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Summer Books

books.jpgSummer has finally arrived here in Seattle. And the abundance of daylight means more time for things like barbecues, lawn sports, cool drinks and, of course, great summer reads. To create the perfect Worldchanging summer reading list, full of smart, beach-worthy must-reads, we asked for a little help from our friends. Here's what some of them are reading:

Reviews from Jay Walljasper

I worry that summertime as a distinct season when "the living is easy" is slipping away from us. The deluge of things to get done doesn't seem to slacken in the hot weather anymore. We could blame air conditioning or the i inexorable spread of workaholism, but whatever the cause, this is not a sign of progress. The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer-- as another old song goes-- is something worth preserving.

But as the temperature rises here in Minneapolis, I am still committed to "chilling" and whittling down the big stack of interesting-looking books on my bedside table.

I am now right in the middle of Tom Hodgkinson's The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom, Supermarkets, Bills, Melancholy, Pain, Depression, Work, and Waste, from the iconoclastic editor of Britain's wonderful Idler magazine. His crazy ideas of what it would take to live a truly free life-- untethered from corporate control, consumer urges and unnecessary government meddling-- actually are just simple common sense that we would all be wise to heed more often in our daily lives. From Aristotle to Oscar Wilde to E.F. Schumacher, he reacquaints us with the views of thoughtful observers of the human condition with valuable counsel on the meaning of life

I have also dived into Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World, which is a travelogue of places around the world from Bhutan to Icleand that have some claim of being happier than average. So far Weiner seems to continue the theme of Hodgkinson's book with the heretical but increasingly obvious observation that there is more to happiness than economic gain and the amassing of material goods.

And because it's summer, I am also looking forward to lapping up some frothy fiction. At the top of my pile right now is Patrick Dennis's 1955 bestseller Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, about a fabulous-beyond-belief eccentric Aunt who rescues a boy from his middle-class life and shows him the world is an amazing place if you look at it the right way. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about how to reform the world so it's a healthy once in a while to cast earnestness aside and indulge in something with seemingly little socially redeeming value. But who knows what I might find. Maybe Mame was the forerunner to Tom Hodgkinson.

Jay Walljasper is a fellow of On The Commons, a group devoted to restoring the meaning and value of the commons to the world today. He is also Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces, editor-at-large of Ode magazine, and a blogger on green cities for the National Geographic Green Guide. His most recent book is the The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking.

Reviews from Terry Tempest Williams
The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller
A deeply moving, unsentimental account of a young roughneck who works the oil fields near Pinedale, Wyoming, and pays with his life. If you want to see what the human face of the Bush-Cheney energy policy looks like, this is a heartbreaking read. Required reading for all those who love the American West and fear the loss of both our communities and wildlands.

Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance by John Berger
John Berger is a poet with seering eyes and an unnerving capacity to see the world we live in and make breathtaking connections through his patterned mind. This small book is an astute rendering of America as an Imperialist government and the ripple affect this kind of tyranny is having around the world. He frames his dispatches on democracy around his impressions of
time spent in Palestine. Deeply moving, poetic, visionary. "I am writing at night, even thought it is day."

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West by Wallace Stegner
I am rereading this American classic on John Wesley Powell and his journey into the Colorado Plateau through the Colorado River. At a time when climate change is on everyone's mind, this exquisite, hard-edged narrative of water in arid country speaks to the "corkscrew path of humanity" and how we face change through a heightened awareness of landscape, culture, and the imagination. A good read in Wallace Stegner's centennial year.

Animate Earth: Science, Intuition, And Gaia by Stephan Harding
As an Oxford-trained ecologist, Stephen Harding, understands the interrelatedness of life, but he has found a strict rendering of science is not enough. Building on James Lovelock's theory of Gaia as a self-regulating organism, he writes in two minds creating a third way of understanding the world, that of a conscious global citizen that recognizes "a reverence for life" must permeate both theory and practice. A future-looking template for how we can both survive and perceive the life we are a part of in the 21st century.

Four Portraits and One Subject: Bernard DeVoto. by Carl Hiaasen
I love this book, I love this writer, for his irreverence and clear-headed instincts as to why saving wild places like the Everglades is also about saving our souls, no matter how twisted we may be. Funny, smart, and revelatory.

Reviews from Alan AtKisson
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winter
An indescribable but delectable mix of science fiction, historical fiction, and emancipatory fiction, involving a good bit of non-fiction and a familiar species that is trapped in a cycle of planetary consumption and destruction; a new species of "Robo sapiens" that redefine the boundaries of sex; an insider's account of the last days of Easter Island; and the tantalizing possibility that giant asteroids that kill off worlds full of dinosaurs (as happened on our planet 65 million years ago) may not be accidental. A novel full of despair, longing, consumerist critique, poetic language, frequent citations from the logbooks of Captain Cook, and the smallest glimmer of hope at the end of it all.

The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
It is a truism that fiction is sometimes truer than reality. This is because fiction is more beautiful, or rather is constructed to appeal to our sense of beauty, while reality is simply the things for which we have evolved a sense of beauty in order to have some pleasure and peace in our sensory experience while dodging man-eating tigers and diseases and other awesome, but not beautiful, aspects of the universe around us. In any event, the new Rushdie novel is one of the most beautiful texts I have encountered in my memory, a joy like unto the joy of first reading Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude. Along the way one learns a good bit of useful history, the contours of which continue to frame our war-in-Iraq, Pakistan-is-unstable world. But mostly, one is seduced. In this case, seduction is highly recommended.

The City of Words (CBC Massey Lecture) by Alberto Manguel
These moving, erudite lectures on the meaning of language, on the meaning of meaning, on what writing could possibly mean in a world that tends to ignore even the prophets and seers it most celebrates, have captivated me from the first page, and I look forward to reading them slowly over the course of a Swedish summer as I prepare to promote a book of my own, in the hopes that it might actually mean something.

Reviews from Adam Greenfield
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry
Scarry's 1985 meditation is, among other things, a breathtaking indictment of torture as weapon and instrument of policy, and it has never been more timely. The particularly sad thing is realizing that we now find ourselves in a place where the rejection and condemnation of torture is not a prima facie obvious position for an American politician to take.

Blindsight by Peter Watts
Watts' hard-nosed novel of first contact tries a little bit too hard, but winds up delivering a genuinely unsettling message about the relative costs and benefits of sentience. I have a feeling this one'll stay with me for a while.

Typological Formations: Renewable Building Types and the City: A collection of student projects from the Architectural Association's Diploma Unit 6.
By and large very pleasing but primarily of interest to me in that it demonstrates how deeply the rhetoric of digital production (and especially that of scale-free generative processes) has penetrated the thought of the generation of architects just now coming on line.

Urban Politics Now (Reflect)
by Edward Soja, Juliet MacCannell, Neil Smith, Dieter Lesage, and contributor Slavoj Zizek.
Trying to find a place for good old-fashioned small-d democracy in a globalized terrain simultaneously riven by neoconservative Kulturkampf and subjected to the pressures of neoliberal competition. (Here in the United States, of course, our cities also have to deal with a persistent disinclination to invest in public infrastructure.) Features heavy hitters like Edward Soja and Slavoj Zizek - my kinda beach reading.

Reviews from Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man

Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman
A primer on happiness psychology. Important because the true definition of effective use of environmental resources is whether or not the use of those resources contributes to quality of life. Understanding what makes people happy--not money beyond a certain level, not stuff--is crucial to designing an ecological culture where people are even more satisfied than they are now.

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander
If we are to find a way to move away from car culture we must build our cities and towns so that people are much happier there than they are a car trip away. A Pattern Language examines the elements of building cities not to accommodate cars but to facilitate meaning, purpose and communities.

Reviews from Uleshka Asher
A Newcomer: Art Space Tokyo by Ashley Rawlings (Editor), Craig Mod (Editor)
Two of the people I respect a lot in Tokyo (and good friends...), Craig Mod, graphic designer and Ashley Rawlings, editor have put tons of love and care into selecting 12 of the most interesting
and engaging art spaces in Tokyo, stuffed the book with comprehensive maps and tips what else to do once around the area, interviews with the curators, artists, etc. that make this book a rich guide to the Tokyo and Japan art scene in general and a great tool to explore the city through that book alone (if anyone ever wants to come to the big T.) Lovely design with care and an eye for detail make it a total must have piece in my opinion.

A classic: Henry and June: From "A Journal of Love" -The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin (1931-1932) by Anais Nin
Well, what can I say about this one! Fascinated by this strong female character Anais Nin and her revelations in her diary. In this chapter of her life, she discovers a wilder, more experimental love to a man outside her marriage to Hugo - Henry Miller and also starts to explore her bisexual side through the love affair with his wife, June. I especially like this book because it shows the different shades, phases, depths and angles of love. It demonstrates the variety in HOW you can actually love and proves it possible to love more than one person openly and honestly at the same time. Thumbs up for honesty, passion and a true piece of life revealed.

A book people should know about: The Tao of Detox: The Secrets of Yang-Sheng Dao by Daniel Reid
Nothing too new, but certainly very valid today are Daniel Reid's thoughts, research and practical methods on how to detox our bodies and live in harmony with a world that is very much polluted already and probably doesn't get better that soon. It teaches a healthy balance of how to eat good, moderate and stay away from illnesses. I am guessing this is good for everyone but especially for nations in which most people are used to taking medicine to fight of illnesses, therefore polluting the water and natural resources around them even further, rather than realizing that they have to "work" with their bodies - this is a must read. A contemporary western-eastern-philosophy mix and practical approach can only make this planet a better place if people actually read, act and decide to live a healthy, balanced, un-polluting life for themselves - and our planet.

Uleshka works as an editor, curator and motivational force with a background in design. Based in Tokyo since 2001, she founded the online bilingual design magazine PingMag in 2005 where she worked as Editor-in-Chief. After setting up a solid base for this design platform to flourish, she has broadened her editorial skills to work on various projects including the book Pecha Kucha Night: A Celebration for Klein Dytham architecture. Currently she is involved in carrying through various interviews for cultural and design oriented podcasts, is the host for interesting folks talking at TAB talks @ Gotanda Sonic in Tokyo, writes various design books for and - Uleshka started singing in a

Reviews from Elisabeth Eaves
The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird by Bruce Barcott
I studied economic development in school, and then I became a writer. If there’s one thing I learned along the way it’s that it’s damn difficult to tell a compelling story about the international legal wrangling that goes on between corporations, non-governmental organizations, and third world governments.

Bruce Barcott has thus pulled off an amazing feat. He manages to tell a development story – about building a hydropower dam in Belize – that is never dull. It helps that he focuses on Sharon Matola, a zookeeper who led the fight to stop the dam in question, fearing it would destroy a scarlett macaw habitat. Barcott also manages to be balanced, taking the reader inside the workings of the Belizean government and Duke Energy as well as the National Resources Defense Council.

I read the book while I was in Honduras, Belize’s neighbor and home to its own share of scarlet macaws, which are spectacular up close. (You can read about my trip here. So I may have been particularly disposed to like the book. But it’s a very well-crafted yarn by any standard.

Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped by Tony Perrottet.
Pretty much what it sounds like – a look at history through the naughty bits of famous people. You’ll never be without a strangely memorable cocktail party story again.

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry.
If you’ve never read the 1974 true-crime classic, you’ve got a treat in store. Very hard to put down. And The Sea Will Tell – nautically-inclined true crime by Bugliosi – is also a great, as far as I can recall. I read it 10 years ago and can’t believe it took me this long to pick up another Bugliosi book.

The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century by Steve Coll.
A history of the family that starts when Bin Laden père was just a boy, and climbs out of his deep desert valley in Yemen to go make a name for himself in Saudi Arabia. Well-researched and well-told.

Other than that I’m making my way, one by one, through the works of Graham Greene and Somerset Maugham. I’ll be sad when I finish.

Elisabeth Eaves is a staff writer at and the author of Bare: The Naked Truth About Stripping (Live Girls). She’ll be spending the summer in New York City.

Reviews from Micki Krimmel

Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is hands-down the seminal book on social media. Filled with case studies and thorough analysis, this book is a must-read for anyone who works with online communities or has an interest in how burgeoning communications technologies are changing our world. I found myself underlining full pages.

Reviews from Gabriel Metcalf

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon Wolin.
The main argument, from the preface:

"For centuries political writers claimed that if -- or rather when -- a full-fledged democracy was overturned, it would be succeeded y a tyranny. The argument was that democracy, because of the great freedom it allowed, was inherently prone to disorder and likely to cause the propertied classes to support a dictator or tyrant, someone who could impose order, ruthlessly if necessary. But -- and this is the issue addressed by our inquiry -- what if in its popular culture a democracy were prone to license ("anything goes") yet in its politics were to become fearful, ready to give the benefit of the doubt to leaders who, while promising to "root out terrorists," insist that endeavor is a "war" with no end in sight? Might democracy then tend to become submissive, privatized rather than unruly, and would that alter the power relationships between citizen and their political deciders?"

Nongovernmental Politics by Michael Feher (ed.)
The opening words of the opening essay:

"To be involved in politics without aspiring to govern, be governed by the best leaders, or abolish the institutions of government: such are the constraints that delineate the condition common to all practitioners of nongovernmental politics. What these activists seek to accomplish ranges considerably: providing humanitarian aid, protecting the environment, monitoring human-right sand civil-liberties violations, adding new entitlements to the list of fundamental rights and liberties, defending the interests of corporations' stakeholders -- workers, suppliers, consumers -- and expanding public access to knowledge are only the most frequent among their pursuits..."

Gabriel Metcalf is the Executive Director of San Francisco Planning and Urban Research

Reviews from Eric de Place
Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation” by Edward Chancellor.
It’s a history of finance and it’s gripping. No, seriously, it is. Starting with the Dutch tulip bubble, the book traces the history of financial speculation from the earliest capital markets right up through the Japanese real estate bubble of the 1980s. You can’t help but find parallels to today.

Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change by Reid Ewing, et al.

I can’t believe I haven’t read this book yet. It’s the magnum opus on the research between urban development and climate change. This is pretty much required reading for geeks with my kind of job.

Seven Wonders for a Cool Planet: Everyday Things to Help Solve Global Warming (Sierra Club Books (Sierra))
Sightline’s latest book, which I contributed some research and writing to. It’s so short you can read it before you fall asleep on your beach towel.

Whiteman by Tony D’Souza.
It’s the semi-autobiographical account of Tony’s years in Africa, told in a sequence of summer-reading-size vignettes, one of which was published in the New Yorker as a short story. The book won a batch of awards, as it should have, including (I think) Nerve Magazine’s best sex scene. (Full disclosure: Tony is a friend of mine from grad school. He’s a wild man, and I mean that in the best possible way.)

Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon.
I haven’t actually, you know, read this book, but everyone – everyone – tells me I must. So that’s what I intend to do. It’s by one of the creators of “The Wire” and, as you’d expect, it’s the story of crime and corruption in Baltimore.

Suggestions from Sarah Rich and Alexis Madrigal

The Endless City

Making Things Talk: Practical Methods for Connecting Physical Objects by Tom Igoe

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by Rob Walker

Sarah Rich is a contributing editor to Worldchanging; Alexis Madrigal is a science writer at Wired

Suggestions from Simran Sethi

In my multi-tasked life, the idea of reading books for pleasure is both delicious and, sometimes, inconceivable. So, I’ve started slowly.

New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas
(This book) is my evening touchstone. I have held on to this library book well past its due date because it’s a gem, chocked full of super short stories from amazing writers like Nadine Gordimer and Tobias Wolff. If your head is brimming with thoughts and you usually move on to a new task after a few minutes, this book is for you. You’ll be able to squeeze in some beautiful, inspiring, and/or heartbreaking nourishment for the soul before your monkey-mind takes you away. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorites, “A History of Everything, Including You” by Jenny Hollowell:

“First, there was God or gods or nothing, then synthesis, space, the expanse, explosions, implosions, particles, objects, combustion, and fusion. Out of the chaos, came order. Stars were born, and shone, and died. Planets rolled across their galaxies on invisible ellipses and the elements combined and became.

Life evolved or was created. Cells trembled and divided and gasped and found dry land. Soon they grew legs and fins and hands and antennae and mouths and ears and wings and eyes—eyes that opened wide to take all of it in: the creeping, growing, soaring, swimming, crawling, stampeding universe. Eyes opened and closed and opened again; we called it blinking.”

The Environmental Justice Reader: Politics, Poetics, and Pedagogy by Joni Adamson, Mei Mei Evans, Rachel Stein
The Environmental Justice Reader lights my social justice fire. This collection of essays on grassroots activism informs The Good Fight, my environmental justice series for Sundance Channel, and will shape the next round of my Media and the Environment course at the University of Kansas. Environmental rights are civil rights. “Going green” isn’t just about reusable water bottles, installing solar panels or buying hybrids, it’s about ensuring everyone has access to the basics: clean air, healthy soil, and safe water.

Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel
This is another strong justice book. I have not (yet) read it. Sustainable food systems are my passion and this book clearly illustrates that we have a long way to go which is sad and overwhelming. Every time we open our mouths, we’re feeding (or starving) communities all over the world. I’ll admit I passed this on to a friend because I was so depressed by the info in the first chapter, but I repo’d it because it’s indispensable food for thought. Ignorant bliss is short-lived.

You Are Here: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet
This book, by Thomas Kostigen, was a gift from. . .Thomas Kostigen! I started reading it because I felt I had to, I continued because I wanted to. Tom’s writing is smart, funny, and masculine. He takes us around the world and moves us forwards and backwards in time to really understand the impacts of our actions and consumption. The journey is definitely through his eyes, and sometimes I felt his assumed “we” didn’t include me, but overall I think this is one of the most interesting eco-books to roll off the presses this year.

Simran Sethi is a contributing environmental correspondent for CNBC and the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Sethi is writing a book on environmental justice for Harper Collins and is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics book. She is the host of Sundance Channel's environmental programming The Green and the creator of the Sundance web series The Good Fight.

Reviews from Alex Steffen

The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World.

I'm only half way through Thomas Campanella's book on urbanization in China. In part that's because it's a somewhat academic book and sometimes slow going, but it's also because I'm finding so many ideas worth pondering. What happens to China's cities is one of the world's great questions, and Concrete Dragon is the book to read.

I'll be reviewing it in greater detail later, but Douglas Farr's Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature is pretty much the state of the art in building cities that have a future.

I recently completed both Charlie Stross' Halting State (Ace Science Fiction) and Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. They're both about the downside of technology, and the looming of a police state, and how insight into tech is no longer just a geek skill -- it's an essential part of keeping our societies free. They're also great fun.

I'd have to throw in behind Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations as well, if only because it's the first book I've read that treats the really portentous changes being created by social media in a way that average people can understand, without either diminishing or hyping those changes. And Clay's a damn fine writer.

Valzhyna Mort's book of Poetry Factory of Tears (Lannan Literary Selections) is phenomenal, if uneven.

I just got a review copy of the latest issue of Laphams Quarterly, Book of Nature, full of classic thought on the relationship between humanity and the planet. I'm also looking forward to reading Finnish Summer Houses, and dreaming of summer days with nothing to do....

How about you? What are you reading this summer?

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OMG! Where is Nora Roberts? :-)

Actually, I have Rachel Carson's Silent Spring on my shelf and hopefully can get through that this summer.

Posted by: Cheri on 3 Jul 08

Everyone should own Thomas Homer-Dixon's The Upside of Down. A book about the creativity that emerges from multiple catastrophe (think peak oil and astronomical food price rises). He shows us how to take hold of the panic and reform it into new solutions. As a creative who works in sustainability I find this so inspiring. It's a seminal book.

Posted by: Sophie Thomas on 3 Jul 08

How about some poetry?
KENJI MIYAZAWA: SELECTIONS, edited by Hiroaki Sato. Miyazawa (1896 - 1933) was a Buddhist agronomist who lived and worked in voluntary poverty to better the lives of farmers in Northern Japan.
or, LANGUAGE FOR A NEW CENTURY: CONTEMPORARY pOETRY FROM THE MIDDLE EAST, ASIA AND BEYOND, edited by Tina Cang, Nathalie Handel, and Ravi Shankar, a big book of fresh new poets from around the world, speaking to the moment.
or, 187 REASONS MEXICANS CAN'T CROSS THE BORDER, by Juan Felipe Herrera, 30 years' selected poems from one of North America's most outstanding poets---as the title suggests, cutting straight to the heart of the current moment.
One of the great things about poetry is, for those interesting in thinking or seeing in new ways, it offers new language and new ways in which to do just that. How about fresh ways of thinking, along with new information?

Posted by: Sesshu Foster on 3 Jul 08

I find it ironic that the very first book is about freeing ourselves from corporate control, among other things, and that you have it and all the other books linked straight to Why not promote local, independent bookstores? You know, those places that actually contribute to community and encourage the arts and creating a society worth living in...

Posted by: chris on 4 Jul 08

I would recommend Women In Green: Voices in Sustainable Design by Lance Hosey and Kira Gould. Don't make assumptions based on the title - it's the feel-good sleeper of the year (okay - last year.) I couldn't get enough of this book and the passion and inspiration in it's pages. The chapters are short variations on the main theme. You'll race through it, belive me.

Posted by: MC Dildey on 21 Jul 08



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