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

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Lewis Mumford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Technics and Human Development as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mumford explains the forces that have shaped technology since prehistoric times and shaped the modern world. He shows how tools developed because of significant parallel inventions in ritual, language, and social organization. “It is a stimulating volume, informed both with an enormous range of knowledge and empathetic spirit” (Eliot Fremont-Smith, New York Times). Index; photographs.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Naomi Klein,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Shock Doctrine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Impassioned, hugely informative, wonderfully controversial, and scary as hell' John le Carre

Around the world in Britain, the United States, Asia and the Middle East, there are people with power who are cashing in on chaos; exploiting bloodshed and catastrophe to brutally remake our world in their image. They are the shock doctors.

Exposing these global profiteers, Naomi Klein discovered information and connections that shocked even her about how comprehensively the shock doctors' beliefs now dominate our world - and how this domination has been achieved. Raking in billions out of the tsunami, plundering Russia, exploiting Iraq - this is…

Book cover of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

Why did I love 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.

By David Graeber,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Debt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The groundbreaking international best-seller that turns everything you think about money, debt, and society on its head—from the “brilliant, deeply original political thinker” David Graeber (Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me)
Before there was money, there was debt. For more than 5,000 years, since the beginnings of the first agrarian empires, humans have used elaborate credit systems to buy and sell goods—that is, long before the invention of coins or cash. It is in this era that we also first encounter a society divided into debtors and creditors—which lives on in full force to this day.


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

Why did I love 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.

By Karl Polanyi,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Great Transformation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic work of economic history and social theory, Karl Polanyi analyzes the economic and social changes brought about by the "great transformation" of the Industrial Revolution. His analysis explains not only the deficiencies of the self-regulating market, but the potentially dire social consequences of untempered market capitalism. New introductory material reveals the renewed importance of Polanyi's seminal analysis in an era of globalization and free trade.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Silvia Federici,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Caliban and the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A groundbreaking work . . . Federici has become a crucial figure for . . . a new generation of feminists' Rachel Kushner, author of The Mars Room

A cult classic since its publication in the early years of this century, Caliban and the Witch is Silvia Federici's history of the body in the transition to capitalism. Moving from the peasant revolts of the late Middle Ages through the European witch-hunts, the rise of scientific rationalism and the colonisation of the Americas, it gives a panoramic account of the often horrific violence with which the unruly human material of pre-capitalist…

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