Reading List: The Promise of a Pencil

UPDATED: May 15, 2024
PUBLISHED: March 22, 2014

By middle school, Adam Braun says he was “obsessed” with money, “fixated” on making a fortune on Wall Street and in full entrepreneurial mode. At 12, he made spending money as a seller on eBay. At 14, he was buying and selling Gap and Nike shares on E*TRADE. At 15, he spent his summer working at a hedge fund. After graduating from Brown University in 2006, he accepted a position at the consulting firm Bain & Co. on the way to a lucrative livelihood and fulfilling his dream of becoming a billionaire.

Barely four years later, Braun shelved his flourishing financial career to build schools in developing countries. It was a change that crept up on him, a slow burn sparked by a child’s answer to a simple question. While traveling in India, Braun asked a boy begging for money what he wanted most in the world. “A pencil,” the boy answered without hesitation. That stunningly modest reply eventually changed the direction of Braun’s life and inspired Pencils of Promise, the nonprofit that Braun founded in 2008.

In his endearing memoir, Braun enthusiastically shares his experiences, recounting how he started and scaled up his organization by working with local communities and by applying the business and management principles that he learned at Brown and Bain to the nonprofit world.

Braun combines his laid-back storytelling style with simple yet sage advice. He counsels those who want to revamp their careers or take on an entrepreneurial venture to “think big and then take small, incremental steps forward day by day,” pointing out that he set out to build just one school, not a global education complex. To open your mind to possibilities, change the subjects of your daily conversation from the life you are living to the life you aspire to create, and always do small things that make others feel big.

The Promise of a Pencil is engaging, instructive and inspiring reading for anyone who wants to change his or her life, change the world, or simply feel better about humanity.

by Adam Braun

Scribner; $25

Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.