A Brief Bibliography
Information and Engagement
Don't just question authority -- give it the third degree!
This is a very limited bibliography of books, essays, web sites, etc.
on the general theme of "challenging the official story." The authors
you will find here question the ultimate goodness and wonderfulness
of such sacred cows as the automobile, the consumer society, the Washington
Consensus, fast food, and the military-industrial nexus. This bibliography
covers only works of non-fiction. There's a companion
fiction bibliography that
covers novels, short stories, etc. Unless explicitly noted otherwise,
these are all books that I've read and can personally recommend.
politics and economics of cars and carcentrism
- The Elephant in the Bedroom by Hart and Spivak
- Lest you believe that only "radical hippies" object to the
automobile, here are two hard-hitting monetarist conservatives
who think the whole auto and highway industry is one giant
taxpayer-bilking boondoggle. And they make a pretty good case
for their point of view. This is a serious treatment of the
automobile in the realm of taxation, investment, savings,
government subsidies, and other monetarist measures of national
economic health. A personal favourite of mine.
- Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay
- Perhaps the standard reference book on the social costs of
the automobile. The prose is a bit breathless; the style
mixes statistics and anecdotes with reckless enthusiasm, and
therefore it doesn't read well in one sitting. But it's an
essential reference and reads very well indeed in smaller bites.
Excellent to read while commuting by bus or train :-)
- Divorce Your Car by Katie Alvord
- As compared to Asphalt Nation, DYC offers less
historical background and political/social context, but a lot more
practical, encouraging How-To information. It serves well as
a manual for anyone thinking of reducing their automobile dependence.
- The Geography of Nowhere by H Kunstler
- A classic, and rightly so. Kunstler traces the impact of
the automobile on everything from architecture to the social and political
life of communities. Gracefully written, literate, thoughtful and
melancholy, it covers the history of real estate and architecture
in America from the Thirteen Colonies to the present day.
- Transportation Planning: Vision and Practice by J Adams
- One of the best books on this subject, a series of essays by
John Adams written in the early 80's, on topics ranging from the
flaws of public planning process, to road safety, to the absurdity
of COBA applied to public planning. Well-researched, scholarly,
and thought-provoking -- and unfortunately not yet "dated", since
the school of thought it criticizes still dominates our political
- Death on the Streets by R Davis
- This may be the best single book there is on "road safety" (that
is, road danger): cars, bikes, pedestrians, politicians, and planners.
Robert Davis documents the double vision of the transportation
establishment in the UK with substantial references and no
punches pulled. Essential reading, and out of print (rats).
- One False Move by Hillman, Adams, and Whitelegg
- A powerful critique of the way "road safety" was defined and enforced
for children in the last quarter of the 20th century.
- Children, Transport, and the Quality of Life ed. Mayer Hillman
- Proceedings of a conference in the UK, at which were discussed
many aspects of automobile dependence and its impacts on children's
development and lives.
consumerism, sustainability, global economy, ecology
- A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting
- Simply one of the best books I have ever read. Ponting traces
through various historical eras the tendency of human civilisations
to out-consume their physical resource base. Finally he analyzes,
with the detachment of an observer from Mars, the history and
prospects of our contemporary petroleum economy.
- Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth Deffeyes
- Everything you probably never wanted to know about the oil
exploration and extraction business -- including the unpopular message
that not only are the world's oil reserves finite, we're just about
to pass the peak of world production. Deffeyes looks matter-of-factly
at the consequences of ever-increasing consumption of, and total dependence
on, a finite resource. This is an eminently readable book -- the
geological explanations alone are fascinating and worth the
cover price. Highly recommended.
- Earth Odyssey by Mark Hertsgaard
- A trip around the world, reporting from various nations on the
(mostly alarming) state of the environment and the stubborn refusal
of political authorities to respond. This combination of travelogue,
autobiography, and investigative journalism is an appealing and
accessible introduction to the costs of unsustainable development.
- Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans by Sylvia Earle
- The former chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration,
Earle documents the startling decline of the world's marine ecosystems in
clear (indeed, gripping) terms accessible to the lay reader.
- Luxury Fever by Robert Frank
- Frank analyzes the US economy in the 80's and 90's, examining
trends in such sectors as consumer debt, goods pricing, class
stratification, etc. His proposal of a simple sumptuary tax is
attractive, but critics have pointed out that he still subscribes
to the gospel of economic growth. Nevertheless this is one of
the most readable books ever written by a professional economist.
- Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train by Brian Czech
- Czech, not himself an economist, comes from a background in
wildlife management, forestry, and other rugged outdoor occupations.
He has written one of the most lucid explanations of the difference
between classical, neo-classical, and contemporary radical economic
theory; well worth reading despite his digressions, mid-book, into
over-lengthy proposals for economic reform via mate selection :-)
- For the Common Good by Daly and Cobb
- A fundamental title in the canon of contrarian economics.
Co-written by an economist and a theologian, this book is more
readable than almost all economics texts, but more scholarly and
lengthy than more popularised works like Czech or Frank (above).
I found it excellent, but would recommend a lighter work as an introduction.
Somewhat lacking on women's issues: Waring (see below) is an excellent
- Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
- One of the most radical books to enter the American mainstream
for many years, FFN is a flashback to the great days of independent
investigative journalism. Schlosser traces the deep connections between
the auto, oil, entertainment, and fast-food industries for the last 60 years.
Along the way he discusses labour relations, farming, water management,
and just about everything else. Highly recommended.
- No Logo by Naomi Klein
- Essential reading. Klein documents the paradigm shift in
corporate business practise that happened in the 80's and 90's,
the process by which the only major product became the brand name,
and the only major industry the public relations industry. Along
the way she visits sweatshops in free trade zones offshore, describes
various citizen/anticorporate movements, documents the decline in
living-wage employment and the rise of "McJobs," and generally
chronicles an era of (a) corporate profiteering at the expense of labour
and civic values and (b) the incursion of commercial promotion -- advertising --
further and further into both the civic and private realms. Possibly the
best single-volume introduction to the antiglobalization movement.
- The Globalized Woman: Reports from a Future of Inequality by Christa Wichterich
- Translated quite gracefully from the original German by Patrick Camiller,
this is a more serious and detailed treatment of the labour issues Naomi
Klein touches, but does not dwell on in No Logo. Wichterich, writing
from Euroland, discusses the ways in which globalisation follows the paths
of (and completes the work of) colonisation. Though her scholarship seems
impressive, the writing is not dry or dehumanised; she illustrates the
large transnational patterns and trends with anecdotal histories of individual
women whose lives are affected, for good or ill, by today's ways of doing
business. The bottom line is the same: Wichterich, like most independent
scholars surveying the current international scene, concludes that
unfettered monetarism and capital mobility have increased poverty and
diminished democracy -- contrary to the claims of their tireless promoters.
- Affluenza by DeGraaf, Wann, and Naylor
- Even easier reading than No Logo or Runaway Train,
this is a book you can dip into for short, entertaining chapters
covering basic issues in consumerism, consumer debt, resource
squandering, global warming, fiscal irresponsibility, and other
topics of contemporary concern. Did I say "entertaining"? I sure
did. Despite the fundamental seriousness of the topics, the
authors maintain a light touch throughout. A basic and accessible
text with lots of footnotes and references to more weighty works.
- Counting for Nothing by Marilyn Waring
- This was the first economics book that ever managed to
capture my attention. Waring's critique of GNP/GDP accounting
centres on the monetarist devaluation of "women's work" and
the fundamental injustices that this perpetuates. As far as I'm
concerned this is one of the most intellectually and morally exciting
books in print today; every feminist and every critic of globalisation
should read it, to understand their common ground.
- One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and
the end of Economic Democracy by Thomas Frank
- This is one of the few books that makes any sense of the bizarre
Eighties and Nineties in America. Frank (editor of 'The Baffler' magazine)
offers a savagely funny, informed, scathing analysis of the Great Bull
Market and the successful campaign to make corporate values American
values. After weary weeks and months of reading industry trade
journals from the delusional netherworlds of public relations, investment
counseling, and management theory, Frank offers us disturbing insights into
the way industry leadership talks and (heaven help us) thinks -- and how they want us
to think about them. His documentation of the "market populism" phenomenon
is lively, enlightening, and not a little worrisome; his well-deserved
slam-dunk of the stupid, offensive book Who Moved My Cheese is
just lagniappe :-)
- One World, Ready Or Not: the Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
by William Greider
A bit less daunting and more anecdotal than Daly and Cobb, a bit more
"serious" than Klein, this is an excellent overview of the case against
what is called "globalisation", i.e. the global hegemony of US-style
corporate commerce. The author is a world traveller and the book, borrowing
from the travelogue form, incorporates the stories and opinions of people
in various countries. Compelling and well-researched. Greider's theory
that US-style capitalism faces a crisis of overproduction has been pooh-poohed
by some critics. I found it somewhat interesting, especially in cross-reference
to another of his books, Fortress America -- which discusses the stunning
oversupply of war materiel he discovered while visiting various US military bases.
- Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
- Stiglitz used to be chief economist at the World Bank. He resigned a
couple of years ago in order to have greater freedom to comment on and criticize
WB and IMF policies. (see
coverage of Stiglitz's troubled relationship with his former employer).
Stiglitz is perhaps one of the WB/IMF critics hardest for conservatives and wealthy
people to dismiss. He is a real economist and speaks the language; he held a
position of considerable power and authority; he was really there on the ground,
an informed witness, when various WB and IMF policies were implemented in Asia
and South America; and yet he preserves a touching faith in capitalism,
which he insists is a workable system if it were not being derailed by ignorance,
special interests, a neo-religious economic fundamentalism, and American high-handedness.
Stiglitz can't be demonised as a "mad Communist" or an "ignorant anarchist teenybopper"
by defenders of the established order. His book is therefore a good one for readers
who respect the establishment and believe in the advice of experts with doctorates.
It is less readable than some, but still accessible to the general reader. It is
deeply informative and I recommend it most highly for any person (like myself) who
"knows" (by instinct and scattered news items) that the IMF is "bad guys" but is
not quite clear on the details. Stiglitz has lots and lots of details, and a
clear and persuasive agenda for reforming the IMF and World Bank and challenging
the Washington Consensus. It also may be helpful for those persons who are
still having a hard time understanding how anyone in the rest of the world could
possibly be angry with Washington and America.
- Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire by
- America's relationship with the "Asian Tigers" of the Pacific Rim is
traditionally shrouded in euphemism and/or cliche. Johnson, a veteran of
the US military/intelligence establishment and a highly-qualified Asia
scholar, offers a cogent and critical synopsis of US foreign policy
(economic and military) in Asia, and its possible consequences.
I include his grave and thoughtful book in this list because
it is almost impossible to understand American economy and culture,
resource consumption, marketing, and finance, without a grasp on the
bottom line: America is now the most puissant and far-reaching imperial
power the world has ever known. Somewhat like Rome under the Augustans,
America still thinks of itself as a "Republic" when in fact it is well
and truly committed to the path of Empire. Johnson, calm and scholarly --
hardly a polemicist, and certainly not an America-hater or a big fan of
the failed Soviet state -- writes with quiet persuasiveness about the
imperial style, what it means, how it works, and its probably inevitable
"costs and consequences."
To pick just one disturbing fact out of hundreds marshalled behind his
arguments: as of the late 1990's, over one quarter of the US GDP was
derived from militarist enterprises, mostly the production and sale of weapons --
this, in a country whose public rhetoric seeks to define it as the champion
of peace and justice. The gap between what most Americans honestly believe
America stands for, and what America really stands for in the world Out
There (from which very little unfiltered news coverage reaches Americans),
is made painfully clear in Johnson's low-key, dispassionate prose. Anyone
trying to understand foreign hostility to the US might find this book
- From Naked Ape to Superspecies by David Suzuki and Holly Dressler
- One of the best books ever written on the dilemmas and paradoxes of
late industrialism. The chapters on soil biology, industrial farming and
GMOs are worth the price of admission -- and there is much more. This is
an eminently readable book, written in a friendly tone, suitable for
nontechnical readers. An excellent introduction to the most pressing and
important issues of our new century, and well-stocked with references and
resources for further reading and action.
- Our Stolen Future by Colborn, Dumanoski and Myers
- Written with a bit of verve to balance the highly technical content,
this book about hormone-disrupting chemicals is organized like a detective
story. It chronicles a series of "riddles" and the slow, uncoordinated
search for answers which finally accelerates as the big picture falls into
place. Diseases and dysfunctions in many species, including our own, are
persuasively linked to the massive dumping of chemicals which interfere with
delicate endocrine and hormonal mechanisms at critical phases of fetal
development. The case is well made, the evidence is convincing. Anyone
planning to have children should read this book. An excellent example of
science writing for the general reader: clear explanations and illustrations
render a complex subject comprehensible.
culture, values and ethics: philosophy, spirituality, (auto)biography, humour
- Building a Bridge to the 18th Century by Neil Postman
- Postman's criticisms of contemporary American culture are
telling. Not all his solutions appeal to me, but his questions and
critique are shrewd and very much to the point.
- A Plain Life: Walking My Belief by Scott Savage
- This is a charming little book about what happens when an ordinary
person becomes extraordinary by revoking his own driver's license.
- Bill Bryson: A Stranger Here Myself, Notes from a Small Country,
A Walk in the Woods, and other titles.
- Humourists can be hard reading. They try so desperately to get a laugh
out of you, sometimes it's embarrassing. Bryson embarrasses me less often
than most humourists. There is a wry, self-critical, satirical charm to
his travelogues and reminiscences. He even gets away with criticizing the
American Way of Life, but with a gentle touch that makes his work accessible
to all but the most narrow-minded patriotic diehards.
- Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America by Kalle Lasn
- (not yet read)
- Roadkill Bill by Ken Avidor
- Cartoons poking fun at the American addiction to automobiles.
- There Ain't Nothing in the Middle of the Road by Jim Hightower
- The populist hell-raiser from Texas is in top form in this attack
on corrupt politicians, faceless bureaucrats, and blood-sucking profiteers.
Hightower's trademark down-home humour leavens his very serious topics
with cowboy wit.
- Toxic Sludge is Good For You by Stauber and Rampton
- This brief history of the public relations industry in the US is both
hilarious and profoundly disturbing. The picture that emerges from the
author's lengthy research into the practises and philosophy of public relations
is like something by Vonnegut out of Kafka; but the strangest thing is
that it's all quite real. Concealing, warping, "spinning," and burying
the truth is a big business, and the authors give us a good hard look at
how that business works and what the implications are for civic life and
public discourse. Highly recommended: laugh out loud and get the chills
on the same page.
risk and safety: public policy, road safety, bike/pedestrian issues
- Risk and Freedom by J Adams
- Risk by J Adams
- Target Risk II by G. S. Wilde
- The Book of Risks by Larry Laudan
- The Arithmetic of Life and Death by George Shaffner