Five Good Reads for Compliance Professionals


By Kitty Holt
Director, Ethics & Compliance, Plan International USA

I generally read a couple of books a month, and it struck me recently that most of the books I read are directly or indirectly related to compliance and risk, and may be of interest to other compliance professionals. In no particular order, here are five recommendations (all of which are mine alone, no one asked me to recommend these books):

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo. This book details Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. I was stunned at how quickly things got out-of-hand and at the power of groups to lure people to do things they never would have imagined they would do (even without being asked to do them). Thanks to Dan Roach who recommended this book in his SCCE presentation “Seven Habits of an Effective Compliance and Ethics Professional.”

Dying Out Here Is Not An Option by John Connelly. This book details “Paddlequest 1500,” Connelly’s solo canoe and kayak journey through parts of the U.S. and Canada in 2016, where he traveled 1,500 miles in 75 days, a journey that had never been attempted before. Connelly’s pre-trip planning was thorough and impressive, yet he still faced danger and trouble, and this book detailed his journey in a way that brings applicable lessons to all of us, not just extreme kayakers. (Disclosure: Connelly and I serve on the board of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center together.)

The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick. This book is a fascinating look at an incredible and unbelievable art hoax and how the forger, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren, was able to make people believe that his work was that of Johannes Vermeer, a well-known Dutch painter. While your work may have nothing to do with art, rest assured you will learn about human behavior from reading this book, and that will serve you well in any compliance role. Thanks to SCCE/HCCA President Gerry Zack for his presentation based on this book, which inspired my reading it.

Whistleblower by Amy Block Joy. I attended one of Block Joy’s sessions at the SCCE conference some years ago. Her book Whistleblower is an interesting first-hand account at what happened to her when she spoke up against wrongdoing at her workplace and faced retaliation. A captivating read which helps you to see things from the point of view of someone who is considering speaking up, and what happens when that goes wrong.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew Walker, PhD. A sobering look at the drastic impact of lack of sleep on the body, from cancer to Alzheimer’s to depression to weight gain to fatal car accidents, to so much more. The book details how less than seven hours (seven hours! Most of us don’t get that!) of sleep a night is harmful to the mind and body. As a compliance professional, you may not be able to get your employees to get more sleep, but you can at least be aware of the impact of sleep loss on decision making and resolve to get more yourself.

I encourage you to read any or all of these books – and leave a note below with your recommendations!


  1. Thanks for such great suggestions! I can also recommend all of Dan Ariely’s books, particularly Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations. It’s particularly relevant as we look at conflicts of interest and the use of incentives.

  2. These sound great! I’ve just added them to my book list. There isn’t a SCCE/HCCA Good Reads list, is there?

    • No, there isn’t. Richard Bistrong and I were talking about this at the European Compliance and Ethics Institute in Berlin. He gave away several books in his session. Depending on who responds here, maybe we can begin compiling a list that can be published in the SCCE/HCCA community library.

  3. I’ love the idea of a book list!! Maybe even have a vendor at the National Conference who is willing to bring supplies of the listed books!! Add Roy’s book to the list, as well as Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here