I’d probably pick up any book that includes the words “foreword by Jimmy Carter,” because I know being in his company will make me feel better. OUR BETTER ANGELS: Seven Simple Virtues That Will Change Your Life and the World (St. Martin’s, 240 pp., $24.99), by Jonathan Reckford, C.E.O. of Habitat for Humanity, has such a foreword. When President Carter isn’t writing his own historical or inspirational books, he’s building homes with Habitat for Humanity for those who desperately need them. “Our Better Angels” lays out the seven virtues that can translate into action: Kindness, Community, Empowerment, Joy, Respect, Generosity and Service. This is a nifty way to organize a lot of great stories about people Habitat for Humanity has helped and to drive home the very important point that performing a service helps you, too — even if the service is done out of duty, not love. Because in a certain sense, duty can become love — as the British in general, and fans of “Downton Abbey” in particular, can surely tell you.
Which may be why I was drawn to a book called COSY: The British Art of Comfort (Yellow Kite, 224 pp., $28.29), by Laura Weir. The American market has been inundated with bossy little books in which other countries tell us how to behave. (Korea, please stop telling me to “empty my mind” so I can begin to claim the power of nunchi. I am 58. I can barely hold on to the few thoughts I have.) But O.K., I’m an Anglophile, and I was drawn to this one. “Unlike hygge, which is beautiful in essence, but too often seen through the lens of interior design magazines, being cosy is completely personal, affordable and democratic. … Cosy is your authentic self undone.” I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Cosy and Kind,” where Weir indirectly lays out the connection between duty and love, with advice like “Become the stealth de-icer: rise early and chuck down de-icing solution on the drives and steps of your elderly neighbors’ homes. They don’t need to know, but you will.” Alas, she also talks a great deal about creating small dolls and knitting woolly hats for charity. My Anglophilia stops short of knitting. Can I just send a check?
Victoria Turk’s KILL REPLY ALL: A Modern Guide to Online Etiquette, From Social Media to Work to Love (Plume, 224 pp., paper, $15.99) is one of the more amusing digital-etiquette books you’ll read. Simply put, social media has created a new universe of ways we can be mean to one another. So digital good manners are a great kindness, whether they apply to friends, work or love. (I like one of Turk’s definitions of love: “Texting them even though your battery’s at 5 percent.”) And now, I know I will never leave anyone in a specific circle of acquaintances out of a group chat, even if I think he or she is uninterested; let that person opt out himself. Let’s say it’s a book club chat. By God, everyone must be in there, even if Janet has questionable opinions about Nabokov and Leslie can turn every club meeting into a discussion of her grandchildren. These, like many of Turk’s lessons, are kindnesses I can live with.
Perhaps the most interesting (because the most personal, while also the most steeped in data) is Kelli Harding’s THE RABBIT EFFECT: Live Longer, Happier and Healthier With the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness (Atria, 272 pp., $27). For instance: In other wealthy nations over the past few years, life expectancy has been rising, while in the politically turbulent United States the trend has moved the other way. In 2016, we ranked 43rd in the world for life expectancy. Coincidence? We spend a fortune on health care, Harding notes. So what’s missing?
Well, as it turns out: everything. To dismiss the role that issues like abuse, discrimination and loneliness play in health, Harding writes, is “like fixing up an airplane engine and ignoring that the pilot is on his third drink at the bar and a massive storm is overhead.”