A reading list for the end of our world
The times they are a-changing. It is hard to get a grip on where things are going. Here is a reading list for the end of our world, designed to free your head from the old normal. (Now pronounced “the past”.)
I’ll expand and update the list. Send your suggestions to sjt at 5jt dot com.
by John Michael Greer
If you read only one book from this list, pick this one. Greer’s earlier book The Long Descent reviewed how civilisations actually fall: not with the sudden catastrophes that fascinate Hollywood, but over one to three centuries. In this book he shows how we are following the same course as earlier civilisations, and explores what to expect over the coming decades and centuries.
by John Kenneth Galbraith
The classic account of the Wall Street crash that ushered in the Great Depression. Galbraith tells with dry, sardonic humour how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer until the economy collapsed; how the experts kept saying everything would be fine, and it wasn’t; and how despite their advice the Depression went on and on until government did exactly the opposite.
by Michael Oakeshott
Oakeshott’s memorable lectures on the history of political thought, delivered each year at the London School of Economics, will now be available in print for the first time as Volume II of his Selected Writings. Based on manuscripts in the LSE archive for 1966–67, the last year of Oakeshott’s tenure as Professor of Political Science, these thirty lectures deal with Greek, Roman, mediaeval, and modern European political thought in a uniquely accessible manner. Scholars familiar with Oakeshott’s work will recognize his own ideas subtly blended with an exposition carefully crafted for an undergraduate audience; those discovering Oakeshott for the first time will find an account of the subject that remains illuminating and provocative.
by Nick Hayes
The vast majority of our country is entirely unknown to us because we are banned from setting foot on it. By law of trespass, we are excluded from 92 per cent of the land and 97 per cent of its waterways, blocked by walls whose legitimacy is rarely questioned. But behind them lies a story of enclosure, exploitation and dispossession of public rights whose effects last to this day.
The Book of Trespass takes us on a journey over the walls of England, into the thousands of square miles of rivers, woodland, lakes and meadows that are blocked from public access. By trespassing on the land of the media magnates, lords, politicians and private corporations that own England, Nick Hayes argues that the root of social inequality is the uneven distribution of land.
Weaving together the stories of poachers, vagabonds, gypsies, witches, hippies, ravers, ramblers, migrants and protestors, and charting acts of civil disobedience that challenge orthodox power at its heart, The Book of Trespass will transform the way you see the land.
by Tyson Yunkaporta
As an indigenous person, Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from a unique perspective, one tied to the natural and spiritual world. In considering how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation, he raises important questions. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?
by Colin Woodard
According to award-winning journalist and historian Colin Woodard, North America is made up of eleven distinct nations, each with its own unique historical roots. In American Nations he takes readers on a journey through the history of this fractured continent, offering a revolutionary and revelatory take on American identity, and how the conflicts between them have shaped its past and continue to mould its future. From the Deep South to the Far West, to Yankeedom to El Norte, Woodard (author of American Character: A history of the epic struggle between individual liberty and the common good) reveals how each region continues to uphold its distinguishing ideals and identities today, with results that can be seen in the composition of the US Congress or on the county-by-county election maps of any hotly contested election in US history.
by Naomi Klein
Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors.
Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors’ beliefs now dominate our world – and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq – this is the chilling tale of how a few are making a killing while more are getting killed.
by Robert Fisk
The history of the Middle East is an epic story of tragedy, betrayal and world-shaking events. It is a story that Robert Fisk has been reporting for over thirty years. His masterful narrative spans the most volatile regions of the Middle East, chronicling with both rage and compassion the death by deceit of tens of thousands of Muslims, Christians and Jews.
by David Van Reybrouck
Fear-mongering populists, distrust in the establishment, personality contests instead of reasoned debate: these are the results of the latest elections.
In fact, as this ingenious book shows, the original purpose of elections was to exclude the people from power by appointing an elite to govern over them.
Yet for most of its 3000-year history, democracy did not involve elections at all: members of the public were appointed to positions in government through a combination of volunteering and lottery.
Based on studies and trials from around the globe, this hugely influential manifesto presents the practical case for a true democracy – one that actually works.
by Ha-Joon Chang
It may have its flaws, but there’s no real alternative to free-market capitalism – ultimately it’s making us all more prosperous. The West is more efficient and financially savvy than the developing world. And technology is the way forward for everyone. Right?
Wrong. This book will turn every piece of received economic wisdom you’ve heard on its head. It reveals the truth behind what ’they’ tell you and shows how the system really works, including:
This galvanising, fact-packed book about money, equality, freedom and greed proves that the free market isn’t just bad for people – it’s an inefficient way of running economies too. Here Chang lays out the alternatives, and shows there’s a better way.
by Arnold Toynbee
Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History has been acknowledged as one of the greatest achievements of modern scholarship. A ten-volume analysis of the rise and fall of human civilizations, it is a work of breath-taking breadth and vision. D.C. Somervell’s abridgement of this magnificent enterprise preserves the method, atmosphere, texture, and, in many instances, the very words of the original.
by Oswald Spengler
Like organisms that are born, mature and eventually die, cultures are the blossoming youth while civilizations usher in senility, decay and demise. When a culture becomes a civilization, decadence sets in and the ensuing downward spiral becomes a Faustian whirlwind of self-destruction. This is inevitable as we can see that each culture’s evolution has its parallels in other periods of human history.
The endgame for the West has already begun. It is in terminal decline, desperately trying to revive the dead forms and buried traditions that animated its Promethean spirit in its youthful heyday of exuberance. But in old age, it all seems preposterous, and hence in vain as the West has become tired of itself and unable to innovate in either the arts or philosophy. The West is on its way to the grave and what will see the light next must necessarily be something completely new and not just a corpse reanimated.
by Jem Bendell & Rupert Read
‘Deep adaptation’ refers to the personal and collective changes that might help us to prepare for – and live with – a climate-influenced breakdown or collapse of our societies. It is a framework for responding to the terrifying realization of increasing disruption by committing ourselves to reducing suffering while saving more of society and the natural world. This is the first book to show how professionals across different sectors are beginning to incorporate the acceptance of likely or unfolding societal breakdown into their work and lives. They do not assume that our current economic, social and political systems can be made resilient in the face of climate change but, instead, they demonstrate the caring and creative ways that people are responding to the most difficult realization with which humanity may ever have to come to terms.
by John Kenneth Galbraith
The world has become increasingly separated into the haves and have-nots. In The Culture of Contentment, renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith shows how a contented class—not the privileged few but the socially and economically advantaged majority—defend their comfortable status at a cost. Middle-class voting against regulation and increased taxation that would remedy pressing social ills has created a culture of immediate gratification, leading to complacency and hampering long-term progress. Only economic disaster, military action, or the eruption of an angry underclass seem capable of changing the status quo. A groundbreaking critique, The Culture of Contentment shows how the complacent majority captures the political process and determines economic policy.
by Oded Galor
In The Journey of Humanity, Oded Galor offers a revelatory explanation of how humanity became, only very recently, the unique species to have escaped a life of subsistence poverty, enjoying previously unthinkable wealth and longevity. He reveals why this process has been so unequal around the world, resulting in the great disparities between nations that exist today. He shows why so many of our efforts to improve lives have failed and how they might succeed.
by Jan Eeckhout
A pioneering account of the surging global tide of market power – and how it stifles workers around the world.
by Thomas Piketty
The world’s leading economist of inequality presents a short but sweeping and surprisingly optimistic history of human progress toward equality despite crises, disasters, and backsliding. A perfect introduction to the ideas developed in his monumental earlier books.
It’s easy to be pessimistic about inequality. We know it has increased dramatically in many parts of the world over the past two generations. No one has done more to reveal the problem than Thomas Piketty. Now, in this surprising and powerful new work, Piketty reminds us that the grand sweep of history gives us reasons to be optimistic. Over the centuries, he shows, we have been moving toward greater equality.
Piketty guides us with elegance and concision through the great movements that have made the modern world for better and worse: the growth of capitalism, revolutions, imperialism, slavery, wars, and the building of the welfare state. It’s a history of violence and social struggle, punctuated by regression and disaster. But through it all, Piketty shows, human societies have moved fitfully toward a more just distribution of income and assets, a reduction of racial and gender inequalities, and greater access to health care, education, and the rights of citizenship. Our rough march forward is political and ideological, an endless fight against injustice. To keep moving, Piketty argues, we need to learn and commit to what works, to institutional, legal, social, fiscal, and educational systems that can make equality a lasting reality. At the same time, we need to resist historical amnesia and the temptations of cultural separatism and intellectual compartmentalization. At stake is the quality of life for billions of people. We know we can do better, Piketty concludes. The past shows us how. The future is up to us.
by George Monbiot
Regenesis is a breathtaking vision of a new future for food and for humanity. Drawing on astonishing advances in soil ecology, Monbiot reveals how our changing understanding of the world beneath our feet could allow us to grow more food with less farming. He meets the people who are unlocking these methods, from the fruit and vegetable grower revolutionising our understanding of fertility; through breeders of perennial grains, liberating the land from ploughs and poisons; to the scientists pioneering new ways to grow protein and fat. Together, they show how the tiniest life forms could help us make peace with the planet, restore its living systems, and replace the age of extinction with an age of regenesis.
by Cheryl Edwards (ed.)
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in March of 1933, the nation was near the depths of the Great Depression. Under his leadership, the “New Deal” quickly began to take shape. The series of programs gave the federal government a more substantial role in helping the nation’s economy return to and then stay on a steady and prosperous course. The volume includes the major New Deal Programs, writing by Eleanor Roosevelt, a section on Roosevelt’s critics, cartoons, and photographs.
by Alan Weisman
A thought experiment: if all humans were suddenly to vanish, what would change and what would endure?
by George Monbiot
Feral also examines the lives we may no longer lead and the constraints – many of them necessary – that prevent us from exercising some of our natural faculties. It explains how I have sought, within these constraints, to rewild my own life, to escape from ecological boredom. I am surely not alone in possessing an unmet need for a wilder life, and I suggest that this need might have caused a remarkable collective delusion, from which many thousands of people now suffer, that seems to be an almost perfect encapsulation of the desire for a fiercer, less predictable ecosystem.
by Gary Snyder
In ten captivatingly meditative essays – including a new, previously unpublished essay – Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and writer Gary Snyder explores the ideas of Buddhism, wildness and the lessons that can be learnt from nature and the planet. First published in 1990, these essays stand as the mature centrepiece of Snyder’s work and thought and are widely accepted as one of the central 20th century texts on the interaction of nature and culture.
by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
By investigating one of the world’s most sought-after fungi, The Mushroom at the End of the World presents an original examination into the relation between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes, the prerequisite for continuing life on Earth.
by Isabella Tree
In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.
by Joanna Macy & Molly Brown
Personal empowerment in the face of planetary despair
Authors Joanna Macy and Molly Brown address the anguish experienced by those who would confront the harsh realities of our time. In this fully updated edition of Coming Back to Life, they show how grief, anger, and fear are healthy responses to threats to life, and when honored can free us from paralysis or panic, through the revolutionary practice of the Work that Reconnects. New chapters address working within the corporate world, and engaging communities of color as well as youth in the Work.
by Richard Powers
The focus of this rambling novel is the life of trees. It manages to open a transhuman perspective – an astonishing achievement – in which the reader understands – whether or not she agrees – how one of the characters can set the life of one particular tree above her own.
by Kim Stanley Robinson
How humanity got through the climate crisis
Last November on the train back to London from COP26 in Glasgow, two civil servants from the Dept for the Environment told me how this novel gave them some hope for the future.
by John Lanchester
Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he only has two years of this, 729 more nights.
The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else.
He will soon find out what Defenders do and who the Others are. Along with the rest of his squad, he will endure cold and fear day after day, night after night. But somewhere, in the dark cave of his mind, he thinks: wouldn’t it be interesting if something did happen, if they came, if you had to fight for your life?
John Lanchester’s thrilling, hypnotic new novel is about why the young are right to hate the old. It’s about a broken world you will recognise as your own – and about what might be found when all is lost.
The Wall was longlisted for the Booker Prize in July 2019.
by Suzanne Simard
From the world’s leading forest ecologist, who forever changed how people view trees and their connections to one another and to other living things in the forest – a moving, deeply personal journey of discovery.
Finding the Mother Tree reminds us that the world is a web of stories, connecting us to one another. [The book] carries the stories of trees, fungi, soil and bears – and of a human being listening in on the conversation. The interplay of personal narrative, scientific insights and the amazing revelations about the life of the forest make a compelling story. — Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise”. — Elizabeth Gilbert