It’s the final day of 2018, and a good time to review the last year’s reading. In no particular order, here are my five favourite books of the past year:
Drawdown, ed Paul Hawken
Written by a team of experts and full of under-appreciated ideas, Drawdown offers not just a formula for stopping global warming, but putting it into reverse. The book details the top 50 solutions and ranks them in order of effectiveness, showing the contribution they could make and what it would cost. There are new and old ideas, high and low tech, and seeing it all together in one place makes making it all seem entirely possible – we can stop climate change if we choose to do so.
Climate Justice, by Mary Robinson
I was struck by the grace and generosity of this book, which makes its point by simply telling the stories of ordinary people at the front end of climate change. As a former head of state, Mary Robinson could drop any name she pleases, and she chooses farmers, nomads, activists and refugees, often using their own words. Intractable issues of migration, justice or adaptation are humanised and understandable, making it a remarkably powerful book. Also the only book on this list that brought a tear to my eye.
The Divide, by Jason Hickel
Sometimes the debate about inequality comes down to contested interpretations of fairness and it can all seem a bit academic. Not in The Divide – the international inequality described here is about justice, oppression, and plunder. Hickel takes a historical overview of development, showing how a whole series of power structures have kept developing countries poor, to the benefit of a small minority. It’s tightly argued, urgent, and it made me more angry than anything else I’ve read this year.
Factfulness, by Hans, Ola and Anna Rosling
I’m not 100% convinced by Factfulness, as you might guess from the two titles above, but there’s no question that they’re onto something. Hans Rosling, assisted by his son and daughter-in-law, argue that most people don’t understand the world. Regardless of education and IQ, we are predisposed to thinking things are worse than they are. The book patiently explains why, and what we can do to see things more objectively. Conventional wisdom gets turned over, it’s a whole lot of fun, and if they taught this stuff in school Brexit would never have happened.
Out of the Wreckage, by George Monbiot
If you’re familiar with his Guardian column, you’ll know the general air of doom and betrayal that George Monbiot often conjures, as he exposes injustice, incompetence and apathy in the face of global catastrophe. Out of the Wreckage is a publisher sitting him down and saying ‘go on then, what do we do about it?’ And it turns out that perhaps the best solutions are breaking down selfish individualism and reconnecting with each other, rediscovering community and the common good. You can read the book, put it down and start working on the solutions right away with your own neighbours and friends – making it an empowering and hopeful read.
Some other favourites I’ve read this year include The Right to be Cold, a biography from the Arctic Circle by Sheila Watt-Cloutier. Of several books on the anthropocene, the one that jumped out is The shock of the Anthropocene, by Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz. I also liked ZedLife, Bill Dunster’s inspiring introduction to his distinctive brand of sustainable architecture. It’s full of pictures and my seven year old son took an interest, so we learned some principles from it and applied them in Minecraft.
Of those I didn’t review on the blog, I very much enjoyed Roman Krznaric’s Carpe Diem Regained, which digs through the cliches about seizing the day to find the gold. Lots about consumerism along the way too. My favourite novel this year was Emily St John Mandel’s Station 11, though my wife bought me Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time for Christmas and that makes it a tie. I finished the latter this morning and it’s glorious in its scope and its intelligence. You can read it as a reflection on humanity, environmental stewardship, evolution and time, or you can just enjoy the spaceships, terraforming, aliens and malevolent AI.
Should you be inspired to buy any of these, sourcing them through these links will net me a small percentage at no cost to you: Hive, which supports local UK bookshops, and Amazon UK or Amazon US, which do not.