Lily Cole, a bona fide supermodel by the age of 16, has navigated her career with an acute appreciation for fashion’s moral compromises. From early on, she was anti-fur and anti-nudity. When she found out that De Beers, the jewelry company, was implicated in evicting the San people in Botswana in order to mine diamonds, she stopped modeling for the brand, working instead with the San to help them sell their fair trade jewelry. At 18 she found herself studying social and political sciences at Cambridge University, and has since parlayed her success into film and TV including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and There Be Dragons. She  was appointed creative partner of the Bronte Society in 2018 – the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte – and made the well-received short movie, Balls, inspired by the figure of Heathcliff, for the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire. But it is in social activism that her focus lies – her organization,, is an “altruism app” predicated on encouraging people to offer their services and skills to help others. This year she published Who Cares Wins (Rizzoli), a book that draws together interviews with major figures in industry as well as activism (think Extinction Rebellion) to interrogate how we might move towards a more sustainable future. 

Below are Lily Cole’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


We are the Weather

Jonathan Safran Foer
Essential reading if you want to better understand our climate crisis, and what we can all do about it, today. Although this book is non-fiction it reads like a novel: poetic and lyrical, it swept me away with its tides.
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The Gift

Lewis Hyde
I first discovered this (and Marcel Mauss’ The Gift after which it likely takes its name) in the world of academia when I was studying gift economies, but it seems to have become a cult classic, cropping up time and time again in the laps of artists I admire. Hyde elegantly - and unusually - bridges art and anthropology: building on a transformative understanding of our human history, to shine a new light on the role and pulse of creativity today. As our economy falters, we need to look to works like The Gift more than ever for knowledge of other ways of being.
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Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Chimera
Braiding Sweetgrass offers an indigenous window onto our world. As a scientist and a poet, Kimmerer holds our hand, and gently leads us barefoot down a meandering path that inevitably questions our understanding of science, the economy, nature, and ultimately ourselves. There is so much we can learn from indigenous communities, and this book offers a beautiful entry point to that journey.
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The Argonauts

Maggie Nelson
This book blows my mind for its refusal to be contained in any one form or box. Not poetry, not prose, not fiction, not non-fiction, it defies convention to slip stream between them all. And underneath all the rhetorical games lies a persistent and radical honesty: as Nelson reflects on sex, gender, birth, motherhood, love.
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Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing follows the ancestral chain of two half sisters, separated in Ghana in the 18th Century. Every chapter moves onto the descendants of the last chapter, so that by the end of the book we are navigating racial politics in contemporary America. Through its clever structure, Gyasi allows us to understand the connections between our time and the historical past, and to also ponder the often invisible - often unknown - impacts of ancestral heritage that we all carry in different ways. A compelling novel that draws you in page by page, chapter by chapter.
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A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf
While Woolf has other books arguably more ground breaking in terms of literary accomplishment, it is the simplicity, accessibility, poetic style and political charge of her essay A Room of One’s Own, which etched a lasting impression on my mind. Developed from lectures she gave at Cambridge University in 1928, Woolf makes the point that without economic freedom, women cannot have creative freedom - speculating that economic freedom is more important than the political vote (which women had just won). How many creative geniuses might we have lost in history, simply because they were women, she wonders, musing on the fate of Shakespeare’s sister.
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Ada or Ardor

Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov’s indulgent, clever use of language reaches its height in this ambitious and wild love story. I have read this book multiple times, and intend to read it many times again. Even recalling the novel makes me smile inside, as my imagination moves to the familiar spaces in my mind that were built by this book. As in Lolita, Nabokov enchants us with a world which is morally questionable - and by enticing us into that world, perhaps provokes us to diffuse hard ideas of right and wrong.
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Music for Chameleons

Truman Capote
A collection of short stories by Capote. Beautifully written, I love his portraits of his encounters with Marilyn Monroe, and with his cleaner, written after he spent a day following her around New York on her jobs. Capote offers an insightful glimpses into the social reality of his life and time, with short and charming stories.
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Voluntary Simplicity

Duane Elgin
As 2020 calls on us all to reflect on ourselves - individually, collectively, politically - and define new normals, this simple but important book from 1981 feels like an important tool in the shed. Elgin argues persuasively that we can each make a choice to voluntarily simplify our lives - to push against the mainstream insistence that more and busier is better - and that in doing so, we might both find not just sustainability, but also happiness - by reclaiming more of that most precious resource: time.
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Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari
I first listened to this book on a long road trip with friends, and I felt like it carried me in a trance the whole journey. It offers an accessible and compelling understanding of our place in human history: our evolution, revolutions and ancestral shifts which brought us to this moment. Most ground breaking for me, was the argument that the collective fictions to which we subscribe in 2020 - our belief in the supposed reality of say money, corporations, contracts - are not very different to the collective fictions that enabled societies in the past to organize themselves - such as the belief in gods or an afterlife.
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