On your next vacation, if you’re looking for something to deeply expand your understanding of the world, try these three thematically-linked award-winning books. Each provides a unique and insightful perspective on our environment, on our culture and how we can create a more sustainable civilization.
Easy: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn is an entertaining novel about a talking gorilla who provides us with an outsider’s view on the two main ways humans can live.
The first is the uniquely human cultural mindset that sets us apart from the rest of the world. This approach allows us to endlessly take and consume; not just satisfying our own needs, but systematically denying all competitors (human and otherwise) the ability to survive. The second is a sustainable “animal” or indigenous people’s approach that sees us as an integral part of the world. Through an easy to digest philosophic dialogue with a human student, he teases apart the assumptions we have about how the world must and can work.
Medium: Cradle to Cradle is a revolutionary investigation of how we make, use and dispose of STUFF. In it, authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart postulate that any truly sustainable approach must acknowledge that people want and will always create stuff. Therefore, they propose an innovative approach to a sustainable future that includes stuff. They separate all goods into industrial and natural resources. By making and keeping them separated, they illustrate how this can allow us to change down-cycling (what we incorrectly now call “recycling”) into a true recycling. If you have a geeky science-mind and enjoy an optimistic view of how human creativity can still make a bright future, then this is a fascinating technical read.
Hard: Make no mistake, Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond is a tome. It took me three vacations to make it through. It’s a dense, heavily researched and fascinating academic investigation into the making of our world’s civilizations. This Pulitzer Prize winning book looks at all the major factors that shaped the evolution of society: geography, agriculture, religion, technology, biology. It disassembles many of our commonly held assumptions, and paints a three dimensional picture of complex dynamics that gives us one of our most complete understandings of civilization’s history.
All of these books ask valuable and provocative questions. They offer some answers, and fundamentally challenge us to move forward with a greater understanding of how we got here, awareness of what it will take to create a more sustainable future for our world, and the will and ingenuity to make it happen.