I assume most of you saw Michael Pollan's essay on "sustainability" and our food system, but just in case: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/magazine/16wwln-lede-t.html?_r=2&ref=magazine&oref=slogin&oref=slogin Now "sustainable" is a word I've never much liked ever since the assholes at the World Bank began appending the term "development" to it. But I've used it because it conveys something, and I haven't been able to think of a better choice. My friend Keith Johnson, Permaculturist extraordinaire uses, however, "Regenerative/Degenerative" in place of "Sustainable/Unsustainable" - and when he mentioned it while forwarding the Pollan piece, it was like a lightbulb going on - YAY - a better word! I've never liked any of the proposed alternatives so much - after all, we're past the point of sustenence - we have to repair what is broken now.
So here are books I recommend to help us regenerate our society. When I have a chance I'll do a third such post on some other areas, but space is limited, so here's what I've got. Coming in the next post - food preservation, livestock, sewing, knitting, bicycle, soil regeneration, grassroots organizing, brewing, and non-electric vehicle repair and a host of other things. BTW, I welcome suggestions in the comments section, and I strongly suggest people looking for recommendations read the comments section of both posts. There's a lot of wise information there.
Part II: Books to Fix What Is Broken
New Visions for Society
The Subsistence Perspective: Beyond the Globalized Economy by Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Maria Mies. Zed Books, London: 1999. This underrated, under-read book proposes a real and meaningful alternative to conventional Marxist/Capitalist debates, and also writes from a perspective focused on women and families. A superb book.
Earth Democracy:Justice, Sustainability and Peace. By Vandana Shiva. South End Press, Cambridge: 2005. Shiva draws the link between environmentalism and democracy quite clearly here.
Powerdown:Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World by Richard Heinberg. New Society, Canada: 2004. Heinberg takes a serious look at what the possibilities are going into peak oil.
Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth by Bill McKibben. Milkweed Editions, Canada: 2007. Other places in the world have managed to navigate some of these problems. McKibben tells us how. By far the best of McKibbens many good books.
Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans… by Rod Dreher. Crown Forum, New York: 2006. Dreher makes the case for a conservativism of conservation, moving right and left together to the sustainable center.
The Logic of Sufficiency by Thomas Princen. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA:2005. Wise and imaginative, Princen dares to propose an alternative vision to our present economy and culture of “efficiency.”
Low Energy Life
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. HarperCollins, New York:2004. A lovely, poetic account of the author’s experience living with a minimal level of technology.
A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by Wm. Coperthwaite. Chelsea Green, White River Junction VT: 2004. Coperthwaite has spent years developing a democratic way of living – homes that can be afforded and achieved by even the poor, an axe and a chair that anyone can make. This is a beautiful and useful book.
The Plain Reader: Essays on Making a Simple Life. Ed. Scott Savage Ballantine Books, New York: 1998. From the practical to the philosophical, this book offers a vision of people all over the country living imaginative, plain lives.
Homesteading and How to Do Nearly Everything – Big Books That Cover Lots of Ground
The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book By Carla Emery. If you could only take one book from this list, this would be the one. Carla tells you how to grow food, cook it, eat it preserve it, and how to do a million other things. It truly is an encyclopedia of sustainability, and despite the word “Country” in it, everyone can use this book.
When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival. By Matthew Stein, Clear Light Publishers, Santa Fe: 2000. This book takes you clearly through what you need to know about every imaginable subject in a sustained crisis, and gives clear, solid information and lots and lots of further references. When I want to know something about something I know nothing about, I often go here first.
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour. DK Publishing, London:2003. A beautiful book that covers how things were once done in Britain, Seymour offers a real sense of the scope of self-sufficiency. The emphasis is on country and rural life.
The Integral Urban House by the Farrallones Institute Sierra Club Books, San Francisco: 1979. This older book is a wonderful tool for a whole host of things, for city dwellers and rural ones. The emphasis, however is on urban dwellers and enabling them to live sustainably. A wonderful book.
The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT: 1999. This book has no peer, except, perhaps, all of Logsdon’s other works. No one is as wise and funny and readable, and has as many ideas. No one is as willing to admit his own flaws and limitations, and no one has as few.
Permaculture, Design, Landscaping
Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, Vermont: 2000. If Permaculture is a new concept to you, or you are attempting to begin transforming a small yard or area on Permaculture principles, this is the best book out there, bar none. In fact, I’m tempted to say it is the best book on Permaculture period that is out there. While others may cover more territory, none of them are as clear, thoughtful and beautifully written as this one.
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability By David Holmgren. Holmgren Design Services, Victoria AU:2002. Holmgren, the less famous founder of Permaculture, has a full grasp of the application of Permaculture to a lower energy world - he was ahead of the curve on both peak oil and climate change. Lots of great information here.
The Permaculture Design Manual by Bill Mollison. I’m not sure reading Mollison is always a good idea – he can be as obfuscatory as he is enlightening. But he’s a genius, and there’s always good stuff to be had in genius. But if it gets irritating after a while, no, it isn’t just you.
Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier. Toensmeier and Dave Jacke have also written an enormous, two volume tome about Forest gardening in temperate climates. Both are valuable. But the giant encyclopedia is representative of an anality so profound it puts my own to shame – these books are overkill. In Perennial Vegetables Toensmeier has managed to produce an admirable book of reasonable scope with a great deal of helpful information about how you can eat without replanting all the time. Check out the others if you are interested in a more expansive vision – or if you need a big doorstop. They really are of great value to temperate forest gardeners - but like JK Rowling, could have benefitted from a much more assertive editor
The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy. Sierra Club Books, San Francisco: 1982. The emphasis here is on food plants that are beautiful enough to be used even on covenanted lawns. Invaluable!
Adapting Your Home
Insulate and Weatherize by Bruce Harley. Taunton Press, Newtown, CT: 2002. Widely recommended. The only book on this subject that meets Linda Wigington's rigorous standards - and she knows more than anyone about this.
No Regrets Remodeling by the Editors of Home Energy Magazine. Energy Auditor and Retrofitter Inc, Berkeley: 1997. Green remodeling that actually works.
The Backyard Builder: Over 150 Projects for Your Garden, Home and Yard. Ed. Jon Warde. Random House, New York: 1994 Includes plans for a compost drum, orchard ladder, root cellar storage bins.
The ‘Have-More’ Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson. Storey Books, North Adams, MA:1983. More than 50 years old, this book still hasn’t lost much of its relevance. The original homesteading design book.
The Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual by the Readers Digest Association, Pleasantville, NY: 1973. A friend of mine with much experience in the building trade noted that he could build an entire house with just this book.
The Handyman’s Book:Essential Woodworking Tools and Techniques. By Paul N. Hasluck. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2001. Most woodworking books emphasize power tools – this is a refreshing change, showing you how to build with and use hand tools.
Water and Outputs
The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure by J.C. Jenkins. Jenkins Publishing, Grove City PA:1994. What we do with our outputs is at the heart of how we adapt. This is a very important book. It is also surprisingly fun to read.
The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store and Conserve It by Stu Campbell. Storey Books, Pownal, VT:1993. Water will be one of the great problems of the coming decades. We all need to know more about our water systems.
Playing with Fire: Heating and Cooking
The New Woodburner’s Handbook by Stephen Bushway. Storey Press, Pownal, VT: 1992. If you are going to heat with wood, be sure to know what you are doing. This book is definitive.
Build Your Own Earth Oven: A Low-Cost, Wood-Fired Mud Oven by Kiko Denzer. Handprint Press, Blodgett, OR:2000. A wonderful, clear book on how to cook cheaply. Great bread recipe as well! We've done this, and it works beautifully.
Capturing Heat and Capturing Heat II by the Aprovecho Research Institute, 1996. These two pamphlets show how to build a high heat, low fuel use rocket stove, solar oven, masonry stove and other valuable heating and cooking resources. Heating and cooking fuel will be enormous issues in the future, and unless we want to live in a deforested moonscape, we must find efficient ways to keep warm and fed
Gardening and Small Scale Farming Note: People always ask me what one gardening book they should buy - there isn't one. All gardening books are inadequate in a host of ways. You need a gardening library - or a good local library. Also, all gardens are fundamentally local, so seek out writers who focus on your own area whenever you can.
Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. Rodale Press, Emmhaus, PA:1981. There is no one garden book that covers everything, but for new gardeners, there is no better single volume.
Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy Workman Publishing, New York: 1999. There can be no more essential work than teaching the next generation to garden. A wonderful, inspiring book for everyone who loves a child.
How to Grow More Vegetables… By John Jeavons. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2002. Technical and deep, this book may have more to do with saving our lives than any other. Jeavons shows how to produce enormous amounts of food in small spaces. The tables in the back alone are worth the price of the book.
One Circle:How to Grow a Complete Diet in Less than 1000 Square Feet. Ecology Action Publications, Willits, CA: 1985. An invaluable companion to the above, David Duhon actually lived on what he could grow in a very small space, and describes what crops and diet can enable us to grow our own food.
Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening: Fruits and Berries by Susan McClure, Rodale Press, Emmhaus, PA: 1996. Beautifully illustrated, this book goes point by point through the basics of raising small fruits and nuts, with a plant by plant guide, including variety recommendations. There are similar books for vegetables and tree fruits, both are good.
Organic Orcharding: A Grove of Trees to Live I by Gene Logsdon, Rodale Press, Emmhaus PA:1981. I like Logsdon's older book better than any current book on organic fruit tree growing. Very readable, very smart, very useful.
Small Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon Rodale Press, Emmhaus, PA:1977. An absolutely essential book, very important going into the future, the only book on this subject, and absolutely definitive. I believe it is available for download.
The Four Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables From Your Home Garden All Year Long. By Eliot Coleman. Chelsea Green, White River Junction,VT: 1999 How to eat fresh food all year with minimal inputs – a necessary and well written book.
Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers by Edward C. Smith. Storey Publishing, Pownal, VT: 2006. Self-watering containers (aka Earthboxes) can produce enormous yields, expanding our food production capacity. See my post on this here:
Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Seed Saver’s Exchange Inc., Decorah:IA:1991. If we are to have truly self-sustaining food systems, we must save seed. This book tells you how.
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties:The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving by Carol Deppe. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT: 2000. You think this sounds too arcane? Not at all - the book includes a very readable discussion of genetics and seed viability, easily understood by anyone, that everyone who plants a seed needs, regardless of your other intentions. And all of us who save seed *ARE* breeding plants - it can't be avoided. A wonderful, enjoyable, necessary book.
The Bountiful Container by McGee and Stuckey. Workman Publishing, New York: 2002. This is the best single book about container based food gardening out there.
Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich. Workman Publishing, New York: 2001. A good introduction to mulch gardening and the science behind it.
Growing 101 Herbs that Heal by Tammi Hartung. Storey Books, North Adams, MA 2000. The best book I know about growing medicinal herbs.
Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook by Werner, Thurman and Maxwell. Hesperian Foundation, Berkeley: 2002. Everyone should own this book, read it, and be familiar with its information. This book was designed for people in rural areas who might not have access to medicine, but represent a powerful blueprint for communities in America who may also struggle to get the medical care they need in a lower energy society with climate related health problems.
Where There Is No Dentist by Murray Dickson. Hesperian Foundation, Palo Alto: 1983. Millions of Americans have no access to dental care right now. This book fills an enormous gap in our culture.
Where Women Have No Doctor by Burns, Maxwell and Shapiro. Hesperian Foundation, Berkeley: 1997. Again, an essential resource for those who may have no access to women’s medical care – either today or in the future.
The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook by the American Red Cross Society and Kathleen Handal M.D. Little, Brown and Co. New York:1995. This represents the absolute minimum an ordinary person should know about first aid.
Heart and Hands: A Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Elizabeth Davis. Celestial Arts Publishing, Berkely:1997. Several of the midwives I’ve met recommend this book as one of the best books on home birth and midwifery. Everyone in community must have someone who can safely deliver a baby if it is needed. An excellent text.
Ditch Medicine:Advanced field Procedures for Emergencies by Hugh Coffee. Paladin Press, Berkeley: 1993. This is the book you hope you never, ever have to use. But in the mean time, make sure someone in your community, ideally several someones, have read this book.
The Bates Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking by Bickley and Szilagyi. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, New York: 2007. This is a highly technical and extremely expensive book, but also very important. Knowing how to examine someone and take a medical history is essential to providing even basic community medical care.
Herbal and Alternative Medical Care
The Green Pharmacy: New Discoveries in Herbal Remedies for Common Diseases and Conditions… by James A. Duke, Ph.d. Rodale Press, Emmhaus PA: 1997. James A. Duke is one of the world’s foremost herbalists, and this is an alphabetical (by ailment) guide to the use of herbal medicine.
Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions by Francis Brinker, N.D. Eclectic Medical Publications, Sandy, OR: 1998. This highly technical work is essential for people using herbs. It provides exhaustive lists of potential problems. Very much recommended.
Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Stephen Bulmer. Storey Publications, Pownal, VT: 1999. The wild growth of MRSA and other antibiotic resistant infections make this book absolutely essential.
The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual by James Green. Crossing Press, Berkeley:2000. Most books on herbalism assume that you will buy your remedies at the store, but this one offers real strategies for getting medicine from your yard.
The Textbook of Natural Medicine by Pizzorno and Murray. Churchill Livingston, New York: 2007. Very expensive new, and highly technical, this is not a layperson’s guide, but valuable for anyone who wants to go beyond ordinary lay knowledge.
The More With Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre. One of four cookbooks in a series by the Mennonite Central Committee, all four focus on staple foods, meat used as a treat or seasoning, and accessible recipes. TMLC is great for basic, staple American-style reciples. _Extending the Table_ provides authentic ethnic recipes and stories from around the world and is my personal favorite. _Simply In Season_ focuses on seasonal eating and the _Simply in Season Children's Cookbook_ is the best kid's cookbook out there, bar none.
From the Earth:Chinese Vegetarian Cooking by Eileen Yin Fei Lo. MacMillan, New York: 1995. There are lots of recipes in American storage cookbooks for mock meat made from tofu and gluten. Most of them, frankly, suck. They don't taste anything like meat, and they don't taste particularly good, either. On the other hand, if you've ever eaten Chinese Buddhist cooking, you will realize that there exists the perfect fruition of fake meat cookery. It is very,very good. So if you think you may have soybeans and wheat for dinner any time soon, this is the cookbook to have.
Mediterranean Grains and Greens by Paula Wolfert. One of the more fascinating cookbooks I own. It is 350 pages of recipes using mostly whole grains and fresh greens. Most Americans would hardly believe it was possible to write such a cookbook, but it is not merely possible, but glorious.
The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon. People borrow this book, and it is never seen again. I've given up lending it out, and now I make everyone get their own. It is a very simple concept - recipes for soup made of everything imaginable. Every vegetable, legume, etc... Soups with milk, soups with broth, even a few soups with meat (although the vast majority are vegetarian). And some bread and salad recipes to accompany them. The soups are the centerpiece. A definite keeper - under lock and key, if necessary.
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. Lewis was one of the great figures of American cooking. She grew up in a community of farmers, African American descendents of freed slaves, and this book is an evocative and delicious link to that culture and its cuisine. This is real, seasonal, delicious country food, along with lovely narratives of what the life was like. The food is simple, and if you don't grow your own, you are unlikely to understand what is so beautiful about her emphasis on the natural, real flavors of food.
The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book by Laurel Robertson. Random House, New York: 1984. If you are going to grind your own to make your bread, you need this book.There's definitely an old fashioned, 1970s complete proteins and carob cookies feel to it, but who cares. There are hundreds of recipes for bread products using every kind of grain, and it is well worth having.
Local Food Systems
Coming Home to Eat by Gary Nabhan. WW Norton, New York: 2002. The first of the local food books, it remains one of the best, and is particularly useful for those looking to eat local in the West.
Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard Into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community by H.C. Flores. Funny and smart, with a strong leftist agenda, this is not so much a garden book as a food systems book. Worth a look.
Bringing the Food Economy Home by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Zed Books, London:2002. Norberg-Hodge analyzes the present food system and imagines an alternative, demolishing myths in her wake.
Plenty: One Man, One Woman and a Racuous Year of Eating Locally. By Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. Harmony Books, New York:2007. Smith and MacKinnon had the disadvantage of their book coming out in the same year as Kingsolver’s, but both books are important and worth a read, offering different gifts.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Harper Collins, New York: 2007. Lyrical and funny, wise and brilliant, if you read only one book about food, make it this one.
Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood by Sandra Steingraber. WW Norton, New York: 2001. No woman should ever enter the journey to motherhood without understand what industrial society has done to her body and her capacity to create life. A beautiful and disturbing book.
Last Child in the Wood: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. Algonquin Books, New York: 2006. Details the horrific damage we are doing to our children as we destroy the natural world.
Homeschooling and Ecological Education:
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich Marion Boyers Publishing, New York: 2002. Like all Illich’s books, wonderful, radical, inspiring, outrageous, ultimately hopeful.
Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment and the Human Prospect by David Orr. Island Press, Washington:2004. David Orr is wise and wonderful, and more fully grasps the problems of creating an ecological education than anyone I know of.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere. Continuum Publishing, New York:1993. A classic. First, they tell you that what you know doesn’t matter – this is the truth that underlies much of the difficulty in our educational system. Every teacher (and this means all of us) should read this book.
Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. By John Taylor Gatto. New Society, BC:2005. Gatto, a former teacher, sees little hope for “the system” but a great deal of hope for new ideas.