The Best Books I’ve Read This Year: Need Ideas for an Oppositional Xmas?

At a time when the world’s most respected scientists affirm that ordinary Western-style consumption habits are indeed destroying the planet, what attitudes should we have toward the corporate event known as Christmas? Should we still be seeking salvation through over-consumption? Or is it high time to embrace some form of enlightened material restraint?

The materialistic orgy that is Christmas, of course, is but an exaggerated normality for Western societies. In everyday life we often do not notice ‘materialism’ because, like fish that do not know they are in water, it is all around us – it is the very stuff of the world. But at Christmas time, the water of materialism begins to boil and everyone notices. Let’s face it, it can get pretty ugly.

I don’t want to be the Christmas Grinch again this year – see here for my Grinch article, “Christmas: The Assumption of Consumption.” But I do wish to counter some of the uber-consumerist messages that we all receive this time of year. I wouldn’t suggest we don’t give gifts to our friends and family. My message today is simply that we be thoughtful at this time of year and think carefully about our acts of consumption. In short, let us try to give gifts that improve the world, rather than degrade it.

Below I’ve listed a few of the best books I’ve read this year – books that I feel ought to be read very widely. One way to improve the world through consumption is to help promote important ideas. Christmas provides us with this opportunity. For those interested, a quick search online will provide places to purchase these deep but accessible books.


Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth: Adapting to our New Economic Reality (2011)

Chris Goodall, How to Live a Low-Carbon Life (2nd Ed., 2010)

Ted Trainer, The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World (2010), which I reviewed here.

Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption: How the Climate Crisis will Transform the Global Economy (2011)

David Holgrem, Future Scenarios: How Communities can adapt to Peak Oil and Climate Change (2009).   

Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times (2011)

Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (2006)

And, finally, since my not-for-profit book sold out last time I did a post on it, I thought I’d repost the link if anyone still wanted a copy: Samuel Alexander (ed), Voluntary Simplicity: The Poetic Alternative to Consumer Culture (2009).


5 Responses to “The Best Books I’ve Read This Year: Need Ideas for an Oppositional Xmas?”

  1. EO says:

    Thought provoking books are good … but, I reckon that gifts that mean something to those who are really desperate are even better [at this time of the year]
    Oxfam Unwrapped is worth supporting in this context!

  2. Quinton Blue says:

    Thanks for the book list and link. … The true spending is how we spend our time. Or as Thoreau said (paraphrasing) whether we become beasts of burden or truly free.

  3. Lee Bones says:

    Thank you for this list!

  4. David says:

    If the book is non profit why not publish as kindle book for 99 cents

  5. Samuel Alexander says:

    The book is an anthology of essays and I could only get non-profit rights to republish them in print, not electronically. The rights to republish electronically would have cost too much. If you’re after free essays on simplicity, see or this website.

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