We're always on the lookout for interesting, informative, and just plain cool new books to stimulate world-changing thinking. I know that Alex just finished something great (and will post about it soon), and I have a stack I'm going through now. But what else should we read? Here are some that I'm thinking of picking up, to get you started.
Small Is Profitable, a book by the Rocky Mountain Institute, was selected as the 2002 Economist Book of the Year. It argues for a radically distributed/decentralized electricity grid, making the power network more flexible in a crisis, more economically resilient, and more environmentally sustainable. It looks to be a handbook for people trying to change the world in both a dramatic and practical manner.
The Mystery of Capital is Hernando de Soto's exploration of why capitalism has, more or less, worked in the developed world but failed to work in the developing world. The first chapter is available on Google. This is one of those rare books that has been celebrated by both the neoliberal right and the electric-green left as a clear-headed look at how the modern economy functions (or doesn't function).
Finally, Future Evolution appears to be a nice bit of brain candy. It's a discussion of how evolution works and what forces are at play now that would shape natural selection over the millennia to come. It is, of course, highly speculative, but that's just fine for me. This one is on my desk right now, and I will get to it shortly.
So... what else should we be reading?
(this, by the way, is our 300th entry)
Beyond Fear (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0387026207/) by Bruce Schneier. I'm three chapters in and so far it's very smart. Schneier is a good, entertaining writer who brings lots of common sense to bear on the subject. He reminds us at once that security is a series of tradoffs, which in turn depend on power and agendas. His 5-step process for thinking about security is certainly applicable to understanding sustainability and environmental issues.
Thanks for the link, guess it'd be a bit redundant to recommend _The Mystery of Capital_ again...
_Small is Beautiful_ looks pretty interesting. Worth pointing out that you can buy it for $60 or a pdf for $30 through their website, while Amazon has it for $200+.
Although we're emphasizing the positive in WorldChanging, and this suggestion is light on solutions, I still want to add Granta 83: This Overheating World
since it has some beautifully written essays on climate change (in itself a rarity). Matthew Hart's essay The Greenland Pump is a better elucidation of the changes in the complex Atlantic warming & cooling currents than any I've read since I first heard of the Woods Hole findings
If you haven't already, definitely pick up something by Derrick Jensen: http://www.derrickjensen.org. I'm at the tail end of The Culture of Make Believe and all I can say is, I thought I was awake before?! Amazing historical and introspective explorations of the dark heart of civilization and how we can reconnect with the humanity we've lost.
Congrats on 300. I'm presently reading "Human Instinct" by Robert Winston. It's pretty good as well so far, and I'm pretty sure that the Butler didn't do it. I am certain that he may have wanted to. :)
Just finished "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century," by Barbara W. Tuchman. This century is a chilling mirror to ours -- corrupt rulers wage endless, senseless, personality-driven wars at enormous cost to the citizens who trusted them; non-state actors (there really aren't nation-states yet) wage endless, seemingly unfocused war in a swirl of mergers, coups, and shifting alliances; swaggering knights, certain of their moral superiority and awesome armaments, fall to new, unexpected military tactics created by angry, oppressed peasants; the astonishing conspicuous consumption of the rich enrages the poor, whose uprisings are ruthlessly suppressed; muslims and christians slaughter each other in the Balkans, Anatolia, and North Africa (all the while fighting bitterly among themselves); criminal bands control huge areas, and become powers unto themselves; plagues kill a third of the humans between India and Iceland; religious inquisitions are starting to really heat up. It goes on and on. The light at the end of the tunnel -- the Renaissance, Gutenburg, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration -- is just a glimmer in the eye of a few heretics (just before they burn). I've added this one to my permanent library.
Let me also recommend "Power To The People" which is basically a much less technical take on the decentralized energy infrastructure thing - kind of Small Is Profitable For Beginners:
Right now I'm attempting to work my way through the various works of MacArthur Fellowship winners.
I would say that, oddly enough, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything is actually one of the more inspiring books I've read in a long time. Though he sets out to help those who slept through their science classes appreciate the vastness that is the physical world, he also manages to mix in a strong element of ecological concern for the future of the planet. For instance, in the process of describing the vast number of species of plants, animals and other living things (it seems -- according to his various sources -- that there's a lot more controversy over how to classify everything else), he manages to give the reader a stunning picture of how quickly we are destroying many of these species often without having ever even identified them.
I've been reading William Vollmann's amazing "Rising Up and Rising Down," an astonishing (and also very very very VERY long) taxonomy of violence and its justifications--that is, the ways that people justify the use of violence, and whether or not their justifications are actually legitimate. (The last two volumes of it, which I haven't gotten to yet, are Vollmann's own reporting from war zones around the world.) Not at all optimistic, but an incredibly useful tool for understanding the violent conflicts that are maybe the single greatest obstacle to changing the world in useful ways, and maybe figuring out what can be done to avoid them.
Thomas Homer-Dixon is a professor at the University of Toronto his focus is Environmental Security. His latest book The Ingenuity Gap is well worth a read.
If you are still taking suggestions, go for "The Support Economy - Why Corporations are failing individuals and the next episode of Capitalism" by Shoshana Zuboff & James Maxmin (Viking Press 2002 www.thesupporteconomy.com). They argue for a new business logic (centered on the individual) called distributed capitalism, to replace managerial capitalism and all its failings. Fascinating ideas for sustainability, social responsibility & wealth creation in the 21st Century. It has become my new reference book.
Thanks, I'll look for it!