I always enjoy reviewing my reading at the end of the year and choosing a few favourites. In no particular order, here are the five books that stand out most from everything I read in 2013.
The Democracy Project, by David Graeber
Ostensibly a history and insider perspective of the Occupy movement, The Democracy Project ends up reviewing the whole idea of democracy from the ground up. It’s radical, provocative and quite unique. As I said in my review, Graeber is a truly maverick free-thinker, but is entirely serious and well worth listening to. I found this one of those rare books that made me pause to think every couple of pages, simply because it was so full of things I’d never considered before. I finished it feeling profoundly enriched.
We have met the enemy – Self Control in an Age of Excess, by Daniel Akst
Another book that dealt with a topic I’d never really considered was Daniel Akst’s series of essays on self control. It sounds like a dry and worthy subject, but We have met the Enemy is a very entertaining book that ranges across mythology, psychology, economics and literature, drawing out insights about how our best intentions are thwarted by our own weaknesses. Self control, it turns out, is a very important thing. As Akst says, “the fate of the earth may depend on our collective ability to resist our impulses”.
The Shallows – by Nicholas Carr
Subtitled ‘How the Internet is changing the way we think, read and remember’, The Shallows looks at how the internet quite literally rewires our brains, and what this might mean for our culture. To demonstrate how technology shapes culture, Carr explains how maps, clocks and books made new modes of thinking possible, and shaped how and what we think. We’ve been in the age of the book, an age of slow, linear thinking. That era is ending, and it’s a fascinating subject to explore.
Living Within a Fair Share Ecological Footprint
A more technical book, this academic text from New Zealand answered a bunch of questions that I’ve had for the last five or six years – what is one-planet living? What does a sustainable life look like, and is it realistically possible for everyone? This collection of essays and studies suggests that a sustainable society is entirely possible, and puts some science behind it. It’s a diverse collection with a number of developing world voices and perspectives, and a valuable introduction to what life withing a fair share ecological footprint might entail.
Enough is Enough, by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill
I’ve read plenty of books that argue the case against growth economics. There are far fewer that attempt to outline the alternatives, the policies you might need to manage a postgrowth economy without wrecking everyone’s livelihoods. Enough is Enough: Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources doesn’t have all the answers, but it pulls together a whole lot of useful ideas in one place.
That’s a rough top five. I also enjoyed The World We Made by Jonathon Porritt, The Energy of Nations, by Jeremy Leggett, The Age of Oversupply, by Daniel Alpert, Entropia by Samuel Alexander and The Power of Just Doing Stuff, by Rob Hopkins.