Reading good books make us richer in what matters. Find my favorite book-riches below, and tell us about your own favorites via a comment.

Inspiring Nonfiction

David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. See here for review.

Nickel And Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich   

Poverty is caused by unemployment, right? No. The great majority of poverty in the U.S. is caused by people working full-time, or often more than full-time, at low wages. Ms. Ehrenreich, a journalist, worked as a waitress, a maid, and finally a WalMart employee, living on her earnings with careful frugality. The result? Chronic stress and distress, especially in finding affordable  places to live. “When the rich and the poor compete for housing in the open market, the poor don’t stand a chance.” Ms. Ehrenreich is a riveting, fast and funny storyteller. Despite the gravity of the topic, she had me laughing so loud and often as I read her experiences that my husband became embarrassed to sit in public places with me. If you haven’t already read this classic, bestselling book about the underside of life in the U.S., I suggest you do it now.


Radical Hospitality by Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt

This short book is full of short, wise sentences, like little jewels strung on a bracelet, about cultivating richness in what matters. Hospitality, it teaches us, is central to our spiritual health, whether or not we happen to have a spare bedroom. Hospitality is about making space for others.  We can practice hospitality almost anywhere; it can be as simple as making eye contact and nodding at a person who seems ill at ease . And we take care of ourselves as we practice hospitality, i.e., with good boundaries.

The authors state, “We all need time alone (cloister). We all need time with those closest to us (community). And we all need to open ourselves to those who are not one of us (hospitality).” I am not Catholic, and what surprised me in “Radical Hospitality” is how profoundly this book’s Catholic authors show the teachings of Benedictine to apply to my own life, and to any human life. At core, we need the same things to be rich in what matters.

The Spirit Of Intimacy by Sobonfu Some

This small gem of a book is by an African (not African-American) woman named Sobonfu Some. I feel calmed, almost relieved, whenever I pick it up read in it yet again. She describes a traditional African approach to life that’s grounded in spirit and community, rather than the surfaces and commercial purchases that drive much of Western life.  “The Spirit Of Intimacy” is full of fresh takes on familiar problems. For example, she advises us:  “It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child. It takes a village to support a marriage.”

I was lucky enough to pick up Sobonfu from the Portland airport in 2006 when she arrived to lead a workshop at Breitenbush. She greeted me with a big smile and a big hug, even not knowing me from Adam, I mean Eve. The workshop was excellent. It’s as if Sobonfu is a feminine, African answer to Thich Nhat Hahn, the renowned Vietnamese monk. She simply translates African wisdom to us in the West, instead of Buddhism. Sobonfu makes us richer in what matters.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I gave away a free copy of this inspiring book on Thanksgiving Day, 2013, to one of my subscribers.  Malala is the young education activist who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban. See here for my full review.

The Irresistible Revolution by Shaine Claiborne

Mr. Claiborne is an adventurous guy and a good storyteller. He’s worked in India serving the poor with Mother Teresa’s order, hung out with civilians in Iraq getting bombed by their U.S. liberators, spoken to a few hundred groups, and written several books besides this one. And he’s committed peaceful civil disobedience many times to protest social injustice.

This book points out that the actual Jesus of the Bible was homeless, poor, and spent almost all of his time with losers like lepers, prostitutes and other reviled people. The holy people of his time despised him because he wanted to overturn the religious status quo. While Mr. Claiborne lives in a home in inner-city Philadelphia, his life looks much more like Jesus’s life than the U.S. Christians who have somehow made the word Christian synonymous with conservatism.

This book has inspired me to return to something I loved doing in the 80’s: serving meals to street people, in keeping with the Beatitudes (blessed are the poor . . . ). It’s joyful! More on this here. 

Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Poor decisions are actually more common than good ones. The Heath brothers give solid, specific advice gleaned from much research on decision-making. We should widen our options in any given decision, thinking in both/and terms rather than yes-or-no, either/or terms. We can counter the notorious “confirmation bias” by considering the opposite of what we are already leaning toward doing. We ought to overcome the skew of our short-term emotions by attaining distance before deciding — the ‘outside view’ of others is consistently more accurate than the ‘inside view’ we bring to our decisions. And, overconfidence is a prime cause of poor decisions, so we should practice humility, assume we know less than we think we do, and literally prepare to be wrong.

I also recommend the Heath brothers’ prior two books: Made To Stick and Switch.

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we’re living boring stories. If we want Roomba vacuum cleaners, we’re living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life.”  This and many other paragraphs I have highlighted bright yellow in Mr. Miller’s autobiographical book. Like me, he is what I term a liberal Christian (as opposed to a judgmental, fundamentalist Christian). I’m not going to tell you what happens in Chapter 23. But I’ll tell you that when I read the end of it I burst into tears of joy right there in the Sapphire Hotel on Hawthorne where I was eating dinner. This book is inspiring me to live a better story and a better life. I highly recommend it.

Good Novels

Outdoor Life & Animals

Progressive Takes On Money

Progressive Novels



Creativity & Personal Growth


Good Novels

Revelle by Alison Wiley

(Disclosure: OK, I wrote this novel.) The feedback I’ve gotten from a few dozen readers is that this is a good, highly engaging read. The main character is Revelle (rhymes with gazelle), a thirtysomething single woman who wants to be a dancer and a mother. But her relationship has ended, she is let go from her teaching job in a recession, and the home she loves will soon be sold. Revelle’s high-energy, spontaneous responses to the constant obstacles she faces are sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always full of heart. You can read the first chapter of the book here. You can also check this book out of libraries in either the Portland or Seattle area (borrowing is more diamond-cut than buying :)).

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

This novel riveted me into the can’t-put-it-down near-delirium some people get over murder mysteries. (I’ve just never liked murder mysteries, though I certainly tore through the Nancy Drew series as a girl, comprised of non-murderous mysteries. Nancy was smart, strong and really rocked as a role model. But I digress.) In The Lovely Bones, the narrator is a teenage girl, murdered, actually, by a neighbor (his identity is clear). She lovingly watches her family from heaven as events unfold and all their lives change and deepen. How does The Lovely Bones relate to my passion for sustainability? Like this: I believe as the author does that our spirits, relationships and capacity to love sustain themselves beyond physical death. The plot startled me with its originality and the characters climbed straight into my heart. . . and are sustained there, as tends to happen with great art.

The Rainmaker and The Street Lawyer, both by John Grisham

I don’t know about you, but I read novels I like over and over again. The storylines and especially characters keep giving me hits of energy, and empathy for the world around me, every time I reengage with them. And I’m not necessarily highbrow in my tastes, as you can see with my enjoying Mr. Grisham. Both these novels of his are written in the first person and have fast-moving plots revolving around likable, high-energy characters and themes of social justice, i.e. domestic violence, corporate violence (white-collar crime), and homelessness. They rivet me every time I revisit them, a key reason being that they have a firm moral center, i.e. predatory behavior and victimizing others really is wrong. Imagine that. A lesser-known Grisham novel I also recommend is A Painted House. It takes place through the eyes of a young boy on a hardscrabble farm several decades ago. Again, vividly detailed and compelling.

Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston

What I love about Pam Houston is her relationship with the outdoors. The accounts she weaves into her first-person-voice fiction of whitewater rafting, horseback riding, stalking dahl sheep in Alaska and sailing in the Caribbean are deeply exciting to me. When it comes to her relationships with men, the counselor in me aches to get Ms. Houston into a Women Who Love Too Much group, because despite being entertaining to read about, the relationships she recounts are awful. But her relationship to the natural world and her physicality is so vibrant, I read her to soak that up. This book is actually a series of short stories, not a novel.


The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Ms. Yuknavitch is uber honest, so I will be too. I do not actually love this book of memoirs. It’s too disturbing. But I respect it so much it belongs on this list. The author’s ability to survive pain and suffering and render her whole wounded self to us in brilliant, outside the box prose is just staggering.

Outdoor Life & Animals

Fire Season: Field Notes From A Wilderness Lookout  by Philip Connors

Mr. Connors brings us into his unique work-world and way of seeing the world in this nonfiction account of watching for fires in remote Southwest wilderness. A former Wall Street Journal editor, he loves solitude, wilderness and also his wife, who visits him periodically during fire season, and with whom he lives the rest of the year. I learned from this artfully crafted book that cattle grazed on wild public lands tear it up badly (perhaps we should be questioning this policy). The primary takeaway, though, is that the United States’ decades-long policy of fire suppression (remember Smoky Bear telling us that only we can prevent forest fires?) has been violently destructive, both to humans and to wilderness. The forest actually needs the periodic thinning, especially of underbrush, that lightning-caused fires bring it.

Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales
Mr. Gonzales pulls off the rare feat of making his personal passion relevant to everyone, by pulling it up to the higher level of universal truths. His passion is  flying (he’s a pilot) and extreme sports. Neither topic is in my own range of interests. But I treasure his book because it’s full of uncommon insights about how to deal with adversity of any kind. My favorite Gonzales insight is: Keep your mental map updated. This means whether we’re on a Himalayan mountain or in a horrendously stressful job situation, we’ve got to accurately read and respond to what is happening right now — not what we wish was happening. The people who do this survive when others don’t.

The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Did you know that a man can hunt and kill an eland by outrunning it? It has to be a hot day, a good runner and a large bull eland, but it works because the eland’s size means it dehydrates and collapses before the person does. This and more I learned from The Old Way, the author of which spent years of her youth living with a hunter-gatherer tribe in Africa. The Hidden Life of Dogs is also excellent, both books inviting us into a culture different from our own in which Ms. Thomas has personally steeped herself. I also recommend Reindeer Moon, a novel (the above two are non-fiction) set in the prehistoric past.

The Loop by Nicholas Evans

This novel about wolves and people in a ranching region of Montana is so compelling to me that I’ve reread it about ten times. The tensions and connectedness between wild animals and humans are vivid and authentic, and the author doesn’t demonize anyone, making his characters vulnerable wherever they stand concerning wolves.  He’s also the author of The Smoke Jumper and The Horse Whisperer — good too — but Nicholas Evans was in his real vein of gold with The Loop.

Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote

Engrossing as a novel even though it is non-fiction, this is in effect a biography of a dog with remarkable intelligence — or is his intelligence so remarkable? Mr. Kerasote, an outdoorsman who won the National Outdoor Book Award for a different book, believes that when a dog interacts steadily with wild nature as Merle did, its intelligence and joy are maximized. He weaves lots of intriguing information (i.e., all modern dogs are descended from wolves!) into this grounded, respectful story of love between a human and an animal. My copy is currently out on loan to my dog-loving friend Allison Hamilton (the creator of Oregon’s solar highway).

Progressive Novels

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Have you ever had self-doubt, and tried not to hope for much? So has Codi Nalina, the female narrator of this rich novel set in a small Arizona town in the 1980’s. Codi quit a couple months short of becoming a doctor, worked as a clerk at a 7-11, and has returned to her hometown to teach high school biology. Her beloved sister Hallie is in Nicaragua, helping the new government to grow crops and dodge attacks on civilians by the contras, who are funded by the U.S. (that part is fact, not fiction).

Codi is surprised to find love and community in places she thought could hold only pain and outsider status for her. But then devastating news arrives. Can she grow beyond her old skills of fleeing and refusing to commit? I’m posting this review at the same time as I Am Malala, the nonfiction book by the young education activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban. Both these books weave the personal and political together in ways that are warm and brilliant, and help us realize these worlds truly are joined, not separate. 

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

I loved this book so much that I carefully rationed how many pages a day I’d let myself read, so that it wouldn’t end too soon. (Still, it ended too soon.) Dellarobia, the heroine, lives in rural Tennessee and discovers that her mountain has become home to millions of monarch butterflies that normally overwinter on a mountain in Mexico. Why are these beautiful, fragile creatures appearing in Appalachia?  And how can Dellarobia, a mother of two who was orphaned and got married before completing high school, grow beyond the confines of poverty and the narrow, religious attitudes all around her? The answers relate to a handsome, warm-hearted scientist who arrives on her property to study the butterflies. I’m overjoyed to find a novel that addresses climate change, social class issues, science, religion and media — all with so much wit and humor that I constantly burst out laughing as I read. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card

I rarely find science fiction compelling, but this book has such a fresh, profound take on the notion of time travel that it transcends the genre. Mr. Card places us in a post-collapse world of the future that has become stable and learned to view its own past with a special machine. Then they learn they are headed toward yet another collapse. At what point in the world’s history did things start to go wrong? Where would an intervention make the most difference? They figure out how to build a time-travel machine to go back and save the future world. I won’t spoil it by telling you the time and place they decide to go to. I’ve looked at the world a little differently ever since reading this — which is just what I want from a progressive novel.

Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

I read this groundbreaking novel in my freshman year of college in 1979 and loved it. When I read it again just now in 2012 I still loved it. Mr. Callenbach envisions a Pacific Northwest that seceded from the U.S. about two decades prior, crafting a society that puts people and nature first, with money and material possessions in service to those priorities rather than the other way around. The journalist-narrator looks at the downsides as well as the upsides of this Cultural Creative utopia, which makes it, I think, a good read for people across the spectrum (I admit I’m a Cultural Creative :).

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Never has a novel given me characters and a setting (rural Appalachia) that feel more vibrantly real to me than this one. It enchanted and fascinated me, and I learned a lot about nature, animals and biology at the same time. Other great novels by Ms. Kingsolver that I keep rereading are The Bean Trees and its sequel Pigs In Heaven. The characters in these are smart, poor in dollars, and rich in  heart.

World Made By Hand by James Howard Kuntzler

This novel is the one I’ve been seeking for years. Its premise is that in the not-too-distant future, oil supplies to the U.S. have been permanently interrupted. No more electricity, cars or machines run by fossil fuels. Or federal or state government. So what is left? Well, it’s all about local communities, like the Midwestern one where the narrator/protagonist lives. World Made By Hand shows us a plausible future — a natural outcome of our collective choices — in a vivid, believable way, via human characters I cared about deeply.


Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel

How can  a couple have both erotic sexuality and a stable domestic life? Is it even possible to have both those things with the same person, given that many people seem to have either a great sex life, or a long-term marriage and domestic life? Ms. Perel is a therapist who understands the complexities of love, intimacy, lust and sexuality like no other author I’ve ever read. She teaches us things we never knew, but need to know, with compassion and lots of real-life examples. I recommend this book to everyone who wants to succeed in a long-term relationship. The chapter on parenting and sexuality is especially valuable.

Women, Food And God by Geneen Roth

The subtitle of this intensely readable book is “An Unexpected Guide To Almost Everything”.  The world is on our plate, Ms. Roth informs us, and the way we eat is a detailed blueprint of how we approach life in general. Ms. Roth has three decades of experience working with women on compulsive overeating. Having had that problem myself, I found her message grounded, uplifting and uncannily true to life. You don’t need to be a woman, a foodie, or a believer in God to get a lot out of this book.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

 This is the sequel to the famous Eat, Pray, Love — and in my view, it’s the better book of the two. Ms. Gilbert examines the controversial institution of marriage objectively and historically, and also from the personal standpoint. The result is that we are both educated and entertained as this joyful, vivacious but relentlessly analytic writer decides whether she can tolerate the risk of getting married again, even to as good a man as Felipe, the loving Brazilian man that we met in her prior book.

Overstory: Zero: Real Life In Timber Country by Robert Leo Heilman

Most of us like forests, and most of us use and like things made from wood. But do we have any idea of what it’s like to work in a sawmill, or on a crew in a forest doing the dangerous work of felling trees, or feverishly planting seedlings in an area after it’s been clear-cut? I say feverishly because Mr. Heilman reports that laboring is fiercely competitive, one of many unexpected things I learned from Overstory: Zero. This award-winning series of essays is gritty and elegant. I interviewed Mr. Heilman and wrote a two-part series on him here. He’s a soft-spoken, brilliant Oregonian who breaks all the stereotypes about blue-collar workers, philosophers and environmentalists.

The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

Ms. Angier makes science absolutely vibrate with life. No, she shows us with exuberant energy and humor that all of our lives are actually vibrating, already, with the stuff that science reveals to us. My favorite chapter would have to be the one on Thinking Scientifically, because it is so universally applicable to all times and places, including to a person steeped in the social sciences like me. Ms. Angier also penned Woman: An Intimate Geography, which I plan to read next. The Canon makes us smarter, and happier to be alive here in this wondrous world. It reinvigorated my own writing.

Guns, Germs And Steel and its sequel Collapse by Jared Diamond

The first of these two is a Pulitzer prize-winner, and I’d suggest it has given the world more insight into human history and current reality than . . .  any other book in human history. Mr. Diamond is that rare academic who renders complex information and ideas fully understandable, with wit and humor thrown into the mix. Collapse shows how some civilizations destroyed their own resource-base and thus themselves, and other cultures have disciplined their resource-use for much happier outcomes. I’m a fan of the latter path.

The Power of Kindness by Pierro Ferucci

The sub-title to this slim, eloquent book is “The Unexpected Benefits of Leading A Compassionate Life”. Mr. Ferucci’s premise, supported by many studies, is that kindness is proven to benefit the giver as well as the receiver. In short, he believes the daily practice of kindness  is synonymous with mental and emotional health and vitality. I agree with him.

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ms. Ali, born in Somalia and raised as a Muslim, escaped a forced marriage and found political haven in the Netherlands, where she later became elected to Parliament. She worked to address problems like honor killings by Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands (women murdered by their fathers or brothers for as little as having a boyfriend). In one six-month period, for example, eleven honor killings were recorded in just two police regions (the Netherlands has 25 police regions). Ms. Ali’s filmmaking partner in a film about Islam called Submission 1, Theo van Gogh, was assasinated in 2004. sending the country into an uproar. Ms. Ali’s own life was repeatedly threatened by Muslims acting on verses in the Quran stating that infidels to their religion should be killed.

My takeaway from Infidel is that religious tolerance can, unfortunately, itself be immoral when it stands by passively to allow brutalities like honor killings, assassinations and the routine genital mutilation of small girls to be practiced.  Time magazine named Ms. Ali one of the 100 Most Influential People of the year in 2005, and she has won many humanitarian awards. She now lives in the United States.  More than any other book I have listed, Infidel demonstrates moral courage via speaking uncomfortable truths.

Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam

Now, this book is written as a suspense-drenched mystery, despite it being nonfiction. Civic engagement in the United States has declined sharply in recent decades (e.g., voting, volunteering, bowling leagues, even card-playing). So like any good detective, he sets out to discover the culprit. In prose that’s both erudite and delightfully conversational (he reminds me of Jared Diamond in that regard; see entry farther below), Mr. Putnam examines the trends suspected of slowly killing the juicy heart of our culture: is it women’s headlong entrance into the work-force? Longer commutes? The advent of television? This book is a classic, a penetrating critique of our culture that is both critical and hopeful.


The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

Ms. Kimball left her hipster New York City life behind to fall in love with a passionate farmer (passionate about both farming and her). With some misgivings and lots of dirt, she embraced a life that was foreign to her — but familiar to most of our ancestors. She is funny, honest and so vividly descriptive you feel like you are right there with her, struggling with the search for good land, the planting, the weeds and the huge draft horses (no tractors for them!). I like this book so much I did a full review of it as a blog post.

Wild: From Lost To Found On The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Here is a heartful, exciting story that leaves us wonderfully awake to the fact that hard things can be wonderfully worth doing. Wild is a diamond-cut story in that Ms. Strayed finds nature, relationships, physicality and spiritual growth to be the building blocks of a joyful life. This book, an Oprah pick, also inspired a review on my blog’s front page.

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

I was hypnotized by this actress’s frank, un-self-flattering memoir, which is subtitled ‘A Story Of Loss And Gain’. I was surprised to learn that this conventionally beauty woman is gay – and that even in‘liberal’ Hollywood she would almost certainly have lost her role in Ally McBeal if that had been discovered. And I was overjoyed that after many years of intensely private suffering, she found love and wholeness. I’m reminded of one of Mother Theresa’s more unexpected teachings: that it is just as important to have compassion for the spiritual suffering of the rich, as for the more easily observed plight of the poor.

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard  

I see Annie Dillard (a Pulitzer prize winner) as being almost in a class by herself for nonfiction. The depth and originality of her thinking have at times sent my mind into a happily stunned, delirious orbit. This is the richest story of a person’s life I have ever read. Teaching A Stone To Talk, a collection of essays, is another top pick. I read that and Living By Fiction right after I graduated from college in 1983, and consider myself fortunate to have started reading Ms. Dillard when I was young. Holy The Firm wowed me. When a woman told me in 2002 that a short piece of mine reminded her of Annie Dillard I was honored. Interestingly, I haven’t liked Ms. Dillard’s novels; the characters feel flat and lifeless to me. I see her vein of gold to be her first-person nonfiction, especially when she writes about the natural world.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Ms. Yuknavitch’s memoir/anti-memoir (she challenges the memoir form altogether) is brilliant, disturbing, profane and soulful.  The author’s ability to survive pain and suffering and render her wounded, transformed, made-whole self to us — in outside the box, in-the-body prose — is staggering. I became a better, bolder writer and human being by reading her work. Update on August 7, 2011: I attended Lidia’s workshop this afternoon at the Willamette Writers Conference. We had margueritas and an in-depth conversation together afterward. She radiates authenticity.

Creativity & Personal Growth

The Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron is most famous for The Artist’s Way; and this is the sequel. Ms. Cameron writes from decades of experience in teaching and facilitating writing and creativity in general. She identifies the vein of gold as the arena in which each person most shines and is the most fully alive — but many of us haven’t yet found it. So, she shows us how to joyfully mine for it. I see Julia Cameron to be operating at genius level. I’ve also never encountered a writer with a more generous spirit: she genuinely wants fulfillment and joy for everyone, and has a track record of helping people to achieve it.

Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Ms. Estes, a celebrated therapist, takes folk tales from the oral traditions of many different cultures and shows us how they teach us to live our own lives joyfully and well, right now. She is a huge champion of creativity and solving the problems that block our creativity. This book fills me with energy and grounds me in wisdom every time I pick it back up and read it again. I especially like her emphasis on wildish energy and the many surprising parallels she draws between women and wolves.

Progressive Takes On Money

The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen

At the beginning of this century a gentle man named Daniel Suelo exited from the financial grid. Since 2000 he has not spent, earned or received a single dollar — yet he feeds himself well, does quite a bit of productive work, and has a warm friendship circle and active social life that many would envy. Mr. Sundeen explores Daniel’s family, work and spiritual history and the many small turning-points that led to his remarkable path. Readers are left realizing that while we may not be up for quitting money ourselves, we have a much greater range of choice in how we earn, spend and consume than we have been seeing. For that reason, this book widens our world. Daniel Suelo is a writer, himself, who has developed his own body of thought and a popular following at his blogsite Zero Currency.

How To Get Out Of Debt, Stay Out Of Debt, And Live Prosperously by Jerold Mundis

This book should be required reading for anyone receiving their first credit card. Millions of people in the U.S., let alone the rest of the world, are underwater in debt. I myself once was, and completely reversed that situation many years ago. This book helped me do that. (Life is better with no debt and a positive net worth — but you doubtless know that.) I especially recommend his explanation of secured debt versus unsecured debt (the former is a lot better than the latter). The practical steps he outlines are grounded in his own experience and the experience of thousands of recovering debtors. It’s a gem of a slim little paperback.

Sacred Economics: Money, Gift and Society in the Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein

This visionary book looks at how capitalism has, in its dependence on endless growth, effectively become a cancer that devours resources and communities rather than nourishing people or the planet. It envisions a transformation into a healthier economic system that is sustainable and ecologically sound. Note: this book is on my list to read. Unlike other books on this page, I haven’t yet read it — but I still want people to know about it.

The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist

I’ve read many books about money, and this one is my hands-down favorite. Ms. Twist’s message is joyful and sometimes surprising. She shows how we in the U.S. tend to believe we don’t have ‘enough’, whether it is possessions, experiences, time or money. We strive after ‘more’, sometimes miserably and compulsively. Her decades of experience in countries of all different income-levels is shows that happiness and ‘enoughness’ comes from using whatever money, time and resources we have wisely, with deliberate intention. Ms. Twist is a philanthropist and fundraiser who moved, herself, from an obsessively materialistic lifestyle to a simpler, happier one. Her belief that money, neutral by nature but transformative when well-used, rings true because it is experience-based. And her story of what Mother Theresa told her in a one on one meeting about the pain and suffering of many rich people, and the great woman rebuking Ms. Twist to have more compassion for them, absolutely blew me away.


Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez

The subtitle is “Nine steps to transforming your relationship with money and achieving financial independence”. This book is so time-tested and trusted that it seems funny to list it in a section called Progressive Takes On Money. The reason it belongs here, though, is that its message remains truly counter-cultural: be 100% conscious of what you are doing with your money, so that you can be free, particularly of work that you don’t like. Our culture encourages us to consume and spend mindlessly, in ways that compromise our freedom altogether. This book systematically shows us how to win our freedom. It takes time and discipline — but then, most good things in life do. I’d love to see this book be required reading for high school graduates . . . or  even junior high graduates.

  • Alison
    May 29, 2011

    Steve, I really enjoyed meeting you at the Mercy Corps event (and no you didn’t talk too much. As I recall, I was the one who was a chatterbox; we had so many shared values. )

    Thanks for the kind words, and a Facebook page for DCL is doubtless a good idea, if I could find the time. Would love to see you again down here in Portland; Thor and I are going to the Mercy Corps event next month at which Patrice Marin is speaking. Perhaps you’re going too?


  • Steve Nantz
    May 25, 2011

    Hello Alison. I hope this note finds you well. I met you at a Mercy Corps event some time ago (tall guy with a beard who probably talked too much?). I have been meaning to write ever since. Just wanted to say that I love what you are doing here. Do you have a Facebook page for this? If so, I’d like to link some people to it. Regardless, I will share this site with them. One person, named Holly, is truly a kindred soul. I will put her in touch first.

    I will be in touch too! Maybe we can speak again when I get down to Portlandia this summer. In the meantime, best and warmest regards to you.

    Steve Nantz
    Mercy Corps
    Currently on leave

  • Alison
    August 8, 2010

    You’re right that I’ve raved to you about “Ahab’s Wife” , the novel by Sena Jeter Naslund. I think the reason I haven’t listed it is that the segment where the protagonist practiced cannibalism left me with such a deep, lingering sadness. While I know most people would have done as she did if shipwrecked and adrift in the vast ocean with others in a tiny boat, etc., etc, — that’s what makes me so sad. So I just don’t want to list it, despite thinking Ms. Naslund is an excellent writer. It’s like I’d be passing the sadness on to others.

    Interestingly, I have a coworker who had thought through the ‘what if I were in a grim-survival scenario’ and had decided she would rather die, herself, than kill others to eat them. She is a Christian, incidentally. I was fascinated she had made that moral decision.

  • Vicki Lind
    August 4, 2010

    You also rave about Ahab’s Wife, which I don’t see listed here.


  • Ed Hughes
    June 27, 2010

    Oh, you are in Portland. thought you you were in UK. I enjoyed Guns, Germs and Steel but Collapse was too long.

  • Alison
    February 1, 2010

    Sounds like your local thrift store has a well-stocked book section! I like your imagery of life’s palette being bland in the absence of rich reading-nutrition.Thanks for stopping by. Very fun for me to learn a few of my recommendations have taken root.

  • deb
    January 28, 2010

    I just picked up Peace Like A River, Lovely Bones, and A Walk In the Woods today at a thrift store - for just a $1 each, I might add! My cousin and I are housemates, and we love to share & swap. We’re excited to see these on your list!

    If you’ve never read it, I would highly recommend The Reader (I have not seen the film, but the book was quite good).

    I am rediscovering my deep love of a good book - finally able to cast aside any guilt for hours lost in pages and imagination. I lost that ability for a while, and the palette of my life was bland without it.

    Thank you for these lists that you provide, much appreciated.

    Sail on, Alison!

  • Leigh
    January 24, 2010

    Hi Alison,
    Great website! Another good book I recommend is “Under a Green Sky”…it’s about global warming and it is a totally captivating read. Thanks for the great dinner.

  • chris
    October 7, 2009

    Love the line up of books. And I love a website called - it is free up (up to 200 books) but it lets you simply organize. Which for some reason I find calming.

    Another booksite I enjoy is - it encourages you to release your books into the wild. I know I tend to hold onto too many books - some of which I have picked up and have only read the jacket! (and yes I am rediscovering the library)

  • Kate
    May 24, 2009

    Thanks for sharing your list of favorites. I have Anne Lamott’s latest book - I just moved it to the top of my to-read stack.

  • Alison
    March 23, 2009

    OK, Deb, point taken . . . . let’s just say that Anne Lamott is really funny :).

  • Deb
    March 23, 2009

    Funnier than Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett!? No way, girl, no way!

  • Crafty green poet
    March 8, 2009

    I’ve just tagged you with a meme about influential writers, you can find out more on my blog, if you want to play along!

  • Crafty green poet
    March 8, 2009

    great list, I love all Barbara Kingsolvers books! Jared Diamond is great too, i think that the first book in the trilogy, The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee, which you don’t mention, is actually better than Guns Germs and Steel. i haven’t read Collapse yet but will do so soon.

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