By Ralph Nader
Summer is an ideal season for jolting your mind into action by expanding your reading horizons. So shut off the computer and the television, put away the various gadgets, close your email and pick up a good book. There are plenty of entertaining choices for your reading pleasure, but the following titles are ones that I have enjoyed. They all address the serious pursuit of justice/happiness side of the written word.
1. Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm by Forrest Pritchard(Globe Pequot Press, 2013).
This is the personal story of a 21-year-old college graduate who, against his family’s advice, took over part of the family land in Virginia and, in less than twenty years, turned it from a working farm making only $18.00 in profit in the previous year into a bustling organic farm/community that is making an expanding family farming livelihood worthy of wider emulation.
2. Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson (NYU Press, 2013).
I remember when Andrew was born. His mother gave him lots of attention, while also, then and now, directing the Pension Rights Center. The time was very well spent. For Andrew grew up to become a lawyer, a public defender, teacher and now an author who urges you not to be one of the too many citizens who under-appreciate and avoid the greatest civil institution of Anglo-America law – the jury. This is a brilliant and motivating plea to please serve when summoned.
3. Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth by Gar Smith, Ernest Callenbach, Jerry Mander (Chelsea Green, 2012).
Civic Leader and editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal needs a whole documented book to cover the myriad present and deferred costs, colossal risks, and institutional insanity around this uninsurable, national security danger, this posterity poisoning and dictatorial technology – all designed just to boil water. As he demonstrates, there are many better renewable and efficient ways to produce electricity that the people are already using to displace the utter madness of nuke power plants, that even Wall Street won’t finance without a 100 percent Uncle Sam guarantee.
4. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger (Simon and Schuster, 2013).
Sure, this fast paced little book concentrates on how products, online content and some news catches on and spreads. As a marketer, you’ll love this readable volume. But as a fretting citizen, you’ll also see ways to become stronger with your message and your activities. For the impatient, Berger has it down to “six principles of contagiousness” you can put into practice.
5. No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses by Peter Piot (Norton, 2012).
This clinical microbiologist has been there – in the most dangerous African hotspots to the executive directorship of UNAIDS. He’s warning us that the real mass terrorists are those we cannot see with the naked eye, until, that is, their ravages eat their victims alive. This is a wakeup call to adopt the priorities and resources that can disprove Louis Pasteur of the nineteenth century who was heard to say “Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word.”
6. Our Commonwealth: The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work by Jonathan Rowe (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013).
These are the last concrete, inspiring, challenging words of the late Jonathan Rowe who practiced what he preached but also preached what he practiced in Point Reyes Station, California (population 350). Public land, public airwaves, the air, the water, the oceans, the Internet, the sun and more human-made commons are what these brief and clear essays cover. Rowe describes the emerging movement to protect the vast commonwealth owned by the people. Gird yourself to see nature and human ingenuity in a very different light. A whole new world could come into focus.
7. American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow (Scribner, 2012). They’re all around us. We either take them down, or take them for granted. Rutkow does not. In his imaginative book, you tour with him and savor just what trees and forests have meant to our country’s history – and will mean for our future. Author S.C. Gwynne calls the book “a wonderful magic. He takes the most obvious of things – trees – and weaves an astounding and complex narrative that ranges across American history, from Johnny Appleseed to Henry David Thoreau, from Franklin Roosevelt to John Muir. You come away thinking that this country was, well, built out of trees.” Note Rutkow does not neglect climate change.
8. Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney (Nation Books, 2013).
There they go again. These advocates do not give up. Nor should we. Events have proven their prior works as understatements. With the mighty help of five corporatists on the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations and their wealthy bosses are “radically redefining our politics in a way that, failing a dramatic intervention signals the end of our democracy. It is the world of Dollarocracy.” The authors show ways out of this dictatorial compression chamber. Assuming that is, you become indignant enough.
9. The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph Over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 by Sam Pizzigati (Seven Stories Press, 2012).
Veteran Labor Journalist Pizzigati challenges us with the question: If our forebears took on plutocracy to uplift most Americans and strengthen laws on business rampages, what’s our excuse? Some of the big/progressive/populist changes by average people over a century ago came before the wide use of the telephone, electricity, motor vehicles on smooth highways and other instant means of retrieving and communicating information symbolized by the Internet. Read this book for the answer. We have no excuse is what I think.
10. A recent oldie that merits revisiting. Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Orbiz, 2009). A Jesuit priest, poet and ardent peacemaker, who paid the price, Father Berrigan truly walked his talk. Imprisoned for civil disobedience against the War Machine, he came back again and again, shaming prosecutors and judges alike, with his powerful books, diaries, poems and homilies. It seems that Berrigan’s faith and witness came down to his practiced religion and the belief that reality is truth and truth is reality. These writings will touch your conscience and expand your cognition.
11. Another oldie. Take it Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World collected by Anita Roddick, Founder of the Body Shop (Harper Collins, 2001).
Selections by many change advocates, including me, are in this book. But its genius, colorful layout, gripping photographs, searing posters against injustice, memorable quotations and pungent insights are tributes to the late, great Anita Roddick who, in moral terms, turned the business of business upside down. You can digest Anita’s activating nutrition minutes at a time and you’ll want ever more. It waits for you, however impatiently.
Did someone once say a book is better than a box of chocolates?