Books of the year, 2011

It’s been another good year on the book front, and it’s time for my annual attempt to pick my favourites. With a baby in the house it’s a slightly shorter list to choose from, but in no particular order, here are the best things I’ve read this year:

Treasure Islands, by Nicholas Shaxson
Shaxson’s book shines a light on an enormous monster that most of us are unaware of, but that is crippling our economics, corrupting our politics and eroding our democracy: the global tax haven network. If there were any justice in the world, this book would be a historic turning point. It would mark the high point of the tax havens, and the beginning of their systematic dismantling.

Whoops, by John Lanchester
Chances are you’ve already read this and if not, it will have been recommended to you plenty of times, but it’s a worthy bestseller. Whoops, why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay explains the financial crisis and its historical context in ways that are not just simple to understand, but entertaining too.

Cradle to Cradle, by Michael Braungart and William McDonough
It’s been kicking around for a while of course, but Braungart and McDonough’s vision of a new kind of industrial design is inspired and inspiring, and it could well turn out to be one of the 21st century’s most important ideas.

When a Billion Chinese Jump, by Johnathan Watts
A brilliant bit of reportage and travel writing, Watt’s journey around China documents both the best and the worst of the country’s economic boom. His conclusion is that the fate of the environment lies with China, that Chinese choices about their development path will either save the world or destroy it.

Ecological Debt, by Andrew Simms
This book features in my top five for two reasons. First, it completely overturns the orthodox explanations of the world’s biggest problems, setting out a creative and provocative alternative perspective. Second, it comes so close to expounding this blog’s particular viewpoint that I nearly canned the book I’ve been working on. (In a good way. The manuscript endures and will be better for it.)

Making up the rest of the top ten:

The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto
An older book that I got round to this year, De Soto’s understanding of land rights is a real breakthrough idea, and one of the most promising and intriguing ideas in development theory.

The God Species, by Mark Lynas
It will probably wind you up and you will want to approach this with an open mind, but Lynas’ exploration of our planet’s boundaries and how close we are to each of them is an invaluable new benchmark for managing our homeworld.

The End of Growth, by Richard Heinberg
In the top ten for sheer bravery if nothing else, Heinberg puts his reputation on the line and calls the end of growth. This work of economic heresy explains why growth is over, and why that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Peoplequake, by Fred Pearce
It’s not the final word on the subject of population, but Pearce’s book is very helpful in bringing together overcrowding, urban growth, youth bulges and aging populations into a coherent narrative of demographic transition.

The Transition Companion, by Rob Hopkins
A kind of proof-of-the-pudding book on the transition towns movement, this is an inspiring and satisfying book full of real people getting on with changing their small parts of the world.

I also enjoyed Jon Reeds’ book on urban sprawl, Smart Growth, and the wise and funny Consumer Detox, by Mark Powley. The Idle Parent, by Tom Hodgkinson is the only book on parenting I bothered to read all the way through, and I enjoyed his Brave Old World too. I liked Mark Stevenson’s An Optimist’s Tour of the Future and Smile or die, by Barbara Ehrenreich, both of which are unexpectedly thought provoking. Ha Joon Chang somehow manages to be both iconoclastic and common sense in 23 Things they don’t tell you about capitalism.

My review of Haydn Washington and Jon Cook’s Climate Change Denial got the angriest response I’ve ever had to a blog post, and prompted a sustained attack from readers of a certain climate denial website that shall remain nameless.

I also read Freefall, by Joseph Stiglitz, Globalism and Regionalism, by Johnathan Porritt, Hell and High Water, by Alastair McIntosh, Overconnected, by William H Davidow, Alias Papa: A life of Fritz Schumacher, by Barbara Wood, Dead Aid, by Dambisa Moyo. Among this year’s relevant fiction was Anthill, a novel by E O Wilson, Solar, by Ian McEwan, and A week in December, by Sebastian Faulks.  I read and didn’t get round to reviewing Eating the Sun, by Oliver Morton, Small is Beautiful in the 21st Century, by Diana Schumacher, God doesn’t do waste, by Dave Bookless, and All that we share, by Jay Walljasper.

See last year’s list.

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