Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Deindustrial Reading List

Over the last few months a number of people have asked me what books I think they ought to read to help them prepare for the slow unraveling of industrial civilization now getting started around us. This is frankly the kind of question I try my best to dodge. Premature consensus is arguably one of the most severe risks we face just now, and any image of the future – very much including the one I've sketched out here – is at best a scattershot sampling of the divergent possibilities facing us as the industrial age comes to its end.

Thus anything that tends to encourage people in the peak oil movement, or the wider society around it, to think about the future in any stereotyped way is potentially fatal. Still, several readers have noted that the ideas in The Long Descent and these essays presuppose a worldview and a cultural and intellectual inheritance that aren't exactly widespread in popular culture these days. They've asked, if I may paraphrase a bit, what they should read to make better sense of my ravings. Put that way, it's not an unreasonable request, and since the view of history that shapes those ravings flies in the face of most of the common assumptions of the modern world, a little background may not hurt.

I've thus sketched out a reading list of sorts for those interested in exploring in more detail the viewpoint I've presented here. It contains nearly as many broad categories as specific book recommendations; I have my preferences, and will suggest them, but here again diversity of opinion and information are essential. If everybody in your neighborhood reads and uses the techniques in a different gardening book, the resulting knowledge base will be much larger and more useful than if everybody relies on a single text, with its inevitable omissions and errors.

For similar reasons, most of the books mentioned below are relatively old, and some of them are out of print. There are excellent new books on most of these subjects, and I certainly encourage you to read as many of those as appeal to you, but books written during any historical period mirror that period's presuppositions and habits of thought to a much greater extent than anybody notices at the time. One advantage of older books is precisely that their unthinking assumptions are easier to catch, and this in turn helps foster the awkward but essential realization that thirty years from now, the unquestioned truths and apparently reasonable assumptions of the present will look as outlandishly dated as bell bottom pants and disco music.

Very few of the books I've suggested here are practical, in any ordinary sense of the word, and those that have that distinction are meant to be read and interpreted in rather impractical ways. The sheer diversity of potentials and needs that will likely open up in a deindustrializing future makes any sort of practical booklist an exercise in overgeneralization; the entire thrust of the deindustrial age heads from standardized approaches toward the diversity that comes from a renewed engagement with the local realities of one's own place, time, and community. A reader whose future career involves raising draft horses in rural Iowa has completely different practical needs from a reader who, ten years from now, will be salvaging and repairing appliances in a small West Coast city; what they need in common is a framework of ideas that will help them make sense of the wider picture, and the ideas I am trying to explore here provide one of these.

Finally, I've made some suggestions about how to approach the books mentioned below. At the risk of sounding like a 19th-century schoolmaster, I probably need to point out that you won't get much out of any book if you approach it passively, and let the words dribble through your mind and out your ears like so many sitcom plots. The books I've suggested are not there so that you can agree with them unthinkingly; they are meant to get you to look under the hood of the ideas I've offered and see how the machinery works.

With those caveats, here goes. The following books should be read, if you can manage that, in the order I've listed them.

1. A basic textbook of ecology. It really doesn't matter which one; the two on my bookshelves are Richard Brewer's Principles of Ecology and Eugene P. Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology, but that's simply because these were the college textbooks I studied back in the day. What's essential is that the book you read should be a general textbook of scientific ecology, not a popularization or a polemic. A great many people have embraced ecology as an ideology or a sentimental pose without ever getting around to learning how living things and their environments interact. In the future, I'm convinced, a clear and unsentimental understanding of the way ecology works will be the most essential branch of human knowledge, and could spare individuals and communities some bitter lessons in the years to come. A basic grasp of ecology is also essential for making sense of the next three books.

2. The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, David Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. Get the original 1972 edition rather than either of the two updates, in which the original message has been partly overlaid with political polemic. The most insightful and thus inevitably the most vilified of the 1970s collapse literature, The Limits to Growth was the first book I know of to point out the central paradox of a perpetual growth economy: if economic growth is pursued far enough, the costs of further growth begin to rise faster than its benefits, and eventually force the growth economy to its knees. Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies explored the same territory later on from another angle, and my essay on catabolic collapse did the same thing from a different angle again; still, the original presentation remains the most useful. Note whether The Limits to Growth makes more or less sense in the light of the basic ecological principles you read in the first book.

3. Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr. Still far and away the best book on the twilight of the age of cheap energy, Overshoot is also one of the very few explorations of that troubling territory that is fully grounded in a clear grasp of ecological realities. A good half of the ideas explored in The Archdruid Report can trace their origins to one page or another of Catton's book. It is challenging reading and, in many places, depressing as well; Catton resolutely refuses to offer easy answers for the predicament into which industrial society has backed itself. Of all the currently out-of-print books on this list, though, this is the one I would most like to see reissued by some small publisher. Once again, assess Catton's claims in the light of the basic ecological principles you've learned.

4. A practical introduction to intensive organic gardening. John Jeavons' How To Grow More Vegetables and John Seymour's The Self-Sufficient Gardener are among the examples on my shelves (along with a number of more recent books, of course). It's best to choose one you haven't read before. The goal here is not to learn how to grow food using intensive organic methods – though that's very likely a good idea – but rather to think through the practical implications of the ecological ideas you've just studied. Ask yourself where the system of gardening presented by the book you're reading works with ecological cycles, and where it conflicts with them; imagine ways in which the logic governing organic gardening could be applied to other aspects of society and economy, and try to get a sense of the costs and benefits of making a transition from current practices to the ones you've imagined.

5 and 6. The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler and A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee. Get the abridged edition of each; the complete two-volume Spengler is hard to get, and only obsessive history fans like me work their way through all twelve volumes of Toynbee, but the one-volume Spengler abridgment and either the two-volume or the later one-volume versions of Toynbee are cheap, readily available, and no great challenge to read. These are the two great modern presentations of the case for cyclic history; they cover much the same territory, but each one does it from a unique perspective. Read them close together, and notice the places where Toynbee is arguing with Spengler's theories and conclusions; the Great Conversation is rarely quite so audible as here. While you read both books, notice whether the ecological perspectives you've absorbed from the first three books cast any additional light on the cycles outlined by these two authors.

7. The history of a dead civilization. It doesn't matter which one, and you have plenty of options to choose from. The only requirements are that the civilization should be as extinct as a dodo; the book you choose should focus on history rather than culture – that is, it should talk about what events happened in what order, rather than simply wallowing in the cultural high points and quietly neglecting how things fell to bits thereafter; and it should cover the whole history of the civilization from its origin to its collapse. As you trace the rise and fall of the civilization you've chosen, bring the lessons of the first six books to bear on it. What role did ecological factors in general, and the specific problems traced by Meadows et al. and Catton, play in your civilization's rise and fall? How well do Spengler's and Toynbee's accounts of historical change fit the facts in this specific case?

8. Muddling Toward Frugality by Warren Johnson. This one may be a challenge to find; it appeared right at the end of the 1970s, had a brief flurry of popularity, and then vanished without a trace in the wave of reaction that swept Ronald Reagan into the White House and the lessons of the previous decade into oblivion. Regardless, it's one of the most thoughtful works to come out of the last energy crisis, an argument for unplanned, undramatic, and thoroughly non-ideological change as the best option at the end of the Age of Abundance. Johnson's analysis is much subtler than it looks; this is another book that needs to get back in print sooner rather than later. While reading it, bring your previous reading to bear on it; in particular, ask yourself how useful its proposals would have been if implemented at various points in the decline and fall of the civilization you studied.

9. Where The Wasteland Ends by Theodore Roszak. A brilliant, engaging, frustrating work, this is Roszak's exploration of the narratives and assumptions about reality that undergird modern industrial civilization. Some of my readers will find its argument appealing, while others will find it intolerable; both groups stand to learn a great deal from this book if they set aside these emotional reactions and pay attention to the way that Roszak crafts his case, to his choice of examples and evidence, and also to the things he doesn't address. As you read it, put it in its historical context: if it had been written in a dead civilization just before decline set in, what would Spengler and Toynbee have said about it? Then take it out of its historical context: what does its argument have to offer us now?

10. A book predicting a dramatic social transformation that didn't happen. Choose one that you would have rooted for at the time. If you believe that civilization is the root of all evils, pick up the sturdy Victorian radical Edward Carpenter's Civilization: Its Cause and Cure; if you believe that we are on the verge of breakthrough into a new kind of consciousness, try Charles Reich's The Greening of America; if you're secretly hoping for social collapse and mass dieoff, read one of the hundreds of books that have been predicting exactly that for the last dozen centuries, and so on. Try to put yourself into the mindset of the readers who believed it when it first saw print; see why it seemed to make sense at the time – and then step back and explore the reasons why nothing of the sort actually happened. Bring everything you've learned from the previous nine books to bear on this one.

There you have it. It would probably be possible to draw up a list of books in print that would cast the same light on the ideas I'm trying to explore here. It would also be possible to draw up a list drawn entirely from Greek and Roman classical authors – though this would take a tolerance for the sort of thinking modern people mislabel "mysticism" well beyond what most readers have nowadays. Still, this is my list, and I'm stickin' with it; those who tackle it, on the off chance that anybody does, will end up with a much clearer idea of what I'm trying to say in these essays, and with any luck, will be able to go further with these curious notions than I have.


Marty said...
I was a little disappointed E.F. Schumacher's "Small is Beautiful" wasn't on the list. It is, for me, another key work. "Muddling" is priceless and generally available for cheap in good used copies on .. I've been giving away copies for quite a while. Thanks for the great thinking-writing!

2/4/09, 8:38 PM

Jacques de Beaufort said...
I've been diligently struggling through Spengler upon advice you gave earlier.

I found a very helpful youtube lecture by John David Ebert on Spengler that starts here:

Catton's book was great, as was Tainter.
I found Toynbee pretty dense and very hard to tackle.

I would add to your list my favorites on the idea of social consensus and belief:
The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb
The True Believer by Eric Hoffer
Extraordinary Popular Delusions & The Madness of Crowds by Mackey
Why We Believe What We Believe by Andrew Newberg, MD

2/4/09, 9:55 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Marty and Jacques, I suspect every one of us could come up with a good list. Marty, Schumacher didn't make the cut -- though I've got copies of Small is Beautiful and A Guide for the Perplexed on my bookshelf -- because the points he makes are very well reflected in current thinking in the peak oil scene. Jacques, a good reading list on social consensus would be at least as long as the one I gave, and would include several of the books you mention along with others -- Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, for example, is more than a little relevant.

2/4/09, 10:04 PM

Jacques de Beaufort said...
I'll look into Kuhn.
BTW I gave the wrong link for the Spengler lecture.
Please look here:
John David Ebert on Oswald Spengler
also, I just got A World Full of Gods and look forward to the read !

2/4/09, 10:43 PM

anagnosto said...
As we all have arrived to this point maybe it is unnecesary to say it, but the step previous to tap these new sources of information shall be to end the old ones. And my usual advice here is to stop watching TV...

2/5/09, 4:34 AM

Michael said...
For myself, "A green History of the World" by Clive Ponting, which came out in the early nineties and has lately been revised, was a turning point in my education.

2/5/09, 4:43 AM

Baxter said...
I would add Fernand Bruadel's The Structures of Everyday Life, especially for its detailed portrait of adaptations and modes of living before the age of oil.

2/5/09, 5:28 AM

yooper said...
Hey John! Really like your list! Actually, it's a must read to really understand what you're pertaining to. Now either one comprehends and accepts the concepts outlined in these books, or it's going to be very hard to visualize anything that you're talking about.

I've found that for the most part of those that have critized your book, "The Long Descent", lack the aboved mentioned.

Jacques, heh! "diligently struggling through Spengler" ha! Anyone who claims that they didn't struggled through this, in it's orginal form, is lying. ha!

Found this the other day...

Thanks, yooper

2/5/09, 7:09 AM

Carolyn said...
Thank you.

Any suggestions for the children/teen's book shelf? I would like to introduce my nephew to permaculture and sustainable housing design.

2/5/09, 8:00 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Jacques, glad to hear it. An author's opinions about his work are always open to question, but I've always thought that A World Full of Gods was my best book so far.

Anagnosto, excellent advice. I haven't owned a TV since the early 1980s, and never missed it.

Michael and Baxter, both of those are fine books.

Yooper, thanks for the link! I didn't have to struggle with Spengler, but then I'm a history geek and find that sort of thing fascinating.

Carolyn, heck of a good question. I don't offhand know of much of anything that has been written on these subjects for teens and children; I'll suggest it to the people at New Society.

2/5/09, 8:21 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Clifford (offlist), please reread the paragraph above the comment space. If you want to join the conversation, you're welcome to do so, but this is not a place for grand pronouncements unrelated to the topic of this week's post -- and yes, your personal opinion about the imminence of total collapse is off topic.

2/5/09, 8:23 AM

Nnonnth said...
Thanks for this, a great list. And thanks too for tagging 'mysticism' a mislabel.

2/5/09, 8:53 AM

Gregory Wade said...
Mr. Greer,

I'm surprised you made no mention of Steve Solomon, author of "Gardening West of the Cascades" and founder of Territorial Seeds, considering your location. He has a recent one: "Gardening When it Counts: Growing for Hard Times."

Nevertheless, I highly recommend his online library; it's rather overwhelming:

If there was one gardening book I had to recommend, it would be Solomon's "Gardening without Irrigation." He offers all the necessary information to reproduce his experiments. And it's free! Solomon does except donation's to off-set costs, if one is so moved.

2/5/09, 9:03 AM

ces said...
John Jeavons' How To Grow More Vegetables is still on my book shelf. This is the 2nd book we have in common (1st was "Muddling Toward Frugality", mentioned several weeks ago). I have it from 35 years ago when I thought gardening to exhaustion was the thing to do.
I am now, at 65 years old, giving it another try, knowing it has little practical value for me, but perhaps will be a pleasant way to spend some time, now that my client base has dwindled to almost nothing.
I make my estimations, as do we all, of the road ahead. I see it as a potentially fascinating and unpredictable show.
So many people are in denial of the many ways in which we are degrading ourselves and world around us, and have no knowledge of history, civics, science, etc. The list is endless. I avoid any serious discussion unless pressed. I keep it brief and try to avoid convincing anyone of anything. Just a waste of my time, and they will soon find out anyway.
I look forward every week to your post, for its content, lively exchange, and to sometimes be reminded of important things I learned long ago.
Thank you.

2/5/09, 10:23 AM

sv koho said...
Excellent list JMG and high time you did this. Thank you.I really think Tainter deserves nearly top billing as well as your superb Catabolic Collapse addendum. Perhaps it was (false?)modesty that abrogated that addition. In view of the recent economic unraveling taking place, a book explaining the interrelationships of the military corporate financial globalized complex crashing into the reality of Peak oil would be nice but I guess we will have to wait for that one.

2/5/09, 1:20 PM

Dan said...
One of the most basic I'd suggest reading is:

Ishmael, Daniel Quinn.

It is elementary...and in fact could be read by a 6th grader. But that is what makes it great. It is Doom-lite for the uninitiated...the perfect book to get people thinking outside the dominant paradigm.

And speaking of paradigms:

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn.

To understand the tectonic shifts this world and culture goes through.

And finally:

The Outsider, Colin Wilson.

A case study of "the outsider" in literature and the arts. A good way to understand and be alright with your existential self that doesn't fit-in well with modern consumer society. Here's a hint: only the mad ones are really sane.

2/5/09, 2:37 PM

Mark said...
I would say that John Jevons’s book got me through the last economic down turn and will again this one. As for Meadows, she will be missed, and not forgotten. A question, would Diamond’s “Collapse” be in the extinct civilizations category?
Thank you for letting me virtually look at your book shelf. When I meet someone in their home, I like to get a look at their book shelf, what books are well read, what ones are dusty, it’s not a judgment, just a clue to what software one is using, or it’s like a syllabus. Thank you, this really helps to understand what you are saying.
Do I have to read Spengler? Just kidding, I’ll give it a try. TV, who has time for TV when there are so many books to read and variety of garden seeds to plant and taste?

2/5/09, 3:46 PM

spottedwolf said...
It may seem a moot point to some though I deem it necessary to commend your diligence and candor.......

I stand in hearty agreement with your general and intrinsic viewpoints on the slow demise of western culture, as has been practiced thus far, and the difficulty in postulating a future.

My comment on prophecy has long been of the view that "what is told of catastrophic futures from ancient dreams may well be what the future experiences as normality".

Your tendency to refrain from spiritual ideologies exacerbates the thoroughness of these discussions in allowing others to ply the blog for its practicality.

One more read to be considered may well be anything that billionaire George Sorosz either wrote or said in interview. His dialogue before the House Banking Committee in 1996 forewarned polititions of the "crash" if the fundamentals of capitalism were not re-thought. His background was certainly pertinent in comprehension of expansionist politics.

Thankyou again for enjoyable reads.

2/5/09, 3:47 PM

Joel said...
I only sort-of liked "Be Kind Rewind", but I think it can be taken as a science-fiction story of the deindustrialization of film. Taken that way, I think it could be somewhat important, even if it isn't all that good. A couple other things that recommend it are that it's set about now, so I don't think it runs much risk of inspiring premature consensus, and it deals with an industry (filmmaking) that isn't life-or-death.

I had trouble swallowing its alternatives to our accepted laws of physics and of intellectual property, but the changes it made to those laws drove a plot that I think is surprisingly important for light, mainstream entertainment.

2/5/09, 5:32 PM

Carolyn said...

Carolyn, heck of a good question. I don't offhand know of much of anything that has been written on these subjects for teens and children; I'll suggest it to the people at New Society.

Can I talk to you about this via email? How can I contact you? I would like to hash out some ideas and possibly collaborate.

2/5/09, 8:18 PM

Richard said...
Now I'm going to have to search for some of the books you recommend.

Thanks a lot for the effort.

2/5/09, 10:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Nnonth, you're welcome. I have too much respect for real mysticism to see the word splashed around unthinkingly.

Gregory, if you'll reread my post you'll find the passage where I explain my picks. I have several of Solomon's books, and I've been to the Soil and Health website -- though admittedly that was to pick up some of the rarer works of the eccentric but inspiring Edmond Bordeaux Szekely.

ces, you're welcome! Candide's rule always applies; if all else fails, you can always work in the garden.

Koho, we'll have to wait for the historians to sort that one out. The decline and fall of the American empire is going to be one complex spectacle, to be sure.

Dan, Wilson and Kuhn are certainly books I'd recommend, but I'm not a fan of Quinn's book -- to my mind romantic "noble savage" fantasies are the opposite of helpful.

Mark, my bookshelves have something past 2000 books on them, so this is just a sampler! No, Diamond doesn't count -- though his book is worth reading for its own virtues. Choose a book on the history one extinct civilization -- any one you please, but just one, and make sure your book covers the whole history of that one civilization from beginning to end.

Wolf, thank you.

Joel, I'm not familiar with the book (?) you mention at all -- nor am I sure how it relates to what's being talked about here.

Carolyn -- and anyone else -- the best way to reach me is via the office email of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, info (at) aoda (dot) org.

Richard, you're welcome -- enjoy the search!

2/5/09, 11:20 PM

Al said...
Thanks John. I respect your views on scientific / technological advances being unlikely to prevent a decline, but can you suggest any forums / blogs where such ideas are posted and debated? I am looking for an audience of scientific, technical, environmental and historical knowledge where a perspective such as yours is represented.

2/6/09, 9:01 AM

marielar said...
Hello JMG,

I faithfully read your blog although I did not post in quite a while. One book which I think give an excellent birdeyes view is "Living within limits" by Garrett Hardin.

It seems that while the denial phase reaches its end, panic is settling in. Lots of people are unprepared for the stormy waters we are getting into.

My one little bit of advice for those who have some land is to take a good look into their soil and make sure that their nutrient "bank" acccounts are filled to the optimum levels. Even if it means using mineral fertilizers, make sure phosphorus, potassium and other micros are at sufficiency. Practicality has to take precedence over ideology. The organic farmers I know who started with low levels of nutrients have a hard time raising them with the allowed amendments. The sources are too expensive and not concentrated enough. If one start with relatively poor soils, it is very hard to raise the levels with organic input. Once you reached maintainance level, it is not so hard to keep thing going with minimal input. Nitrogen can be supplied with legumes, so I would not bother with this one. It will become increasily harder to access minerals.

2/6/09, 9:19 AM

Dwig said...
John Michael,

I'd include Joseph Campbell in the "social consensus" category as well as Kuhn; maybe Bateson goes in there as well (actually, though, I think I might put Bateson in Ecology...)?

Also in ecology, I'd add "Environment, Power, and Society", by Howard Odum. This (out of print) book looks at ecology mostly in terms of energy flows, and includes a couple of fascinating chapters attempting to relate them to monetary flows. (It prefigures his later work on embodied energy and energy accounting.)

I'd add a category for books that I don't necessarily agree with, maybe even with their basic premises, but that have prompted my questioning and learning. I'd include Teilhard de Chardin in this (look beyond "The Human Phenomenon") and much of Buckminster Fuller's writing.

I agree about the value of reading older books. One I've recently enjoyed for reasons similar to yours is Arthur E. Morgan's "The Community of the Future and the Future of Community." Morgan was a founder of the organization that became Community Solutions in Yellow Springs, OH. I've also got Rudolf Steiner on my must-get-to list; his name keeps popping up in the oddest places...

2/6/09, 7:24 PM

Gaelan said...
In the spirit of the reason for your initial reluctance at offering any book suggestions at all, I'd like to suggest Steve Solomon's Gardening When It Counts as essential reading for anyone studying intensive methods of gardening. Rather than being a primer on the subject, it makes solid arguments for why such methods as New Earth Institute's "Grow Biointensive" are a flawed approach for providing nutritious food in an age where store-bought soil amendments may not be readily available.

I read both Jeavons and Seymour, as well as Rodale and a host of other related books, and put their methods into practice before reading Solomon's assertion that I had been going about it all wrong. Both his old fashioned, wide-space, row gardening and the snazzier intensive methods grew food. Studying and practicing these conflicting ideas allowed me to see the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.

2/7/09, 5:49 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Al, I don't follow the various peak oil debating forums -- only so many hours in a day -- and so can't really suggest anything.

Marie, good to hear from you again. My experience with organic soil improvement differs from yours -- several times now I've taken very impoverished soil and turned it into a successful garden using compost. Admittedly I'm making my own compost from kitchen scraps rather than using commercial product.

Dwig, all good suggestions. Yes, Steiner's name does crop up all over the place, doesn't it? If you're not familiar with early 20th century occult philosophy, his style and jargon take some getting used to, but he has a lot of valuable ideas to offer.

Gaelan, I've read Solomon's book; it's doubtless a useful guide to his particular style, but I find his critique of the Jeavons/Seymour intensive deep bed approach unconvincing, for the simple reason that I've used that approach for many years now with excellent results, and none of the problems he insists I should have had. Still, your mileage may vary.

2/7/09, 3:05 PM

Bill Totten said...
John, thanks for another superb report. Although I've read several of the books you recommend, I'll try your program, reading the ones I haven't read and re-reading the others in the order you recommend.

One question: for a basic textbook of ecology, what do you think of "Basic Ecology: A Free Online Textbook" at ? I found it while searching for Richard Brewer's Principles of Ecology and Eugene P Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology.

2/8/09, 2:56 AM

Todd said...
If one were to study a history of the Romans for part 7 of your syllabus, are there any authors or titles that you would recommend?

2/8/09, 9:29 AM

marielar said...
Hello JMG,

I hope my advice on soil fertility did not sound as a blanket statement. There is also an issue of scale, if somebody deals with less than an acre or more than that. And also what is the parent material of your soil. In the big scheme of biogeological cycles, over time, soils will get leached of their nutrients, and most often than not, phosphorus become the limiting factor. The most tightely managed agroecosystem will need some input of nutrients to make up for exportation and leaching.
My point is that if somebody has many acres with low levels of minerals, its easier, cheaper and more fuel efficient to buy of a few bags of fertilizers rather than try to bring in the tons of manure required to reach sufficiency. The pH is also another very important factor which needs to be addressed. Ressorting to mineral fertilizers is far from ideal and should be considered only if other possibilities have been looked first. If economically viable, rock powders are better but they are expensive sources. For those that have fertile soils and over 5 acres, I suggest to keep at least half of it in pasture or hayfield and supplement the diet of their animals with kelp meal or other seaweed feed so that there is a on-going input of micronutrients. For Northern gardener, I still think that "Solar gardening" by Leandre and Gretchen Poisson is one of the book that gives the biggest bang for the bucks. The only drawback is that some of the material needed to build their season extenders is hard to find. But with some tinkering, they can be adapted to what is available.

In some of your previous posts, you mentioned compassion. This might become one of those most necessary ressource in short supply as the cries of the "Survivalists" become louder and feed the fear and anger of the general public.

In addition to reading your blog, which is an island of sanity in all the social turmoil going on, one piece I read often is
"do not loose heart" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.

2/8/09, 10:20 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Bill, thank you! The wikibook you've cited wouldn't be my first choice -- like most wiki products, it's more a collection of snippets than a coherent book -- but it's a workable place to start.

Todd, Michael Grant's far and away my favorite classical historian; his A History of Rome is a very good overview, and available fairly cheaply in the used book market.

Marie, thanks for the clarification. I'll certainly look at the book on solar gardening -- season extenders are worth having even fairly far south.

2/8/09, 12:39 PM

Coyote said...
I will have to track down the Warren Johnson book - Thank you. For my two cents. I would have to include Energy and Equity by Ivan Illich 1970.

I would include it for a number of reasons.It had a strong personal impact on me. Showing the relationship between energy use and social justice. I found it insightful because it is influenced by Illich's work in 3rd world countries. Too many authors try to evaluate western culture without ever stepping outside of it.

Energy and Equity introduced anarchist thought to new generation. Unfortunately, that generation decided that a bad haircut and poor manners were key to anarchism. (Sigh.) Anyway, it is a quick read, a couple of hours, and it is available

2/8/09, 1:12 PM

wylde otse said...
JMG. Dwig,
Rudolph Steiner does pop up.
I read a quote from him this morning in a book - another stupid coincidence (on my way to check out this site).
Since I listened to JMG on "Coast to Coast AM" a few months ago, (guest there...btw, brilliant performance JMG), I'm guessing *the bizzare* no longer frightens him...

Last year, a young man showed upon this remote island where I live...
I did a double-take, I had seen a picture of a young Rudolph Steiner in a book on re-incarnation, a short while - maybe a week - earlier...this man looked; was exactly R.S. (doing some art work for the local hotel).
Not a 'semblance' but exactly he.
(if R.S shows up anywhere else, I just might run off screaming)

2/8/09, 3:33 PM

Macrocosm USA said...
I had a California History teacher require us to read a fiction book called EARTH ABIDES. My professor was a PHd from Standard, and very innovative. No other book, except maybe Eric Fromm's, or The Tender Carnivore and the Sacred Game, has ever had that sort of lasting effect. In addition, the very history of the book and its author gives us much to think about adaptation and cultural relativity.

Oh, and THE TRUE BELIEVER is also a class act. A book that helped me a lot was IF YOU SEE THE BUDDHA ON THE ROAD KILL HIM, and of course, Peck books. My original psych was in Glasser and Adler.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL and DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET are sort of original classics for our current movement, no? Pioneers. Lappe is still going strong.

I lost my library in a fire many years ago, so it is hard to retrieve some of my favorites these days.

2/8/09, 7:02 PM

Gregory Wade said...
Mr. Greer, my surprise stemmed from a false assumption--made clear in a response to--rather than an oversight. I find Solomon persuasive on the issue of soil-fertility. Composting kitchen scraps and garden waste is great as far as it goes; however, a large portion of the recoverable waste is flushed down the toilet absent a composting toilet.

2/9/09, 6:35 PM

Tamara said...
I'm very happy to have stumbled upon this site! Thanks for the interesting reading and suggestions.

Regarding the suggestion to read about the history of a dead civilization -- Jared Diamond's _Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed_ gives very detailed, evidence-based histories of a number of such societies, specifically focusing on how the interaction between their environments and their deeply held cultural values led to their success or failure in surviving the particular form of environmental/social crisis that faced them. He also has a cogent discussion of the particular problems facing our society today, including some all-too-brief thoughts on how to address them. I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone.

Re. Marielar's comment about soil fertility and nutrients, I've read suggestions that the limiting factor in almost every soil is not the absence of nutrients but a lack of availability. In other words, there is some phosphorus -- probably enough -- in most soils, but it's not in a form accessible to plants. The solution to this isn't adding more nutrients, organic, mineral, or synthetic, but increasing the availability of existing nutrients by improving the soil biology, especially the health of mycorrhizal fungae. Phosphorus and sulfur in particular don't remain dissolved in water, so the primary way plants absorb them is through the action of mycorrhizal associates. According to what I've read (I'm going to try it myself this year!), adding the right kind of fungal spores and effective microorganisms can do a lot to repair soil health, and won't need to be done many times once a balanced soil ecology is established. Hope it works!

2/10/09, 1:30 PM

koona1 said...
A very nicely ordered listing, thank you.

An engaging travelogue through the traditional agriculture of pre-industrial Asia ("Farmers of 40 Centuries" By King), exemplifies an evolved ecologicaly compatible practice which may perhaps be returned to.

douglas sherriff

2/10/09, 9:43 PM

Flanagan said...
I've located the following text as a possible ecology intro. Just wondering if anyone has anything to say about it.

A Citizen's Guide to Ecology
by Lawrence B. Slobodkin,+Lawrence+B.#PPP1,M1

2/11/09, 12:06 PM

lessingham93 said...
John Michael..... I am disapointed you forgot my favorite preparation for post civilization as we know it. Your translation of Gerard Thibault on the use of the rapier.

After all, how else are we going to settle disputes of honor once all the bombs and automatic weapons are gone ;)

2/13/09, 12:56 PM

E-Advocate said...
I have been thinking heavily about your brilliant blog post on how we are facing the end of the Industrial Era and we need to wake up to the fact that we are facing deep fundamental shifts in the human world view. Its time to build the an entire new era to get out of the global economic crisis. I definately agree that the Idustrial Age and its millenial precursors need to go.

I am not a scientist. But one of my conclusions on this idea was how women are in a perfect position to be leaders of change into a new era. On the whole, we handle change better because we are professionals in the field. We far out number men in the social sector and are more experienced in social innovation. We are more used to activism and the constant push for social change due to feminism.

We are experienced and ready. With one of the increasing ideas in the business and scholarly world being social entrepreneurship and the triple bottom line (one being social impact), those worlds are now more our expertise.

So I am asking the female scientists and readers of this blog to create enlightened groups. If you are a nonprofit or business, actually meet. How would you guide a new era? How would you actually make permanent and deep change that effects our world view. These are not idealistic questions, these are necessary questions that will need to be answered.

So make sure to bring the Pinot and laugh along the way of a deep meeting- its going to be a long and wild ride.

On a side note, I also would love a post regarding the arts. That is my background of study and I am actually seeing a flourish of activisty around me. Curious regarding your brilliant take.

2/18/09, 12:58 AM

wylde otse said...

Certainly a workable balanced model of the 'post industrialized world' needs representaion of all participant elements.

Too, voices of animals, and wind-voices of trees must be respected.

Different though women and men may seem in a generalized view, they are much more alike than different - say, as either compared to a sea cucumber.

In general, I love and respect women - at least as much as children, gays, lesbians and men(should one chose to sub-divide).

Given that large sectors of human society are still driven by partly insane barbaric misogynists, it makes perfect sense to me that a backlash is due.

However, after the blood is wiped off the 'long knives' it could be hoped that the pendulum swings less wildly.

After all, wisdom is usually an acquired quality; oft the bitter-sweet reward of patient long-suffered seeking - not necessarily an exclusive cosmic gratuity tossed to anyone unencumbered by a penis.

Yes; the voice of woman need be heard - but among others, in a harmonic hymn - to herald, or usher in(your choice), the new world.

2/19/09, 12:09 PM

Brian said...
John, Thank you for pointing out Overshoot by William R. Catton Jr. I found it at my local library and read it. As you point out, all such predictions of the future are to some degree wrong, but I'm impressed just how correct, and relevant, Catton's book is almost thirty years after it was published. I'm glad to learn that it's still in print.

There's a good video interview with Catton at:

3/4/09, 4:19 PM

Merry_Ragnarok said...
My bf and I suggest Man and Technics, also by Oswald Spengler, the last chapter being particularly interesting.

As a poet, the aesthetic implications of a deindustrialising future have caused me to give the steampunk / gaslight fantasy genre more scrutiny of late: not turning the clock back -- nostalgia -- but participating authentically in the historical phase. An aesthetic comprised of insights gained from working with formalism and high modernism can refract through the steampunk genre and yield some interesting possibilities for contemporary artists.

As to unspoken assumptions & the canons which clear them up... There are a lot of simultaneous canons -- crystallizations of unspoken assumptions, as a practical but not exhaustive definition -- each with its Famous Surnames and upper bracket of quality, & yet people tend to give little thought to the actual contents of canons, or the human need to canonize. We live in an age when the various ideologies each have an intellectual tradition, although overlaps of course occur, & here & there one may be plausibly considered the subset of another.

This situation admits of certain curious situations such as the existence of strong de facto canons & intellectual traditions the dots of which are not connected in such a way that a canon is available to patrons of the ideology...

Being a collector of canons & a savourer of genres, this reading list -- the original post plus all the comments -- is definitely a keeper.

7/22/09, 3:39 PM

Dale Bogucki said...
Ah, after some searching I have found this old appropriate post to make my own post. I know it is many years on, but it does seem some people are mining these older posts just like me.

So, I keep seeing all of these amazing people thinking about, and planning gardening just like me. I started gardening about 7 yrs ago, and even though I have lived in 5 houses, and 2 states in the last three years I just keep experimenting, growing, and having fun eating. I have to say that one of the most useful plants I would recommend to anyone in any climate would be the heirloom bean "kentucky wonder". They grew with so little water, and then went gang busters when there was water, it was truly a wonder. They will give you tender young green beans to eat successively through summer, and then in late August allow the beans to mature, and give you next years seed stocks, and dried beans for the winter. Truly amazing plants!

Secondly, and right in line with what I just mentioned about Kentucky Wonders is that I recommend

"The Manual of Seed Saving" by Andrea Heistinger.

You will probably not find it in any bargain bin, but you should start off teaching your children this stuff so they can pass it onto their children. It's all good stuff we should know anyway. After all can't have that amazing garden/farm without seeds to grow the plants.

2/6/15, 2:54 PM