Book Recommendations

A lot of people ask me for book recommendations. Here are some books I like, that have been important to me. They are in two categories. The first consists of books I’ve loved that have been core to my understanding, and the second is books I’ve just loved. Within each category they are arranged alphabetically by author. I will try to add books to the list as often as I have time.
If you’re interested in reading these, I would first recommend you either get them from a library or buy them from independent bookstores near to you. If you don’t live near an independent bookstore and you still want to buy them you can order them through 100fires, which is an independent bookstore dedicated to social change. And I get a commission.

CORE BOOKS

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Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine
by Lewis Mumford

Lewis Mumford was one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers, and the two-volume set Myth of the Machine (Volume 1 is Technics and Human Development; and Volume 2 is The Pentagon of Power) are probably his most important books: the summation of his life’s work. In writing as elegant as it is clear, Mumford makes plain the death urge that has always underlain civilization, which Mumford calls “the machine,” and later “the megamachine.” This is a social structure organized not around any organic human needs, but around the “needs” of the machines that have come to characterize and control our lives. These are crucial, incisive, devastating books. I cannot praise them highly enough.

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Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development
by Lewis Mumford

Lewis Mumford was one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers, and the two-volume set Myth of the Machine (Volume 1 is Technics and Human Development; and Volume 2 is The Pentagon of Power) are probably his most important books: the summation of his life’s work. In writing as elegant as it is clear, Mumford makes plain the death urge that has always underlain civilization, which Mumford calls “the machine,” and later “the megamachine.” This is a social structure organized not around any organic human needs, but around the “needs” of the machines that have come to characterize and control our lives. These are crucial, incisive, devastating books. I cannot praise them highly enough.

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Technics and Civilization
by Lewis Mumford, Foreword by Langdon Winner

Technics and Civilization first presented its compelling history of the machine and critical study of its effects on civilization in 1934—before television, the personal computer, and the Internet even appeared on our periphery.

Equal parts powerful history and polemic criticism, ‘Technics and Civilization’ was the first comprehensive attempt to portray the development of the machine age over the last thousand years—and to predict the pull the technological still holds over us today.

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In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization
by Stanley Diamond, Eric R. Wolf (Designer)

I love this book, and refer to it constantly, both in my life and in my books. It has the best first sentence of any book I’ve ever read: “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” And the book takes off from there. It is an extraordinary exploration of the indigenous peoples with whom Diamond worked, and explores the differences between, for example, indigenous and civilized moralities. Here is what he wrote about morality in a civilized world: ‘Our moral syntax has no predicate. Hence we speak of doing good, good for its own sake, or evil. We convert each to a pure substantive, beyond experience, abstract. That is what [anthropologist] Paul Radin meant when he observed that the subject (or object) to which love, remorse, sorrow, may be directed is regarded as secondary in our civilization. All have the rank of virtues as such: they are manifestations of God’s if not of Man’s way. But among primitives… the converse holds. Morality is behavior, values are not detached, not substantives; the good, the true, the beautiful or rather, the ideas of these things, do not exist. Therefore, one does not fall in love, one loves another; and that is an intricately learned experience, as hate, in a certain sense, also is.’ The whole book is that good. Fabulous. Fabulous.

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The Natural Alien
by Neil Evernden; Lorne Leslie Neil Evernden

This is the book that started me on my career as an environmental writer/philosopher. In my late twenties I thought I was going insane because so much around me made so little sense: we’re destroying the planet yet people continue with their lives as though nothing is wrong. And then I read The Natural Alien, and I realized that it’s the culture that is crazy, not me. This book helped me to see how the insane and destructive actions of our culture spring from how we perceive the world, and revealed the hidden assumptions that guide the destructiveness. I will be forever in debt to Neil Evernden for writing this extraordinary book.

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Columbus and Other Cannibals: The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism
by Jack D. Forbes

This book is an extraordinary indictment of the dominant culture. But it is something else as well. Forbes seems to be saying that one of the reasons civilization is killing the planet is because of a spiritual illness with a physical vector. If I get the flu and then cough all over you, you might then get the flu, with all of its symptoms. If I have the cannibal sickness and I cough (or somehow otherwise transfer the disease to you) you will have to consume the souls of others in order to survive. You will become a vampire. Or to put this another way, you will become a conquistador, a pornographer, a slaver, a businessman. I read this not only as a metaphor, but as a possible description of how things really are. And he makes a very convincing case. Wonderful and important book by a very wise man.

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Century of the Wind (Memory of Fire Trilogy, Part 3)
by Eduardo H. Galeano, Cedric Belfrage (Translator)

Eduardo Galeano may be the world’s best living writer and thinker, and Century of the Wind may be his best book. I’ve not yet read his newest. But this is an extraordinary history of the western hemisphere in the 20th century, told vignette by vignette. Each paragraph is a story of its own, but they form into a moving collage that will change forever how you view the world around you.

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Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her
by Susan Griffin

This extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful book is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Using the words of scientific philosophers themselves (but putting them into a beautifully-written, poetic context) Susan Griffin brilliantly shows how the logic of science is fundamentally anti-life, and anti-woman. She juxtaposes this to some of the most wonderful embodied prose you could ever hope to read, and moves the reader from this alienated state of modern civilized people and back into our bodies. Words cannot do this book justice.

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The Politics of Experience
by Ronald David Laing

This is one of the best books I have ever read, and has influenced my thought more than almost any other. He lays bare the presumptions that are guiding our culture to destroy the planet, with beautiful writing that is clear when it needs to be and obscure when that best serves. A truly remarkable book. My own perception of the ending was different than one other reviewer who thought it was the weakest point of the book: for me it was the strongest. I read it lying on the grass in the middle of a public park so crowded people were stepping over the top of me, yet I was so moved I could not stop crying. Amazing book.

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The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
by Erich Fromm

I encountered this book in 1988 or so, and it changed my life. It is I think Fromm’s best and most important book. This is the book that first let me know that the violence of the dominant culture is not biological in its origin. The book is centered around the question, obviously, of why humans commit atrocities. Fromm begins this book by exploring many of the theories, such as the notion that we are biologically overdetermined to be so violent. But he conclusively shows that cannot be the case. He then gives examples of nonviolent cultures, and explores why these cultures are the way they are. He then concludes with a powerful and detailed exploration of Hitler, showing how Hitler manifests the essence of this awful civilization that is killing the planet. A powerful book that helped form the foundations of my thinking.

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Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power, and Popular Culture
by Jane Caputi

The essays in Goddesses and Monsters recognize popular culture as a primary repository of ancient mythic energies, images, narratives, personalities, icons, and archetypes. Together, they take on the patriarchal myth, where serial killers are heroes, where goddesses — in the form of great white sharks, femmes fatales, and aliens — are ritually slaughtered, and where pornography is the core story underlying militarism, environmental devastation, and racism. They also point to an alternative imagination of female power that still can be found behind the cult devotion given to Princess Diana and animating all the goddesses disguised as popular monsters, queen bitches, mammies, vamps, cyborgs, and sex bombs.

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Gossips, Gorgons and Crones: The Fates of the Earth
by Jane Caputi

Gossips, Gorgons & Crones is the first comprehensive analysis of nuclear-age culture and the accompanying return of female Powers. Based in feminist, pre-patriarchal, and Native American philosophies, this book provides a biting critique of patriarchal practices, myths, and values, including family values.

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Age of Sex Crime
by Jane Caputi

The sexualized serial murder of women by men is the subject of this provocative book. Jane Caputi argues that the sensationalized murders by men such as Jack the Ripper, Son of Sam, Hillside Strangler, and the Yorkshire Ripper represent a contemporary genre of sexually political crimes. The awful deeds function as a form of patriarchal terrorism, “disappearing” women at a rate of some four thousand annually in the United States alone. Caputi asks us not only to name the phenomenon of sexually political murder, but to recognize sex crime in all of its various interconnecting manifestations.

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Overshoot
by William Catton

“One of the most important books I have read in my lifetime.” -Vine Deloria, Jr.

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Be The Change: How to Get What You Want in Your Community
by Thomas Linzey

Inspired by five true case studies of communities who were tired of corporate political power entitlements running roughshod over their townships, Be the Change offers solutions for how individuals can stand up and take back their local governments.

OTHER GOOD BOOKS

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Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality
by Gail Dines

Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality takes an unflinching look at today’s porn industry: the stories woven into the images, the impact on our culture, the effects on us as men and women, the business machine that creates and markets porn, and the growing legitimacy of porn in mainstream media. Above all, Pornland examines the way porn shapes and limits sexual imaginations and behaviors.

Although we are surrounded by pornographic images, many people are not aware of just how cruel and violent the industry is today.

Pornland argues that rather than sexually liberating or empowering us, porn offers us a plasticized, formulaic, generic version of sex that is boring, lacking in creativity and disconnected from emotion and intimacy.

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A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh
by Allan W. Eckert

I have a new hero. I recently came across this excellent biography of the great Indian leader Tecumseh, and I’m stunned. First, by Tecumseh. This brilliant warrior and visionary understood that civilization is insatiable, and that one must never make peace with the culture that uses any means necessary to kill the indigenous, and to kill the land.This is a powerful account of necessary resistance to the depredations of the dominant culture. I’m stunned also by the writing. Allan W. Eckert is an extraordinary writer, and tells Tecumseh’s story beautifully and movingly. The book is very hard to put down.

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The Human Race
by Robert Antelme, et al

This is the best and most moving account I’ve ever read of life in a concentration camp, better by far than Primo Levi, better even than Viktor Frankl, and better even than One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, all of which are saying a lot. The book pulled me into the daily life in a way I’ve not encountered so strongly before. Antelme has a gift for providing details that immerse the reader in the experience, and he has a novelist’s skill with characterization. This is a powerful, meaningful work.

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The Salamander Room
by Anne Mazer, et al

I don’t normally read children’s books, but this one is wonderful! The story and writing are very moving, the illustrations are beautiful. And the message!!!!! The message is wonderful, about dropping the walls that separate us from the natural world, inviting nature into our lives. I cannot recommend this book too highly.

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Stolen Lives – Killed by Law Enforcement
by October 22 Coalition

This book is a straightforward retelling of the stories of hundreds or thousands of people who have been killed by police in the United States. Many of those killed were nonresisting and unarmed. Many of them were children. The stories pile one after another, until the reader is moved to tears, and hopefully to action. I spent many days looking over these stories, learning about these lives lost–stolen–and it affected how I feel about the looming American police state.

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Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles With Your Future
by Sheldon Rampton, John Stauber

This is an extraordinarily important book. Stauber and Rampton lay bare, in clear, easily-readable prose, the ways that corporations destroy democracy by hiring scientists and other experts to promote “research” that has as its function confusing the public. The book is meticulously footnoted. Following back some of these sources reveals that the scholarship is as great as the analysis. Their writing style is engaging, and at times even humorous. I highly recommend this book. If we are ever to reclaim our democracy from corporations, it will be in great measure because of books like this one.