On Our Bookshelves: Humans


BOOK: Humans

AUTHOR: Brandon Stanton




Pretty often, I’m asked to donate for a personal cause–to help someone fund their art project, or assist a small business.  I chip in for funeral expenses when a family is struggling, and with health care costs when someone’s hit with a bad diagnosis, or sometimes to help cover the cost of providing meals to give caretakers a needed break.  I’ve given money for scholarship funds to honor legacies, and to favorite charities as a way of celebrating and commemorating lives well-lived.  I do these things because I know these stories–they’re for friends, neighbors, community members, co-workers, people I have connections with and care about.


Of course, everyone has a story.  Over the years, I’ve occasionally had meaningful and emotional conversations with strangers in bars, on airplanes, in cabs.  Sometimes someone I don’t know, a friend of a friend at a cocktail party, or a fellow traveler at a hotel, has something touching or important to say, or provides some wisdom or advice that lands at just the right time. I take these moments, when they come, as gifts from the universe, and reminders that we’re all human beings, often with more in common than we might think.


Brandon Stanton’s gift to the world is a collection of those stories and connections, those gifts from the universe amplified and shared.  He’s a photographer, blogger, and author; he started Humans of New York, a photography project, taking portraits of New Yorkers, in 2010. His Facebook page started getting attention, and he started adding stories–initially short quotes from his subjects, and eventually, longer interviews.  A few years later, he started taking trips to photograph people in other parts of the world, and collecting images and stories in South Africa, Russia, Rwanda, Ghana, New Zealand, England, Italy, Vietnam, Jamaica–over 40 countries so far.  And the stories (which now number in the thousands) are followed by a global audience of over 30 million people, across various social media platforms.   


Besides connecting people with stories, and writing best-selling books (he published Humans of New York, Humans of New York: Stories, and Little Humans before his most recent Humans), Stanton’s raised money (over $12 million and counting) for individuals featured in his work, and for non-profit organizations.  And it’s no surprise, because the stories he highlights in his work are touching, and honest, and very, very human.  So, he’s managed to crowd fund to help end bonded labor in Pakistan, to support pediatric cancer research, to give numerous small businesses a boost in these challenging times, to launch various GoFundMe campaigns to cover medical and living expenses. He and his audience helped a videographer adopt a boy from Ethiopia.  They supported a middle school in Brooklyn with a trip to Harvard for all of its students, summer programming, and scholarship money. The magic, what inspires this generosity, is all in the stories–the intimacy, the emotion, the struggles, the triumphs, and the authenticity. 


Humans is a collection of some of the highlights of this work.  The stories are honest in their pain, and their joys. Get to know a tarot card reader in New York City; a pair of widowers who found love and each other at a dance for seniors in Sao Paulo; a woman in Spain worried about her sister who struggles with anorexia; an unemployed oil worker in Argentina who can’t afford milk for his kids; a big-hearted woman who rescues animals in Uruguay; a man in India who traces his successful business to a stranger who left him an enormous tip–and who might just possibly have been God himself; a woman in France who escaped an abusive relationship and was able to make friends, get a job, and find a new love; and a union organizer in Seoul no longer ashamed of her menial labor.  


To quote the author: “…the approach is perhaps the most important part of my job.  It’s the process of getting through to the real person.  Finding what’s behind the shield, and presenting it to others.  If our shields are what separate us, it’s what behind them that brings us together; the struggles, the worries, the pain, the weakness.  All the soft spots.  The places we protect.  These are the things that make us most relatable to others.  These are the things that connect us–if only we allow them to be seen.”


Stanton makes another important point about randomness; news stories are generally selected for negativity.  He selects his interview subjects by happenstance, not because of politics, terrorism, violence, or to fit a larger narrative.  Randomness can therefore easily be mistaken for positivity–but he isn’t trying to put a positive spin on his subjects.  “When people are chosen at random–they are always nicer than we expect.  They’re more loving.  More tolerant. And more peaceful.  And that’s great news for all of us.  Because it’s people that make up our neighborhood, our cities, our countries–and our world.”


Now, I would like very much to live in a world, or even a nation, where basic needs of all people are met and no one needs to crowd fund to support local schools or pay medical bills.  Sadly, that’s not our reality.  But maybe things can change, one person, one photograph, one story, one act of generosity at a time.  If we choose kindness, compassion, and understanding, that is.


The ending of the novel Cloud Atlas is coming to my mind, the part where Adam Ewing pledges himself to the abolitionist cause.  He imagines his father-in-law’s response: “Naive, dreaming Adam.  He who would do battle to the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!” But he concludes, and so ends the book: “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

The drops are endless, the human stories innumerable; if we seek to understand, to listen, and to care, who knows what we might accomplish?


Humans would make an excellent gift for just about anyone.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles




Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and two cockatiels.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com



Lead-In & Book Cover – Macmillan



A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

A Wandering Eye: Travels with My Phone, Miguel Flores-Vianna

After the Fall, Dan Santat

Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

An Almond for a Parrot, Wray Delaney

An English Murder, Cyril Hare

An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Anne Of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Arthur & George, Julian Barnes

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

Belles on Their Toes, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Bellewether, Susanna Kearsley

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Carols and Chaos, Cindy Ansty

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cheaper by the Dozen, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Death in Profile, Guy Fraser-Sampson

Decorating a Room of One’s Own, Susan Harlan

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Everything Happens for a Reason–and Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Frederica, Georgette Heyer

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Ghostly, edited by Audrey Niffenegger

Ghosts of New York, Jim Lewis

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Gmorning, Gnight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Grey Mask, Patricia Wentworth

H is for Haiku, Sydell Rosenberg

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Hemingway Didn’t Say That, Garson O’Toole

Here is New York, E.B. White

Heretics & Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

How to Bake π–An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, Eugenia Cheng

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

I Will Always Write Back, Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

In the Last Analysis, Amanda Cross

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor, Stephanie Barron

Jim Trelease’s Read-Aloud Handbook, edited and revised by Cyndi Giorgis

Kenny & the Dragon, Tony DiTerlizzi

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

Lexicon, Max Barry

Lizard Music, Daniel Pinkwater

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Loveboat, Taipei, Abigail Hing Wen

Madeleine’s Ghost, Robert Girardi

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Momo, Michael Ende

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

New York New York, Richard Berenholtz

Night Train to Lisbon, Pascal Mercier

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

No Time to Spare, Ursula K. Le Guin

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

Novel Advice, Jay Bushman

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

Once on a Time, A.A. Milne

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Cottage, Mary Stewart

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Sanditon, Jane Austen and Another Lady

Secrets and Lies, Selena Montgomery

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Sing and Shine On!, Nick Page

Snow, Orhan Pamuk

Solutions and Other Problems, Allie Brosh

Sorcery and Cecelia: Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Still the Promised Land, Natwar Gandhi

Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand, Alexander Elder

Strength in What Remains: Tracy Kidder

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl

Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes, Lynn Sherr

The Alienist, Caleb Carr

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Beauty in Breaking, Michele Harper

The BFG, Roald Dahl

The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Benjamin Wallace

The Book of Forgotten Authors, Christopher Fowler

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

The Cat Who Went to Heaven, Elizabeth Coatsworth

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Daily Jane Austen: A Year of Quotes, Devoney Looser

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

The Great Passage, Shion Miura

The Guest List, Lucy Foley

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, John Bellairs

The Ice House, Minette Walters

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Madwoman and the Roomba, Sandra Tsing Loh

The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, P.D. James

The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

The School of Essential Ingredients, Erica Bauermeister

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel (illustrator), Maurice Sendak (introduction)

The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker

The Shrinking of Treehorn, Florence Parry Heide

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin

The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Three Questions, Jon J Muth

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman

The Translator, Nina Schuyler

The Truth About Unicorns, Bonnie Jones Reynolds

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The War on Normal People, Andrew Yang

The Weird World of Wes Beattie, John Norman Harris

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, Joan Dye Gussow

Touch Not the Cat, Mary Stewart

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler

Ways of Seeing, John Berger

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

What If?, Randall Munroe

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Worth a Thousand Words, Brigit Young

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff

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