Affluenza: This book introduced me to a lot of the issues involved with our consumer culture and how it is damaging to us personally and to the world as a whole. The crux of the argument is that if everyone in the world lived like Americans, we would need five additional planets to support them! It provides many suggestions for improving the quality of life while reducing the quantity of stuff. I read several of the books below because they were mentioned in this one. It was key in my decision to become a vegetarian.
When Corporations Rule the World: This book describes what trans-national corporations really are and why they have an overwhelmingly negative impact on most of the world's inhabitants (including most Americans, who still think globalization is a good thing, even after they've been downsized).
Global Spin: Wonder what ever happened to the environmental movement? This book explains the various methods by which corporations and right-wing politicians have subverted and largely destroyed efforts to protect the environment. Many of the methods are used to support many other agendas, including deregulation and the "War on Terrorism".
Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy: Actually, I haven't finished this one yet, but it is an investigation into how things are done in Washington (which is vastly different from how they should be done, or how we are told they are done).Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia: This one has moved from the "current events" to the "history" shelf, but it provides good background on the various factions in Afghanistan and the slimy black substance behind much of what goes on there.
The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism -- An excellent and fact-filled critique of the absurd "war on terrorism." Good antidote to the upcoming patriotic gag-fest on September 11. Yes it was bad that all of those people died. No, it does not justify killing just somebody, anybody, everybody as retribution.
Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict: In case you are looking for more plausible reasons for the next few extensions of the "War on Terrorism" than W will provide, this book will help.
Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press: Wonder why the government has had so much trouble winning the War on Drugs? It is fighting itself, namely the CIA. This book chronicles CIA drug involvement in Central America, Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They'd Have Given Us Candidates: More Political Subversion from Jim Hightower: Entertaining indictment of campaign financing, corporations, and "free trade." Easy and fun way to get mad again.
Trust Us, We're Experts! From the fine folks at PR Watch, this book is similar to Global Spin (above), although the focus is more broadly on corporate PR activities and less in depth on anti-environmental PR.
A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn.
In fourteen-hundred ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
Killed lots of Injuns for some gold
Is the story rarely told.
Howard Zinn tells the real, brutal story of Columbus, and goes on to tell the untold truths in American history: genocide, repression, racism and imperialism. Reading Zinn's accounts of the Mexican, Spanish-American, and First World Wars gave me that scary deja vu feeling: the same excuses and lies that were being used then are being used now.
1984: Orwell's classic which seems to be the Bushies' "how to" book for world domination. I make references to it all the time in my blog. ("War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength." "Two-minute hate." "Ministry of Love.")
Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President, by Ralph Nader.
The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime, by Joel Dyer. The US currently incarcerates over 2 million of its citizens, more than China or Russia. The media has sold the public on a largely non-existent crime wave, and the poor, disadvantaged and especially black and Hispanic people of this country are paying for it, five to ten years at a time. Meanwhile, for-profit prison corporations are getting rich off of the process, and politicians get elected year after year by being "tough on crime." Like several other books in this list (Global Spin, Trust Us, If the Gods, Crashing the Party), this book has entire chapters on the two most corrupting influences in America today: the legalized bribery of campaign financing and the distorted and largely uniform propaganda coming out of the media oligopoly.
Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck. Excellent book describing the destruction of the American landscape, and much of our lives, but disastrous trainwreck of sprawl: subdivisions, malls, office parks, and highways.
Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water, by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke. Huge corporations like Vivendi, Suez, Coke and Pepsi are grabbing up the world's water as fast as they can in order to sell it to the highest bidder, greatly aided by the WTO, the World Bank, the IMF, NAFTA, and all the other means by which the rich are robbing the poor. Huge remedial action is required immediately to save the world's water; unfortunately, most of the action is in the wrong direction. Water will be the issue of the 21st century. If you want to start doing something to mitigate the problem, here are a few suggestions (some are from the book, some I got elsewhere):
Some of the books above, like Affluenza, If the Gods..., and Crashing the Party have suggestions for steps we can take to try to improve the situation. I haven't read many books which focus specifically on solving the problems, but I intend to read some more. One that I read recently is
Uprising: Confronting the Tyrannies of the 21st Century : Stories from a New
Generation of Activists, by Neva Welton and Linda Wolf. Stories
from activists around the world fighting against globalization, repression,
environmental destruction, etc.
Food Revolution, by John Robbins. Not exactly a cheerful book, but a well-documented encyclopedia of the many things wrong with the American diet. The links between meat consumption and heart disease, cancer and food poisoning are covered. So are the devastating environmental impacts of factory farms and the enormous cruelty to animals involved. Robbins also rips apart several popular fad diets. I had read about most of this in the four books listed below, so what was most interesting to me was the extensive discussion of genetically modified organisms (GMO's), also known as "frankenfoods". The dangerous arrogance of Monsanto and other GMO corporations is frightening. Robbins is the son of one of the cofounders of Baskin-Robbins ice cream (Baskin was his uncle). He passed up inheriting the family business and fortune to lead a vegan lifestyle and share its benefits through his books (he previously wrote "Diet for a New America") and speaking engagements.
Fast Food Nation: Provides plenty of reasons for avoiding burger joints for the rest of your life, which will be much longer if you do!
Beyond Beef: About 100 pages too long, but it provides plenty of evidence of the historical and ongoing subsidization of the beef industry and its brutal consequences on people and the environment. There was a bit too much about cattle in ancient history, which I didn't think affected the main argument one way or the other, but might bore you before you get to the interesting parts. I think "The Great Bovine Switch" chapter would be a good place to start if you want the abridged version. It will certainly make you wonder if those western ranchers really have any right to the land!
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Being Vegetarian-2nd ed. and
Vegetarian Times Vegetarian Beginner's Guide: Both books provide good information on getting a balanced, nutritional diet when you go veggie.