Ecosocialist Bookshelf, February 2022

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Reading matter for reds and greens: Five new books and five recent reviews

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Ecosocialist Bookshelf is a monthly Climate & Capitalism feature, hosted by Ian Angus. Books described here may be reviewed at length in future. Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement, or that C&C agrees with everything (or even anything!) these books say.

Jo Handelsman
A WORLD WITHOUT SOIL: The Past, Present, and Precarious Future of the Earth Beneath our Feet

Yale University Press, 2021
In the United States, China, and India, vast tracts of farmland will be barren of topsoil within this century. The combination of intensifying erosion and increasing food needs creates a desperate need for solutions. Noted biologist Jo Handelsman exposes the complex connections among climate change, soil erosion, food and water security, and drug discovery, and suggests solutions to the exhaustion of a vital resource.

James Hunter
INSURRECTION: Scotland’s Famine Winter
Birlinn, 2019
When Scotland’s 1846 potato crop was wiped out by blight, towns and villages from Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, rose up in protest at the cost of food. Thousands of people seized grain, boarded ships, blockaded harbors, and faced down the military. Many protestors received savage sentences, but the uprising won victories — in particular, it forced the government to cut food prices.

Kyle Harper
PLAGUES UPON THE EARTH: Disease and the Course of Human History
Princeton University Press, 2021
Harper’s monumental history of humans and their germs shows why humanity’s disease pool is rooted deep in our evolutionary past, and how the story of disease is entangled with the history of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism. Modern humanity’s conquest infectious diseases has made life as we know it possible, but the very changes that have improved our health are also destabilizing the environment and fostering new and deadlier diseases.

Kenneth O’Reilly
ASPHALT: A History
University of Nebraska Press, 2021
Humans have used natural asphalt for thousands of years, but it was first used for roads in the 19th century — and then the natural product was replaced by by-products of oil refining, and today by bitumen from tar sand mining. Asphalt has shaped our environment in many ways — now it is a major contributor to global heating and environmental destruction.

Donald Cohen & Allen Milaelian
THE PRIVATIZATION OF EVERYTHING: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back
New Press, 2021
Again and again, private interests have strip public goods of their power to lift people up, diminishing democracy, furthering inequality, and separating us from each other. Cohen and Milaelian link a broad spectrum of issues and raise important questions about who controls the public things we all rely on. They expose the hidden crisis of privatization and propose a road map for taking our world back.

Recent C&C book reviews