Reading Matters

Ecosocialist Bookshelf: February 2024

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Important reading for reds and greens, including four new books on capitalism and the pandemic

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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.

And because some readers asked: Climate & Capitalism accepts review copies from publishers, but we do not receive any payment for reviews or for reader purchases.

Nick Reardon
How Big Pharma Destroys Global Health

Big Pharma, more interested in profit than health, focuses not on researching new medicines but on building monopolies. It has moved away from invention and production in order to benefit financial markets, and fundamentally reshaped the relationship between richer and poorer countries. Investigative journalist Nick Reardon exposes the rot, and proposes a a fairer, safer system for all.

Christiaan de Beukelaer
A Voyage to a Sustainable Future for Shipping

Manchester University Press
The shipping industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than aviation. If we can’t swiftly decarbonize it, we can’t solve the climate crisis. In 2020, Christiaan De Beukelaer spent 150 days covering 14,000 nautical miles aboard a hundred-year-old sailing vessel that transports cargo across the Atlantic Ocean, to understand the realities of a little-known alternative to the shipping industry.

Whitney Barlow Robles
How Animals Made Natural History

Yale University Press
Robles makes animals the unruly protagonists of eighteenth-century science through journeys to four spaces and ecological zones: the ocean, the underground, the curiosity cabinet, and the field. She reveals a forgotten lineage of empirical inquiry in a tumultuous era in the history of human-animal encounters still haunts modern biologists and ecologists as they struggle to fathom animals today.

Stephen Robert Miller
Tsunamis. Cyclones, Drought, and the Delusion of Controlling Nature

Island Press
From seawalls in coastal Japan, to the reengineered waters in the Ganges River Delta, to the artificial ribbon of water supporting both farms and urban centers in parched Arizona, Miller traces the histories of engineering marvels that were once deemed too smart and too big to fail. Over the Seawall embraces humanity’s penchant for problem-solving, but argues that if we are to adapt successfully to climate change, we must recognize that working with nature is not surrender but the only way to assure a secure future.

Stephen Porder
How Five Elements Changed Earth’s Past and Will Shape Our Future

Princeton University Press
Porder reveals how microbes, plants, and people have used the fundamental building blocks of life to alter the climate, and the trajectory of life on Earth. Five essential elements — hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus — were harnessed by single-celled organisms only to precipitate environmental catastrophes. Today the same elements underpin the success of human civilization, and their mismanagement again threatens catastrophic unintended consequences.

Four important books on Capitalism and COVID-19

Li Zhang
China and Global Capitalism

Stanford University Press
Li Zhang, shifts debate away from narrow cultural, political, or biomedical frameworks, emphasizing that we must understand the origins of emerging diseases with pandemic potential in the more complex and structural entanglements of state-making, science and technology, and global capitalism. She argues that popular narratives of China’s role fail to address, and increase the danger, of global potential pandemics caused by contact between wild animals and humans. Highly Recommended

Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean
What the Pandemic Revealed About Who America Protects and Who It Leaves Behind

Penguin Random House
The COVID-19 pandemic made it painfully clear that the U.S. could not adequately protect its citizens. Millions of Americans suffered, and over a million died, in less than two years, while government officials blundered; prize-winning economists overlooked devastating trade-offs; and elites escaped to isolated retreats, unaffected by and even profiting from the pandemic. Why and how did  the United States, in a catastrophically enormous failure, become the world leader in COVID deaths?

Debora Mackenzie
The Pandemic that Should Never Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One

Hachette Books
Over the last 30 years of epidemics and pandemics, we learned every lesson needed to stop COVID in its tracks. We heeded almost none of them. Science journalist MacKenzie tells the full story of how and why it happened: the previous viruses that should have prepared us, the shocking public health failures that paved the way, the failure to contain the outbreak, and most importantly, what must be done to prevent future pandemics.

and Other Material on Microbiological Class War in China

Charles H. Kerr
Chuang, a left-wing collective of with members inside and outside China, offers a piercing first-hand portrait of the simultaneously draconian and ineffectual response of the Chinese state, as well as the self-organizing survival strategies of ordinary Chinese workers. Includes a new, long-form article on the role that the pandemic played in China’s ongoing state-building project.

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