My Recommended Non-Fiction List
This is the third installment in my recommended reading list. Today we will look at my favorite books covering the real, mostly brutal, history of people on the planet. Most of the books relate to imperialism and colonialism because I think that understanding humanities greatest injustices requires understanding that these injustices are nothing new, they have actually gotten worse. There are also two books on natural history on the list. They are on the list because they are engaging and informative for a layman.
Naomi Klein, in general
Klein’s body of work uses investigation and research, performed over years, in order to unmask truths about our global systems. In No Logo she exposed marketing and outsourced-manufacturing as mechanisms for making profits and hiding the human consts of consumerism. In The Shock Doctrine she illustrated the Chicago School of Economics club of laissez-faire zealots and their indifference to crimes against humanity in the countries they target. This Changes Everything dives into the history of climate change, greenwashing, and the communities resisting environmental destruction
Noam Chomsky, in general
The work of Noam Chomsky timelessly condemns American hegemony from every angle. The man is a compendium of anti-Imperialist facts. By reading his work you will learn to recognize and evaluate the propaganda coming from the media, with ‘manufactured consent’, or the American political system, which he refers to as a business party with two factions, Democrats and Republicans. His work also reviews history with a class-conflict perspective, where he connects violations of human rights and national sovereignty to the hidden machinations of the Capitalist powers they benefitted. Chomsky and Klein will make you sound smarter.
John Pilger, Hidden Agendas
I read Hidden Agendas as a teenager. This gave me the advantage of learning about the 20th Century’s worst crimes against humanity, and the facts connecting them to Imperialist interventions in the same read. It helped breed my lasting antipathy for Henry Kissinger and the neoliberal gang. I learned about the pro-business, oppression-positive ventures of the international business class across the developing world. He also critiqued the failures of the media with a special focus on Rupert Murdoch. Read the book if you find yourself wondering how people could believe the worst of our Oligarchs and the media outlets which prop them up.
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto is a misunderstood text. Karl Marx never delves deeply into the social models he believed would replace capitalism. He told us that the workers would control the ‘means of production’ in a post-capitalist society. In his manifesto Marx analyzed history from a class-conscious perspective. Oppression does not always come from abroad. The oppressed are victims of a labor market which allowed the owners of factories, mines, and service industries to mistreat them and drive their wages down through competition. He predicted that this inequality would grow until it led to the unification of the oppressed classes in an international revolution. He predicted revolution with Reason, his calls for revolution were separate. They came from his conscience.
Bill Bryson, Short History of the Universe
Interesting facts are my social capital a lot of the time. This book of scientific communications guides the reader through the breadth of our scientific knowledge parallel to the history of how we discovered these often surprising facts. Bryson taught me the meaning behind the tongue-twister She Sells Sea Shells, hint, it is hard to be a woman in science. I learned that Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano whose debris has and can block out the sun. And I learned how hard it was to convince people that the world was significantly older than the bible suggests. This is a fun, enlightening read.
Michael Goodwin, illustrated by Dan E. Burr, Economix
I bought Economix because economics is a dry subject, and I read about this easily digestible, Pulitzer Prize winning work. The writer and illustrator turn the history of trade into a charming tale, that embraces the complexity of the pseudo-science. It draws out story arcs with geniuses, villains, and imbeciles. The book illustrates how an Oligarchy seized power over the US government. It introduces the concept of economic bubbles by reviewing the farcical history of the Dutch and their 17th Century obsession with tulips. And it ends with Goodwin’s prescription to save America from the excesses of out corporate capitalistic oligarchy. Read this book to supplement your economic education.
Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire
The Botany of Desire is a fascinating book with a counter-intuitive thesis. Pollan argued that plants manipulate people. The plants that humans have spread across the planet are popular because they took advantage of human preference. He looked at how plants have used beauty (the tulip), intoxication (marijuana), nutritional content (the potato), and sweetness (the apple) to become as abundant as they are today. Pollan made convincing arguments that open lines of intrigue for further thought, and act as a rebuttal to the worldview that places humans outside of nature. If the plants can control our behavior, maybe we are not as self-empowered as people seem to believe.
Thank you for reading my list. Please comment with your thoughts and add your recommended reading in the comments.