Reading Matters

Ecosocialist Bookshelf, November 2023

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Six important new books. Ultra-processed food. Climate History. Sanitation crisis. Nuclear cleanup. Venezuela’s communes. Basic Income.

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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!) it says.

Chris Van Tulleken
The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food

W.W. Norton, 2023
Look at the list of ingredients in any packaged food — most of our calories come from an entirely novel set of substances, specifically engineered to be addictive, driving excess consumption. Almost all our staple foods contain chemicals that are leading causes of early death and environmental destruction, but for most people, Ultra Processed Foods are the only available and affordable options.

Antonello Provenzale
From the Earth’s Origins to the Anthropocene

Polity Books, 2023
This comprehensive history of the climate and climate change explains how the planetary climate system works and how the climate has evolved over millions of years. Starting from the catastrophic events that marked the early history of the Earth, including seas of magma, global glaciations and mass extinctions, he demonstrates how the climate has fluctuated between hot and cold periods, shows that today’s changes are different from any that humans have ever experienced.

Colin McFarlane
The Crisis of Sanitation and the Right to City Life

Verso Books, 2023
A call to action on one of modern urban life’s most neglected issues: sanitation infrastructure. McFarlane outlines the worldwide sanitation crisis and offers a vision for a renewed, equitable investment in sanitation that democratizes and socializes the modern city. Adopting Henri Lefebvre’s concept of ‘the right to the city’, he argues that sanitation is an urbanizing force whose importance extends beyond hygiene to the very foundation of urban social life.

Shannon Cram
Environmental Cleanup and the Politics of Impossibility

University of California Press, 2023
What will it take to truly clean up this contaminated world? Blending history, ethnography, and memoir, Cran investigates remediation efforts at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home to the majority of the high-level nuclear waste in the United States, and explores the uneven social relations that make toxicity a normative condition.

Chris Gilbert
Venezuela’s Communal Movement and Its Socialist Project

Monthly Review Press, 2023
Opens a window on one of the most ambitious revolutionary projects of our time. As author Gilbert shows, the Venezuelan people have not been passive in the face of imperialist attacks. Resisting the pressures of capitalism, a significant segment of the population persists in pursuing the strategy that Hugo Chávez developed in his final years in dialogue with the popular movement — building socialism with the commune as its basic cell.

Anton Jager & Daniel Zamora Vargas
A Global History of Basic Income

University of Chicago Press, 2023
A sweeping intellectual history of the welfare state’s policy-in-waiting. The idea of a government paying its citizens to keep them out of poverty — now known as basic income — is one of today’s most controversial proposals, drawing supporters from across the political spectrum. Welfare for Markets tells the story of how a fringe idea conceived in economics seminars went global, revealing the most significant shift in political culture since the end of the Cold War.