imagines and plots the great journey our nation can take to reverse troubling environmental trends through Urban Design Patterns. Extensive research and conversations with experts led to this wonderful book, which identifies the patterns that work, and provides options to accelerate the utilization of these sustainable patterns. My favorite chapter of Farr’s book - and the one that connects to Habitat Chicago’s mission at its core - is entitled “Collective Effervescence”. It describes how design and urban planning can build community; how welcoming public spaces create a feel of safety; and how commitment to place builds strong relationships and hope. The largest take-away from this book is that it’s time for change. How? Why? When? I encourage you to pick up a copy and read for yourself! You will truly be inspired to think about the future of your neighborhood, the City of Chicago, and this nation.


High-Risers: Cabrini Green and the Fate of American Public Housing by Ben Austen

Recommended by: Katie Graham, AmeriCorps VISTA Corporate Relations Coordinator

One of the most famous, or infamous, tales of public housing has been that of Chicago’s own Cabrini-Green. In High-Risers, Ben Austen weaves personal narratives of former residents into the history of public housing and the policies that led to the construction, then destruction, of the 23 towers. He pulls no punches when describing the corruption of Chicago’s City Hall, and how politicians used Cabrini-Green residents as campaign fodder, and continued to fail them even after the towers fell. As a Chicagoland native and a longtime resident of the city, I thought I knew the story of Cabrini-Green, but reading High-Risers opened my eyes to the larger situation. I especially appreciated the stories of the residents, which allow a better understanding of the humanity that’s at stake whenever we talk about public or affordable housing.


The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Recommended by: Deena Prescavage, Development Manager

Narrated by aspiring writer and Latina teenager Esperanza Cordero, The House on Mango Street weaves together poetic vignettes that detail one year of her life growing up in a Chicago neighborhood on the fictitious Mango Street. There are many reasons to recommend The House on Mango Street as a summer read: in fewer than 150 pages, it depicts the ways in which our adult lives are shaped by our home environments as children; it reminds how sexual assault has become a grossly normalized occurrence; its narrator inspires hope in the reader, as she remains an optimistic dreamer despite having to face daily pains of poverty; and the list goes on. But, for me, what has been most profound is its illustration of how a community looks very different through the lens of a passerby than through the lens of someone who calls it home, and how harmful of a trap it is to write off entire communities, be it actively or passively, based on these limited and unacquainted assessments.

If you decide to pick up any of the books above, be sure to start your shopping at smile.amazon.com and select Habitat for Humanity Chicago as your nonprofit of choice. A percentage of each purchase will then be donated to support our local mission. 



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