Reading List

Here's a list of what I've been reading recently that I think is worth your time. If anything on this list sounds of interest to you then do yourself a favor and check it out from your local library! Seriously, libraries are great! They'll make you appreciate your community and where your tax dollars are going, plus you'll get the book for free. What could be better?!

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Currently Reading: 


The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer

Overspent_American.jpgWhat I think:

Written by the same author as Plenitude (reviewed below) but written 12 years earlier, it feels like a bit of a prequel with more of a focus on the problem while she is on her way to her later conclusions about holistic solutions.

Publisher summary:

An in-depth look at the corruption of the "American Dream," the follow-up to the the Overworked American examines the consumer lives of Americans and the pitfalls of "keeping up with the Joneses." Schor explains how and why the purchases of others in our social and professional communities can put pressure on us to spend more than we can afford to, how television viewing can undermine our ability to save, and why even households with good incomes have taken on so much debt for so many products they don't need and often don't even want.

Happiness: Lessons From a New Science

Happiness.jpgWhat I think:

As an economist turning his focus to the concept of happiness, this authors sheds light in interesting ways on both the personal pursuit of happiness as well as the influences of social structures and public policies of the happiness of whole societies. Plus, he includes plenty of suggestions for policies governments should implement if they were to put the happiness of their citizens as their top goal

Publisher summary:

There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled. The central question the great economist Richard Layard asks in Happinessis this: If we really wanted to be happier, what would we do differently? First we'd have to see clearly what conditions generate happiness and then bend all our efforts toward producing them. That is what this book is about-the causes of happiness and the means we have to effect it. Until recently there was too little evidence to give a good answer to this essential question, but, Layard shows us, thanks to the integrated insights of psychology, sociology, applied economics, and other fields, we can now reach some firm conclusions, conclusions that will surprise you. Happiness is an illuminating road map, grounded in hard research, to a better, happier life for us all. From one of the leading voices in the new field of happiness studies comes a groundbreaking statement of the case: what happiness is, exactly, and how to get more of it, as individuals and as a society

Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth


What I think:

This book is about 95% in line with the vibe I'm going for with my reading list: a vision of a new way of living that is not just better for the individual, the collective or the environment but all three at once. The author tackles the issue through the lens of climate change, which is reasonable, whereas I would have focused more on philosophy but that's just a difference of marketing strategy for the ideas rather than the ideas themselves. 

Publisher summary:

At a moment of ecological and financial crisis, bestselling author and economist Juliet B. Schor presents a revolutionary strategy for transitioning toward a richer, more balanced life. In Plenitude economist and bestselling author Juliet B. Schor offers a groundbreaking intellectual statement about the economics and sociology of ecological decline, suggesting a radical change in how we think about consumer goods, value, and ways to live. Humans are degrading the planet far faster than they are regenerating it. As we travel along this shutdown path, food, energy, transport, and consumer goods are becoming increasingly expensive. The economic downturn that has accompanied the ecological crisis has led to another type of scarcity: incomes, jobs, and credit are also in short supply. Our usual way back to growth-a debt-financed consumer boom- is no longer an option our households, or planet, can afford. Responding to our current moment, Plenitude puts sustainability at its core, but it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead, it's an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure. And as Schor observes, Plenitude is already emerging. In pockets around the country and the world, people are busy creating lifestyles that offer a way out of the work and spend cycle. These pioneers' lives are scarce in conventional consumer goods and rich in the newly abundant resources of time, information, creativity, and community. Urban farmers, do-it-yourself renovators, Craigslist users-all are spreading their risk and establishing novel sources of income and outlets for procuring consumer goods. Taken together, these trends represent a movement away from the conventional market and offer a way toward an efficient, rewarding life in an era of high prices and traditional resource scarcity. Based on recent developments in economic theory, social analysis, and ecological design as well as evidence from the cutting-edge people and places putting these ideas into practice, Plenitude is a road map for the next two decades. In encouraging us to value our gifts- nature, community, intelligence, and time-Schor offers the opportunity to participate in creating a world of wealth and well-being.

What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution 


What I think:

Hoping for a solid vision of an alternative economic system. I'm trying to put together a coherent set of advocacy positions that aren't internally conflicting which turns out to be a little more difficult than one might think.

Publisher summary:

Never before have so many Americans been more frustrated with our economic system, more fearful that it is failing, or more open to fresh ideas about a new one. The seeds of a new movement demanding change are forming. But just what is this thing called a new economy, and how might it take shape in America? In What Then Must We Do? Gar Alperovitz speaks directly to the reader about where we find ourselves in history, why the time is right for a new-economy movement to coalesce, what it means to build a new system to replace the crumbling one, and how we might begin. He also suggests what the next system might look like--and where we can see its outlines, like an image slowly emerging in the developing trays of a photographer's darkroom, already taking shape. He proposes a possible next system that is not corporate capitalism, not state socialism, but something else entirely--and something entirely American. Alperovitz calls for an evolution, not a revolution, out of the old system and into the new. That new system would democratize the ownership of wealth, strengthen communities in diverse ways, and be governed by policies and institutions sophisticated enough to manage a large-scale, powerful economy. For the growing group of Americans pacing at the edge of confidence in the old system, or already among its detractors, What Then Must We Do? offers an elegant solution for moving from anger to strategy.

Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind 


What I think:

It turns out much of what we take for granted to be real is actually entirely imagined in the most literal sense. Also, the evolution of Homo Sapiens seems to be the biggest case of failing upwards in the history of the world. 

Publisher summary:

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come? In Sapiens , Professor Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical--and sometimes devastating--breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology, and economics, and incorporating full-color illustrations throughout the text, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behavior from the legacy of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come? Bold, wide-ranging, and provocative, Sapiens integrates history and science to challenge everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our heritage...and our future.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy


What I think:

I think the philosophy in this book may be the lynchpin to increasing overall human happiness and saving the world from environmental destruction. That's a tall order, I know but I challenge you to read it and then argue that it wouldn't get us a hell of a long way down the road to those goals.

Publisher summary:

In A Guide to the Good Life, Irvine offers a refreshing presentation of Stoicism, showing how this ancient philosophy can still direct us toward a better life. Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Irvine offers a road map for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. Irvine looks at various Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and shows how to put these techniques to work in our own life. As he does so, he describes his own experiences practicing Stoicism and offers valuable firsthand advice for anyone wishing to live better by following in the footsteps of these ancient philosophers. We learn how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. We learn from Marcus Aurelius the importance of prizing only things of true value, and from Epictetus we learn how to be more content with what we have." "Finally, A Guide to the Good Life shows us how to become thoughtful observers of our own lives. If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.

The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness


What I think:

An excellent breakdown of the various parts of the criminal justice system and how they all come together to form a racially discriminatory whole that works to destroy black individuals, families and communities. Alexander shows that the system we have, built piece by piece by thousands of people over the course of decades, could hardly have been designed better in it's ability to create and maintain and permanent racial underclass in America if it had been designed by one master craftsman. I found her conclusion about a possible path forward to be fresh and provocative.


Publisher summary:

Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the presidency of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control-relegating millions to a permanent second-class status-even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action." Called "stunning" by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis, "invaluable" by the Daily Kos , "explosive" by Kirkus , and "profoundly necessary" by the Miami Herald , The New Jim Crow is a must-read for all people of conscience.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate


What I think:

I had some pretty strong doubts about capitalism as it was, this book helped show me that it's much worse than I realized.

Publisher summary:

The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core "free market" ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems. In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option. In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn't just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It's an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not-and cannot-fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Klein argues that the changes to our relationship with nature and one another that are required to respond to the climate crisis humanely should not be viewed as grim penance, but rather as a kind of gift-a catalyst to transform broken economic and cultural priorities and to heal long-festering historical wounds. And she documents the inspiring movements that have already begun this process: communities that are not just refusing to be sites of further fossil fuel extraction but are building the next, regeneration-based economies right now. Can we pull off these changes in time? Nothing is certain. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us. 

The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, The Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

Bridge.jpgWhat I think:

This is a wide ranging book and I appreciate all of the topics it covers but I was especially glad to see some focus on the disconnect between what we currently think of as economic "success" and real-life happiness and life satisfaction. Humans endlessly pursuing their own selfish happiness doesn't have to be at odds with environmental sustainability. If we understood what actually makes people happy, rather than what advertisers tell us makes people happy, then we would see that deep and lasting happiness in directly in line with indefinitely sustaining a livable planet. 


Publisher Summary:

How serious are the threats to our environment? Here is one measure of the problem: if we continue to do exactly what we are doing, with no growth in the human population or the world economy, the world in the latter part of this century will be unfit to live in. Of course human activities are not holding at current levels--they are accelerating, dramatically--and so, too, is the pace of climate disruption, biotic impoverishment, and toxification. In this book Gus Speth, author of Red Sky at Morning and a widely respected environmentalist, begins with the observation that the environmental community has grown in strength and sophistication, but the environment has continued to decline, to the point that we are now at the edge of catastrophe. Speth contends that this situation is a severe indictment of the economic and political system we call modern capitalism. Our vital task is now to change the operating instructions for today's destructive world economy before it is too late. The book is about how to do that.

How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life


What I think:

A fairly straightforward, economic perspective on the relationship between money and happiness. It was interesting to read authors who's conclusions I agree with but who arrived at those conclusions by a different route. It strengthened my opinion that the way forward to greater happiness and sustainability should be an apolitical message receptive to many across the ideological spectrum.

Publisher Summary:

A provocative and timely call for a moral approach to economics, drawing on philosophers, political theorists, writers, and economists from Aristotle to Marx to Keynes. What constitutes the good life? What is the true value of money? Why do we work such long hours merely to acquire greater wealth? These are some of the questions that many asked themselves when the financial system crashed in 2008. This book tackles such questions head-on. The authors begin with the great economist John Maynard Keynes. In 1930 Keynes predicted that, within a century, per capita income would steadily rise, people's basic needs would be met, and no one would have to work more than fifteen hours a week. Clearly, he was wrong: though income has increased as he envisioned, our wants have seemingly gone unsatisfied, and we continue to work long hours. The Skidelskys explain why Keynes was mistaken. Then, arguing from the premise that economics is a moral science, they trace the concept of the good life from Aristotle to the present and show how our lives over the last half century have strayed from that ideal. Finally, they issue a call to think anew about what really matters in our lives and how to attain it. How Much Is Enough? is that rarity, a work of deep intelligence and ethical commitment accessible to all readers. It will be lauded, debated, cited, and criticized. It will not be ignored.

Showing 4 reactions

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  • John G.
    commented 2015-11-15 18:18:59 -0500
    Just finished One Nation Under God by Kevin M. Kruse.

    The book is a bit tedious in its structure, but the overall history is pretty interesting. The arguments used by the early movement trying to add more christianity to the nation officially will sound extremely familiar to the rhetoric on the Republican side today. Ultimately, what started as a rich business man’s counter-attack against the New Deal aligned itself with a handful of Christian groups that preached that wealth was a sign of god’s favor and created over the next couple of decades the modern Republican Party. This is where “indivisible” is turned into “under god” in the pledge of allegiance, where money gets the phrase “in god we trust”, and the secular government starts to have prayer breakfasts and prayers added to cabinet meetings. All of this begins under Eisenhower, as religion becomes one tool to give the United States a national identity in opposition to the Soviet Union, which also helps feed rhetoric against the New Deal, which also feeds rhetoric against labor unions, and begins the formation of a powerful new voting bloc called the radical religious right.
  • John G.
    commented 2015-11-15 18:09:42 -0500
    Jay, can you add the ability to add to your list in the same way you have been doing? With an image of the book option and a “what I think section?”
  • Bill Dreisbach
    commented 2015-11-12 10:53:26 -0500
    Thanks for this reading list – my problem is I have dozens of ‘must read’ books and just don’t devote the time required to get thru all of them. Perhaps your rating of 1-5 stars would help sort thru what you feel were ‘fundamental or life changing’ thru ‘ok read, but not necessary’…?
  • Jay Tomlinson
    published this page 2015-05-21 23:17:01 -0400
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