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Common Read

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2021-22 Common Read

The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy is in short supply. Isolation and tribalism are rampant. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even thirty years ago. In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States is suffering from an “empathy deficit.” Since then, things only seem to have gotten worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In this groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort. He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. We meet a former neo-Nazi who is now helping extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout.

Written with clarity and passion, The War for Kindness is an inspiring call to action. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge.

Past Common Read Selections

2020-21: The Moth Presents: Occasional Magic

2019-20: Becoming by Michelle Obama

2018-19: So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

2017-18: The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

2016-17: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

2015-16: Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon



2014-15: Where Am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman

2013-14: The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

2012-13: Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

2011-12: Eaarth by Bill McKibben