Some book suggestions on environment, sustainability and economics

— Anh NGUYEN

To prepare for the upcoming holiday season, here are some book suggestions that might be interesting for you (in no particular order): 

  • Thinking in systems – Donella H. Meadows: We live in complex systems. To navigate among these systems and solve complex problems, one needs to opt for system thinking. In this book, Meadows gave us a theoretical guide to detecting systems (and their characteristics) and not falling for fallacies when we try to model these systems. 
    There are a couple of definitions for a “system” in the book; for example, it is “a set of things—people, cells, molecules, or whatever—interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behaviour over time” or “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something.” These two definitions do not depict exactly the same thing, and this difference itself can produce a debate of several hours. Anyhow, this is a very intriguing and abstract book, which can give you a theoretical framework for system thinking, and good materials for an abstract discussion with your friends over a bottle of wine.
  • Poor Economics – Abhijit V.Banerjee & Esther Duflo: As the book’s subtitle suggests, we venture into “the surprising truth about Life on less than $1 a day”. The previous works on poverty are often generalized, focusing on big economic questions (i.e development aid or not?) or concluding that the poor make “irrational decisions” (so does any human; we are inherently irrational, as suggested in the mantra of behavioural economics). 
    For example, the poor are often blamed for spending money on short-term pleasures (coffee, cigarettes, etc.) rather than long-term investments (education, healthcare, etc.). As the authors of Poor Economics point out, “… they don’t care enough because they really, probably rightly, see that their chances of getting somewhere very different are minimal. If you’re never going to climb up that hill towards attainment, then you might as well not try.” The authors, therefore, suggest concrete policies that might help eradicate poverty more efficiently than big economic theories and presumptions. The book is quite technical, a basic economic understanding would help. But if you need a summary instead of spending hours and hours on economic jargon, here is a good one
  • The oldest living things in the world – Rachel Sussman: It’s a stunning, meditative, beautifully done photographic book, in which the authors travel the world to take pictures of living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older. It sure helps one put things into perspective. The world would possibly be a very different place if we were surrounded by these images and facts more often. 
  • In the name of Sharks (Au nom des requins) – François Sarano: For those who read in French and are also a big fan of sharks, you will be moved by this book, in which the author tells the story of a creature who has been here for more than 400 million years and is nowadays depicted as a bloodthirsty monster in the eyes of humans, but instead was massacred up to 90% of its population in the last 50 years. 
    This book is a part of the series “The wild worlds” (Mondes sauvages) of Acte Sud, with incredibly exciting yet introspective books on nature and our relationship to non-human inhabitants of the Earth. Hopefully, this wonderful series will be translated into English soon so that the work of these French researchers and activists can be diffused more widely. 
  • Change everything – Creating an Economy for the Common Good – Christian Felber: A small but powerful book, embedded with the wildest (but possible) dreams of an alternative economic and capitalistic economic model – an economy for the common good. Bold suggestions such as the elimination of the financial markets, non-permissible use of profits (‘money would only be a means for production, no longer a means of making profits’), or a three-step direct democracy are not just theoretical frameworks. The author illustrates his points with real-life examples from around the world, which are part of the international movement “Economy for the Common Good”.

I will also share here my list of non-fiction books for this year’s end. They are finance and economics-focused, as it is one of my current focuses at work: 

I will write a review of some of these books. Stay tuned! 🙂

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