Reading Matters

Ecosocialist Bookshelf, September 2023

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Water, farming, nuclear tests, copper mining, new biology, and sugar. Six books to help understand and change the world

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Ecosocialist Bookshelf is a monthly column, 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.

Peter Gleick
Prehistoric Past, Imperiled Present, and a Hope for the Future

Public Affairs/Hachette, 2023
Water has shaped civilizations and empires, and driven centuries of advances in science and technology, but the achievements that have propelled humanity forward also brought consequences, including unsustainable water use, ecological destruction, and global climate change, that now threaten to send us into a new dark age. Drawing from the lessons of our past, Gleick charts a visionary path toward a sustainable future for water and the planet.

Glenn Davis Stone
How Not to Feed the World

Routledge/Earthscan, 2022
A thoughtful, critical analysis that upends entrenched misconceptions such as that we are running out of land for food production and that our only hope is the development of new agricultural technologies. Stone argues that there is a viable alternative to industrial agriculture that will allow us to meet the world’s needs.

James C. Rice
Atmospheric Testing and the Rise of the Risk Society

New York University Press, 2023
For eleven years, more than a hundred nuclear weapons tests were conducted in Nevada, spreading radioactive debris across nearby communities and much of North America. Atomic Energy Commission officials knew that the detonations injected radioactive fallout into the atmosphere, but didn’t seem to care that the radioactivity could irrevocably damage the health of millions of people.

Erik Kojola
Nature, Place, and Populism on the Iron Range

New York University Press, 2023
A riveting picture  of the cultural struggles and political conflicts surrounding proposed copper-nickel mines in Minnesota’s Iron Range. Focusing on both pro- and anti-mining groups, Kojola expands upon what this conflict reveals about the way whiteness and masculinity operate among urban and rural residents, and the different ways in which class, race, and gender shape how people relate to the land.

Michael J. Reiss & Michael Ruse
A Battle Between Mechanism and Organicism

Harvard University Press, 2023
The search for a unified framework for biology is as old as Plato’s musings on natural order, which suggested that the universe itself is alive. But in the twentieth century, under the influence of genetics and microbiology, such organicist positions were largely set aside in favor of mechanical reductionism, by which life is explained by the movement of its parts. But can organisms truly be understood in mechanical terms, or do we need to view life from the perspective of whole organisms to make sense of biological complexity?

Ulbe Bosma
How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2000 Years

Harvard University Press, 2023
Sugar has transformed life on every continent, creating and destroying whole cultures through industrialization, labor migration, and changes in diet. Sugar made fortunes, corrupted governments, and shaped the policies of technocrats. And it provoked freedom cries that rang with world-changing consequences. To understand sugar’s past is to glimpse the origins of our own world of corn syrup and ethanol and the threat that a not-so-simple commodity poses to our bodies, our environment, and our communities.

Ian Angus
Dispossession and Resistance in the Making of Capitalism

Monthly Review Press, 2023

The War Against the Commons is a superb study of how capitalism grew out of the systematic destruction of communal societies. It is a fantastic resource for anyone trying to understand how our modern world came to be, and a tremendous and inspiring work for those struggling to build a new world that is not based on the rapacious quest for profits.” —MARTIN EMPSON, author of Kill All the Gentlemen

“A rousing, revolutionary history of the enclosure of the commons as ongoing class war! To liberate humanity, end exploitation and to protect out planet from climate change, we need to organize and revolt to defend, extend and deepen the commons. We can gain inspiration from this well written and inspiring book.” —DEREK WALL, author of The Commons in History

The War Against the Commons can be purchased from most booksellers, and directly from Monthly Review Press.