Top 10 List: Non-fiction books

(Every 10th blog or so, I will offer a Top 10 list of different sorts. Every such list will leave off many items but that comes with the territory. If you see something more worthy, please share it. I’d love to see people offer their top 10 lists as well! The lists will be organized in reverse order to add some excitement. Drumroll, please.)

10. Mismeasure of Man (Stephen J. Gould, 1981)
How could the leading scientists of the most pre-eminent institutions in the world spend so much time trying to prove that human intelligence was racially determined (with “whites” on top of course)? And how twisted their “scientific” methodologies had to become in order for them to appear rational and justified. Gould clarifies that scientists are not inherently objective and that preconceptions of how they want to see the world (i.e., prejudices) often drive their research. We need to remember this and always be cautious and scrutinizing when accepting scientific claims about such controversial issues as health/diet, chemicals in the environment, and cell phones and GMOs. Always find out who the source is and where their paychecks (or ideological commitments) come from.

9. When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution (Devra Davis, 2003)
Stemming from a major pollution episode in her hometown in 1948, Dr. Davis went on to become a leading world scientist who feels compelled to tell us the “story” key environmentally-driven challenges (here air pollution; in other books, cancer and cell phones). This book clearly and definitively establishes how dangerous it is to continue pouring billions of pounds of known hazardous chemicals into the Earth’s atmosphere each year. Through her detailed 20th Century historical analysis, Davis introduces us to many heroes/sheroes that often have been overlooked in our history (people like, Lester Lave, Herbert Needleman, Mary Amdur, Mario Molina, etc.). They give us hope and direction despite the devastation.

8. The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (David George Haskell, 2013)
Ever want to walk into the woods with a tour guide who could explain to you to all that you see or expose you to things that evade your neophyte lens? Well, if so, then Haskell is the person you want to have. Each short chapter captivates and introduces you to so many interconnections of life, matter, and science, you’ll be spinning and pining to go traipsing through the forest as soon as the book hits the table.

7. EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want (Frances Moore Lappé, 2011, link)
Let’s face it. Humanity needs a new mindset. Fortunately, Lappe has brought us one to share! In this book of just over 200 pages, Lappe covers an amazing landscape of “mindsets” that have gone wrong and offers viable antidotes to all of them. If you need a philosophical pick-me-up, look no further!

6. The Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein, 2008, link)
Planned chaos (“shock”) serves as a perfect environment for power-hungry government organizations and corporations (often working together) to enact all types of anti-democratic and draconian policies. And to think that this strategic ploy is ground in world class psychological analysis developed in our world’s top ivory towers. Makes you wonder what is being planned for us now? Klein’s critical work prepares us to respond to current and future “shocks.”

5. Living Downstream (Sandra Steingraber, 1998 (updated in 2010), link)
I picked this book up by accident during a trip to the Univ. of Chicago back in the early 2000s. Was I in for a surprise—a true masterpiece. Steingraber, the modern version of Rachel Carson, puts the state of humanity vis-à-vis the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals that we pour into our “streams” into digestible chunks. She doesn’t only provide us the most poignant and well-researched account but also shares viable solutions, such as “reverse onus” and the “precautionary principle.” A movie was made of Steingraber’s life and the research presented in this book. Also, be sure to check out: Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood (2001) and Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis (2011). With all this knowledge present in her mind and heart, Steingraber has become one of the leading activists resisting fracking and other threats to our future.

4. The Long Haul: An Autobiography (Myles Horton, 1998)
A plainly written book without a lot of flash, but with insight after insight about how we can work together to move forward. Based on Myles’ work founding and working in the Highlander Folk School in eastern Tennessee, where Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hammer and Martin Luther King, Jr. spent considerable time, we are exposed to simple lessons of about humanity and working collectively. Revolutionary concepts, such as “popular education” and “nonviolent protest,” were taught through educational workshops where people of all persuasions could work together (unheard of back in the 1920s-1950s in the South) under a common purpose. Myles is a teacher we all should have had and thanks to this book, we can!

3. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired By Nature (Janine Benyus, 1997 (updated in 2008), link)
Bioneers (the amazing organization) introduced me to Benyus, her amazing work and the revolutionary potential of biomimicry. Folks, the way of the future is to live with nature not to continue to manipulate, dominate, or even destroy it. If we humans are going to survive on this planet of 3-30 million species, we are going to have to learn how to get along with them. And what better way that by mimicking them. Yes, as simple as it sounds, animals, plants, fungi and even microorganisms have a lot to teach us, as long as we are humble enough to listen and learn from them. We are one of the youngest species on Earth; our organic neighbors have been here a lot longer. And they are here because they have learned to “get along.” They have solved most of the problems we are facing, e.g., “how to extract nutrients,” “how to obtain water and energy,” and “how to live without producing dangerous waste.” Janine’s masterpiece sets us on this journey with endless possibilities. If you haven’t heard of Biomimicry before, watch this video and then read Benyus’ book! You definitely won’t regret it!

1 (Tie). The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander, 2011, link)
Most of us realize that the deck is stacked against many of our brothers and sisters right now. And this propels us to be kind and supportive to them and, for some, activates a bit more energy and willingness to struggle. But, with the detailed account provided by Dr. Alexander, we will realize that our kindness, humanity, and struggle has been far from enough in this time of tremendous need. In many respects, things are worse now for our kin than they were 40+ years ago. Prisons (increasingly privatized to make money) are swelling and new ones are being built in neighborhoods where “math test scores” are the lowest (as the “state” and profit-seeking prison corporations recognize that this is a top indicator of where criminality will be bread and are accepting of (or, worse, “licking their chops” at) this future for far too many of our “children of color.”). Drug laws are racist. Our criminal justice system only punishes and rarely heals or prepares inmates for a healthy life once they have served their time. The list goes on and on. Given that so many (in some cases 50% of men in urban neighborhoods) are destined to be behind bars (something that makes prison investors quite happy), we need to trace the history of how we got here and what we can do about it. There will not be must environmental justice worth its efforts until we can treat our own more humanely. Alexander’s masterpiece couldn’t have come any sooner.

1 (Tie). Making Peace with the Planet (Barry Commoner, 1992)
Honestly, this book probably set my career as an environmental teacher and scholar, hence it is difficult not to make it share the top spot on my list; thanks Dad for purchasing it for me. Commoner’s logic about the foolishness of technological determinism and his historical anecdotes about seemingly small decisions (e.g., whether the automobile industry would promote the sale of small efficient cars or gas-guzzling, masculine machines of power; guess who won?) gone seriously wrong still resonate with me. A thinker before his time but one that never stopped thinking (he was writing ecological tomes and renewable energy white papers 20-30 years earlier). In the end, the title says it all. It could be a mission that we all adopt. What a world that would be. Really!

Others just missing the cut but still amazing, in chronological order (HR = Haven’t read but highly acclaimed):

Principia (Isaac Newton, 1687)
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Frederick Douglass, 1845)
On the Origin of the Species (Charles Darwin, 1859)
A Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold, 1949)
Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin, 1955)
The Other America: Poverty in the United States (Michael Harrington, 1962, HR)
Silent Spring (Rachel Carson, 1962)
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn, 1962)
Why We Can’t Wait (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X, 1965)
Against Interpretation (Susan Sontag, 1966, HR)
The Double Helix (James D Watson, 1968)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown, 1970)
Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 1970)
The Lorax (Dr. Seuss, 1971)
The People’s History of the United States (Howard Zinn, 1980)
A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking, 1988)
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Edward Herman & Noam Chomsky, 1988)
The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf, 1990)
The Ecology of Commerce (Paul Hawken, 1993)
“Racial” Economy of Science (ed. Sandra Harding, 1993)
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (1995), My Ishmael (1998) & Beyond Civilization (2000) (Daniel Quinn)
The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices (Brower & Leon, 1998)
The Carbon War (Jeremy Leggett, 1999)
Development as Freedom (Amartya Sen, 1999)
No Logo (Naomi Klein, 1999)
Hungry For Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food and the Environment (eds. Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster & Frederick H. Buttel, 2000)
The Legacy of Luna (Julia Butterfly Hill, 2000)
Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser, 2001)
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Barbara Ehrenreich, 2001)
Tales from the Underground (David Wolfe, 2001)
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability (David Holmgren, 2002)
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (John Perkins, 2004)
Crimes Against Nature (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., 2005)
Stop the Next War Now (eds. Medea Benjamin & Jodie Evans, 2005)
Escaping the Matrix: how We the People can change the world (Richard Moore, 2005-6)
Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back (Amy Goodman & David Goodman, 2006)
The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (Naomi Wolf, 2007)
Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed (Vandana Shiva, 2007)
Omnivore’s Dilemma (Michael Pollan, 2007)
Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice (David Pellow, 2007
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver, 2008)
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World (Paul Hawken, 2008)
Give Me Liberty (Naomi Wolf; 2008)
Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (Edwin Black, 2008)
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Richard Louv, 2008)
Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth (David Korten, 2009)
The Green Collar Economy (Van Jones, 2009)
Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, 2009)
Stuffed and Starved (Raj Patel, 2009)
Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation (Devra Davis, 2010)
eaarth (Bill McKibben, 2012)
The Story of Stuff (Annie Leonard, 2010)
The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age (Richard Louv, 2011)
Too Many People? (Ian Angus & Simon Butler, 2011)
Vultures’ Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores (Greg Palast, 2011)
Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet (David Suzuki, 2012)
The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (Grace Lee Boggs, 2012)
Local Dollars, Local Sense (Michael Shuman, 2012)
What Has Nature Ever Done For Us (Tony Juniper, 2013)
The Sixth Extinction (Elizabeth Kolbert, 2014, HR)
The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability—Designing for Abundance (William McDonough & Michael Braungart, 2014)
Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015)
Runaway Inequality (Les Leopold, 2015, HR)
This Changes Everything (Naomi Klein, 2015)
No is Not Enough (Naomi Klein, 2017)

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