There aren't many books that I'd put on the list of required reading for everyone on the planet. Other than the usual religious tomes (Koran, Bible, etc.), maybe Darwin's Origin of the Species, Homer's Odyssey, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude and various other classics, there are also a few books written recently that speak to our time and our place in a powerful and moving way. One is Muhammad Yunus' Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty, which tells the story of one man taking a small step to help someone else, that small step leading to what has become a revolutionary change in the economic relationship between some of the world's largest financial institutions and the poorest people on earth.
Another book that demonstrates the power of one individual acting alone to achieve great things is Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, just out in paperback and written by Portland author and Parade Magazine contributing editor David Oliver Relin. In it, he writes about an American mountain climber, Greg Mortenson, who gets lost after an unsuccessful attempt to climb K2. Nearly dead from injuries and exposure, he is taken in by the people of the small Pakistani mountain village of Korphe. Sharing their meager rations and gradually recovering, Mortenson promises to return and build a school for their children. This leads to the establishment of the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed more than 50 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. As part of the contract with the villagers, who actually construct the schools from supplies provided by the Institute, they must agree that at least half the students in the school will be girls.
In addition to the incredible story of Mortenson's miraculous survival, there are vivid, engaging portraits of the men and women of these rural villages and the terrible price that they have paid for living in the middle of warring civilizations. It presents a hopeful, ground-level alternative to the clash of titans that is ripping their (and our) world apart. A great gift for yourself, your children or your favorite government official, this is well worth the time.
Details: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. ISBN 0143038257.