The best books on capitalism and the crisis of life on earth

Who am I?

Besides my studies of history and philosophy and my work as a theatre writer, I have been active in the global justice movement for a long time, opposing neoliberal assaults on social rights and the biosphere. However, I felt that neoliberalism was just the most recent phase of a much older system, which is, by its very structure, incompatible with the survival of humanity, as it is based on eternal growth and accumulation – an impossibility on a finite planet. So I set out to dig deeper and explore the fundamental institutions and structures of the Megamachine that we must overcome in order to allow for a decent human life in the future. We need a shift from an economy based on private profit to an economy for the common good, a shift from the paradigm of control, domination, and exploitation of nature to new forms of cooperation with complex living systems.

I wrote...

The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization

By Fabian Scheidler,

Book cover of The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization

What is my book about?

The End of the Megamachine provides a uniquely comprehensive picture of the roots of the destructive forces that are threatening the future of humankind today. Spanning 5000 years of history, the book shows how the three tyrannies of militarized states, capital accumulation, and ideological power have been steering both ecosystems and societies to the brink of collapse. With the growing instability of the Megamachine in the 21st century, new dangers open up as well as new possibilities for systemic change, to which everyone can contribute. “The topic couldn’t be more important. A very valuable and surely timely contribution.” —Noam Chomsky

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. I

By Lewis Mumford,

Book cover of Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine, Vol. I

Why this book?

Mumford’s classic describes the emergence of hierarchical power systems that subjugate both humans and the more-than-human nature, from ancient Egypt to modern capitalism and the “Pentagon of Power”. The book takes on the technocratic worldview, inherent in modern capitalism, with a huge scope of knowledge and remarkable detail, combined with Mumford’s deep humanism. Mumford also coined the term “Megamachine” to which I refer in my own book.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

By Naomi Klein,

Book cover of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Why this book?

In this breathtaking and extremely well-researched bestseller, Naomi Klein shows how political and economic elites utilized and manufactured crises in dozens of countries around the globe since the 1950s in order to push through an extreme capitalist agenda, ranging from regime change operations of the CIA and the US military to pretended “disaster relief” programs in the wake of natural catastrophes. An indispensable insight into the dirty reality of global capitalism and the collusion of states and big corporations.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

By David Graeber,

Book cover of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Why this book?

David Graeber brings to light the close interconnection between the money economy, slavery, and militarism, from antiquity to the modern era. Contrary to the widely held belief that money is just a useful and neutral means of exchange, Graeber shows that it came into use in order to pay mercenaries, loot other countries, and capture slaves who in turn worked in the silver mines to produce more money – a circle of debt and violence that was also at the heart of early capitalism and the colonial machine. With money and debt still ruling the world today and driving it into ecological collapse, Graeber – who died much too early in 2020 – left us an essential key to the understanding of our era and possible ways out.

The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

By Karl Polanyi,

Book cover of The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

Why this book?

In this classical work, the economic historian Karl Polanyi explores the dialectics between the commodification of nature and the human workforce on the one hand and the reactions of society on the other, dynamics which eventually led into the abyss of nationalism, fascism, and the two world wars. Polanyi points out that labor markets have not emerged in a quasi-natural manner, but were manufactured by state violence, as in the case of the British New Poor Law in the 19th century, a law that threatened workers with starvation in order to force them to accept wage labor even under horrible conditions. Turning humans in such a way into disposable commodities for production and profit destroys, according to Polanyi, the fabric of society. Nationalism and fascism can be understood as ideologies that capitalize on the traumatization and atomization of society and promise the re-creation of a community. A truly topical work for our world today.

Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

By Silvia Federici,

Book cover of Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

Why this book?

Federici’s seminal book tells the story of the enclosure of the commons, starting in England in the 16th century, which laid the ground for the commodification of nature and the formation of capitalism, and links it to the demonization of women in the witch-hunts of the same period. It is a story of domination, colonialism, and resistance that helps us to understand and exit a destructive historical system.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in financial crises, technology, and the economy?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about financial crises, technology, and the economy.

Financial Crises Explore 10 books about financial crises
Technology Explore 42 books about technology
The Economy Explore 102 books about the economy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Living in the End Times, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, and Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy if you like this list.