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These books are readable: they don't require study. Just read them, and taste them. While I don't always agree completely with them, the ideas and information they present are worth knowing. They have been thought provoking to me, and deserve wider reception. Their ideas are important.

These books are of general interest, not written for specialized readers.

I’m not including all essential books in this list. Some important books are excluded because they are specialized, or require some background or context or training for many people to enjoy them. Also excluded are some very fundamental books which belong in almost any formal, proper education (classics, histories, and so on). The books listed here are relevant to contemporary issues, but can be absorbed without special prerequisites.

All of these books are available in dead tree form, some in electronic form. You can find a few on the web free, but I'm not sure if those are all legal copies. The dates of publication given in this list may be the dates of reprints or of new editions, and aren't necessarily the dates first published.

In alphabetical order:

  • The Authoritarians, by Robert Altemeyer. 261 pgs. 2006. Discusses situations where people subscribe to the opinions and beliefs of others, often without even being aware that they are not acting independently. These sitations are more common than most people know. Describes factors which make it more likely that someone will be a follower or a leader.

  • Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber. 534 pgs. 2012. An anthropologist discusses the history and evolution of debt, and along the way explains a lot about law, politics, economics, history, money, religion, and other things. A few surprises here, especially if you didn't know about the connections between anthropology and economics.

  • Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone, by Eduardo Galeano. 391 pgs. 2009. This book is a series of very short stories, most only a few paragraphs in length. It begins with the lines:
        Mirrors are filled with people.
        The invisible see us.
        The forgotten recall us.
        When we see ourselves, we see them.
        When we turn away, do they?

    If this collection were a piece of music, it might be described as having many different notes and chords. As you read, invisible, forgotten, and ignored parts of your soul will resonate.

  • Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, by Eduardo Galeano. 317 pgs. 1997 (first published 1971). This is a history of the effects of colonialism in Latin American, especially of the human side of the consequences of the mis-treatment by Spain, Portugal, and the U.S. Although specific to Latin America, the same strategies have been used against large parts of Africa, Asia, and parts of Eastern Europe, so it is a good introduction to colonialism in general. (Forty years after he wrote it, Galeano declared he was unhappy with the style and prosody of the book, but it has nevertheless become a canonical text on the subject.) It is very readable: informal and not academic in tone, written for a popular audience. Banned by at least four right wing military dictatorships.

  • Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart, by Ram Dass. 161 pgs. 2013. I don't know how to do this one justice, so you'll just have to read it yourself.

  • Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, by David Harvey. 352 pgs. 2015. This is a discussion about various aspects of our current economic system, aspects which we don’t think about most of the time. The term, “contradictions”, might be misleading unless you’re acquainted with dialectic logic; if you’re not, think of these as inconsistencies tending to destabilize the system. (The book includes an introduction to this aspect of dialectic reasoning.) For example, Harvey describes the various meanings and functions of the term, “money”, and shows how the properties and uses of money lead to comflicts which prevent, in context, the solution of certain kinds of economic and social problems. There is a lot to chew on in this book, you might want to take it only a few pages at a time, but it’s logical and you don’t need to be an economist to follow it.

  • Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. 304 pgs. 2018. The hidden asymmetries that Taleb illustrates are especially focused on mismatches of risk against reward. This special asymmetry has broad and important implications, in political, economic, religious, and other areas. This book is part of a series of five, called by Taleb his “Incerto” series; there is a common thread, regarding uncertainty, among the books. All of the Incerto books are good, but they may be taken out of order, and this one – the last – is perhaps likely to be most immediately and obviously relevant to the greatest number of readers.

  • The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout. 256 pgs. 2006. A thorough introduction without hyperbole to a common mental condition. It explains why most sociopaths — those without a conscience — don't even know they are affected, and how few psychologists can recognize or treat the condition. One of the most intriguing parts explains that, often, what passes for empathy, isn't really empathy, and even the sociopaths themselves are often fooled. It might make you reconsider assumptions about morality and social structures.

  • The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling, by John Taylo Gatto. 412 pgs. 2000. Why universal, compulsory schooling doesn't work, and why almost all attempts to fix it are doomed to fail. Quite a general history lesson, too. Probably disturbing to a lot of people. There are other books about some of these problems, but – although I don’t agree with Gatto’s philosophies in a lot of ways – his book is one of the easiest to follow as a statement of the situation.

  • Why Marx Was Right, by Terry Eagleton. 258 pgs. 2011. Marxism is not what most people think. There are a great number of misconceptions about the work of Karl Marx, about Marxism, and about Marxists. Each of the ten chapters of this book begins with a set of such false beliefs, then describes the reality, adding notes and references. Nevertheless, this book doesn't preach: it's not a polemic. Some readers might discover that they are already more nearly Marxist than they had previously imagined. Note that, although he is associated with communism, Marx's magnum opus was about capitalism, and he made various predictions about capitalism's future course. Time has shown that Marx could see the future pretty damn well.

I expect to add a few to the above list, but I'm still engaged in a process of triage. If the list is too long, and there are too many books to consider, a reader might miss some of the most significant. Secondary lists, by topic, are planned.





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