Books of the year, 2009

I read a lot of great books last year, and partly to remind myself, I thought I’d do a quick round-up. Here are the five new books I think are the most important, and you can click on the titles for the full review:

The Spirit Level – the result of thirty years’ worth of research, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett show empirically what we all know intuitively – that inequality is a disaster for societies. The one book I read last year that could still turn politics upside down.

Prosperity Without Growth – Tim Jackson’s exploration of growth economics blows away the myths and starts to make a low-growth economy look possible. One of the most important books of the year, possibly the most important if it weren’t for the above.

A Good Childhood – I ‘m going to pair this with Happiness, the other Richard Layard book I read this year. As usual it took an economist to prove what we all already know, that wealth does not equal happiness. His influence on politics is only just beginning.

The Transition Handbook – Rob Hopkins takes on climate change and peak oil together and sees the potential for community renewal. A uniquely positive approach to some of our biggest problems, and an open invitation to participate in the Transition Towns movement.

Why Your World is About to get a Whole Lot Smaller – Speaking of peak oil, Jeff Rubin skips the geology lessons and gets to the stuff that actually affects real life, in this introduction to the economics of oil depletion.

And to make up a top ten, here are five I really enjoyed, some older:

Soil and Soul – Alistair McIntosh writes with a passion and a depth that is quite unique, a compelling combination of politics, theology and poetry. A  must read for those not afraid to dip a toe in spiritual waters.

Carbon Detox – Still the best book on climate change I’ve read so far, George Marshall’s book is wise and funny, as concerned with psychology as it is with science and all the more accessible for it.

Good Work –  More witty and spontaneous than E F Schumacher’s classic Small is Beautiful, this collection of lectures is full of great ideas and sparkles with compassion and humanity. Appropriate technology, explained here, is a concept that could still have its moment.

Money Matters – There have been plenty of books written about the credit crunch, attempting to explain what’s wrong with our economics. David Boyle’s is the simplest.

The Diversity of Life – This is one of the set texts from my brother’s biodiversity and conservation degree, but E O Wilson writes with joy and flair that you wouldn’t expect from a book on biology.

Honorary mentions and the full list below.

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Among the more niche books, all of the following are good reads if you’re interested:
Local Food: How to Make it Happen in Your Community

Carsick: Solutions for a car-addicted culture

On Guerilla Gardening

The End of Money
A Short History of Progress

The Book of Rubbish Ideas

Heat: How we can stop the Planet Burning

and Jeremy Leggett’s book Half Gone, which I never got round to reviewing.

I don’t generally review novels here, but my favourites from this year were Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks.

And to round out the list, here’s the rest:
Time’s Up, The MoneyMakerOne Planet Living, Rekindling Community, The Hungry SpiritHow the Rich are Destroying the Earth, Water: Life in Every Drop, Localization: A Global Manifesto, Future Scenarios, Beyond Globalization, The Transition Timeline, The Long Emergency, Contraction and Convergence, Peak Everything, Hot Flat and Crowded, Crunch Time, Maxed Out, Seven Years to Save the Planet, Cutting Your Car Use, Lift the LabelSlow Tech, Workers of the World Relax, Renew the Face of the Earth. Among the other relevant books I didn’t review are Critical Masses, Better Off, and Twilight in the Desert.


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