It’s been another year of great reading, and here’s my re-cap. They aren’t all new and I couldn’t possibly rank them in an objective fashion, but here are the five best books I’ve read this year:
The New Economics, by Andrew Simms and David Boyle
What economics is, where it has gone wrong and how it can be fixed – this book brings a fresh perspective to debt, money, resources, and community. If you’re only going to read one book from this list, make it this accessible introduction to a new economics where people and planet matter.
The case for working with your hands, by Michael Crawford
I can’t help but think that this is a book ahead of its time – a large part of the answer to our growth-based, industrial, throwaway culture is a new approach to work that values services, craftsmanship, and repair. Crawford’s smart, humorous and irreverent essay makes a powerful case for satisfying and productive work.
Waste: Uncovering the global food scandal, by Tristram Stuart
A detailed and passionately written book arguing that food waste is a key issue in feeding the world. If Stuart is right (and the meticulous and often original research behind the book suggests that he is), his insights ought to change the debate on famine, development, GM crops, food safety, and waste strategy.
$20 a gallon, by Christopher Steiner
You and I don’t care about discoveries and depletion rates, we care about the price at the pumps, so Steiner skips the geology and politics and gets straight to the real life stuff. What will happen as prices rise? What will it mean for air travel, supermarkets, or school buses? You can either read this imaginative and surprisingly positive book now, or let it all take you by surprise later.
The One Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka
From his hillside farm, Masanobu Fukuoka looks on in bemusement at the futility of what we call progress. His book is wise, funny, and utterly eccentric, a classic of philosophy and gardening that illuminated my summer reading this year.
Rounding out the top ten:
Falling off the Edge, by Alex Perry
What globalization looks like to those left behind, from Indonesian pirates to China’s retired soldiers. A great piece of travel writing and investigative journalism.
Turned out Nice, by Marek Kohn
What Britain will be like by the end of the century, and how we deal with being one of the few countries to benefit from climate change. I didn’t particularly like this book, but it sure made me think.
Coming home to eat, by Gary Paul Nabhan
A warm and gently inspiring book about a man who decides to only eat what comes from his own region, and then rambles about Arizona, growing things, foraging with indigenous people, and re-discovering odd desert foods.
Plants for a Future, by Ken Fern
Speaking of odd foods, I was so amazed and intrigued by Ken Fern’s directory of useful plants that I read it cover to cover.
Seasick, by Alanna Mitchell
I’ve read plenty about climate change, but learned so much in this book that I’d not encountered before. Mitchell is right, we do tend to forget about the oceans.
Honourable mentions go to:
Duncan Green for From Poverty to Power, a great book on development. All Consuming by Neal Lawson is one of the better books on consumerism. Richard Dowden’s huge Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles had me busy most of January, and Enough: Why the world’s poorest starve in an age of plenty, by Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman made me more angry that anything else this year. I requested a sewing machine for Christmas after reading John Paul Flintoff’s Sew your Own, and Eminent Corporations might have made my top ten if Andrew Simms and David Boyle weren’t already in the top spot. There were also late entries from Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, and Freefall by Joseph Stiglitz, but I’ll roll them into 2011.
Payback: Debt and the shadow side of wealth, by Margaret Atwood; Local Money: How to make it happen in your community, by Peter North; Bad Samaritans, by Ha-Joon Chang; The Constant Economy, by Zac Goldsmith; The Death of Capital, by Michael Lewitt; The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows et al; The Life you can Save, by Peter Singer; Local Sustainable Homes, by Chris Bird; Moveable Feasts, by Sarah Murray; The Great Pensions Robbery, by Alex Brummer; Christians and Catastrophe, by Johnathan Ingleby; How to be a Humankind Superhero, by Harold Forbes; Re-imagining Change, by Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Channing; The Economics of Abundance, by Wolfgang Hoeschele; Beyond Terror, by Chris Abbott et al; Citizen You, by Johnathan Tisch; Growth Isn’t Possible, new economics foundation; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard; The People’s Manifesto, ed Mark Thomas; The Case Against the Global Economy, ed Jerry Mander and Ted Goldsmith; Shoveling fuel for a runaway train, by Brian Czech; Blueprint for a safer planet, by Nicholas Stern; Corruption, by David Senior; Oil Seeker, by Michael Elder
And I don’t bother to review them here, but my favourite novel of the year was Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.