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 process.
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 :-) Highly recommended.
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 companion/complementary text.
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
(Excerpts) 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 Salon's 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 Chalmers Johnson
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 immensely useful.
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

De Clarke