The best books on our fatal addiction to economic growth

Why am I passionate about this?

In my career, I managed research into how the problems of modern industrial society are tackled in different countries. This reflected my own comparative instinct, which arose out of growing up bilingual and at home in two cultures. My journey into politics, sociology, and economics made me increasingly aware of the blindness of our social arrangements to the growing ecological crisis – and of how this blindness is perpetuated by the narrow silos of our political and academic systems. Our only hope now lies with thinkers who can escape those silos and integrate different perspectives into a holistic understanding. We don’t need more specialists, but generalists. Fewer economists, more moral philosophers. 


I wrote...

The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society

By Ray Cunningham, John Blewitt (editor),

Book cover of The Post-Growth Project: How the End of Economic Growth Could Bring a Fairer and Happier Society

What is my book about?

This book challenges the assumption that it is bad news when the economy doesn’t grow. For half a century now, people have recognized that there are ecological limits to economic growth, and that different ways of living, working, and organizing our economies are urgently required if we are to remain within those limits. However, mainstream economists and politicians are unable to think outside their inherited boxes.

The book explains how our current economic system depends on ecologically unsustainable growth and the pursuit of more ‘stuff’. It argues, in contrast, that what matters is quality, not quantity – a better life based on fewer material possessions, less production, and less work. Such a way of life will emphasize well-being, community, and security – in other words, genuine wealth. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Small Is Beautiful: Economics as If People Mattered

Ray Cunningham Why did I love this book?

The book that gave birth to the slogan... This is an iconoclastic look at the capitalist economy from a man who trained as an academic economist and worked for the National Coal Board. Schumacher thought creatively and wrote and spoke in a lively and engaging way and the book is an accessible introduction to a different way of thinking about what the purpose of an economy, or economics, is.

Also, Schumacher was invited to become the first Director of the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society, but felt that he was already too old for the job. Many years later, I became the Foundation’s last Director.

By E.F. Schumacher,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Small Is Beautiful as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This New York Times bestselling “Eco Bible” (Time magazine) teaches us that economic growth must be responsibly balanced with the needs of communities and the environment.

“Embracing what Schumacher stood for--above all the idea of sensible scale--is the task for our time. Small is Beautiful could not be more relevant. It was first published in 1973, but it was written for our time.” — Bill McKibben, from the Foreword

Small Is Beautiful is Oxford-trained economist E. F. Schumacher’s classic call for the end of excessive consumption. Schumacher inspired such movements as “Buy Locally” and “Fair Trade,” while voicing strong opposition…


Book cover of The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update

Ray Cunningham Why did I love this book?

A vast propaganda effort has been undertaken since the Club of Rome first issued ‘The limits to growth’ report in 1972 to rubbish its predictions and hypotheses. If you actually take the trouble to read the 1972, 1994, and 2004 reports, then you can see through this desperate effort. The authors were fundamentally – in broad terms – correct, and visionary. True, they overestimated how rapidly the planet was likely to succumb to world-scale resource-depletion crises; but they actually underestimated how rapidly we would start to succumb to crises arising from pollution. Their warnings need to be heeded very rapidly, now.

By Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Limits to Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Groundbreaking call to action by Donella Meadows, the bestselling author of Thinking in Systems!

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse the Guardian The updated edition of the groundbreaking classic that kickstarted the movement for environmental and ecological reform!

Perfect for fans of The Uninhabitable Earth and There is No Planet B

It is no unknown fact that at the present rate of climate change, population growth and capitalistic expansion, we are over-exceeding our planet's resources. We're stretched pretty thin and if we continue at the present rate we'll soon be headed towards irreversible consequences as…


Book cover of Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet

Ray Cunningham Why did I love this book?

Jackson updates, elaborates, and takes forward – critically, of course, taking into account climate change, the greatest threat not covered directly in the original Limits to Growth book, which preceded our awakening to the climate threat – the arguments made in that first groundbreaking criticism of the assumed growth imperative. Crucially, he also argues that we can not only survive, but positively prosper and flourish, without economic growth.

By Tim Jackson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Prosperity without Growth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is more economic growth the solution? Will it deliver prosperity and well-being for a global population projected to reach nine billion? In this explosive book, Tim Jackson - a top sustainability adviser to the UK government - makes a compelling case against continued economic growth in developed nations.

No one denies that development is essential for poorer nations. But in the advanced economies there is mounting evidence that ever-increasing consumption adds little to human happiness and may even impede it. More urgently, it is now clear that the ecosystems that sustain our economies are collapsing under the impacts of rising…


Book cover of Collapse

Ray Cunningham Why did I love this book?

Diamond shows, with a stunning depth and range of reference, how a failure to live within ecological limits has been the ultimate cause of the collapse of human societies through the ages. A riveting and terrifying read, and a stark warning of the consequences of our blind fixation on growth – at a planetary level as well as that of individual societies.

By Jared Diamond,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive is a visionary study of the mysterious downfall of past civilizations.

Now in a revised edition with a new afterword, Jared Diamond's Collapse uncovers the secret behind why some societies flourish, while others founder - and what this means for our future.

What happened to the people who made the forlorn long-abandoned statues of Easter Island?
What happened to the architects of the crumbling Maya pyramids?
Will we go the same way, our skyscrapers one day standing derelict and overgrown like the…


Book cover of Sustainability: A Cultural History

Ray Cunningham Why did I love this book?

An eminently readable account of the emergence (or re-discovery) of the concept that might just be the antidote to our growth addiction – sustainability. Grober is perhaps best described as belonging to the now neglected tradition of natural philosophy, which means his analysis often finds its starting point in nature but leads to critical insights into human society and institutions. His work ranges across an impressive and always fascinating historical, geographic, and philosophical span.

I translated this book from the original German because I thought its message was urgently needed (and Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, agreed in her endorsement). If we are to avoid the catastrophe that our fixation on economic growth is leading us into, we will need a new lodestone. Sustainability may be our best option.

By Ulrich Grober, Ray Cunningham (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A compelling analysis of the meaning of sustainability and development of the modern concept... Well researched and written... I recommend it to all environmentally-minded readers." - Paul Fitzpatrick, Green World

From diets to economic growth, everything these days has to be 'sustainable'. But the word's currency should not obscure its origins: sustainability is an age-old aspiration; a concept deeply rooted in human culture. Though in danger of abuse and overuse today, it can still be recovered from its present inflationary coinage.

In clear and thought-provoking terms, Ulrich Grober reassesses the concept of sustainability using a range of fascinating historical instances…


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By Larry R. Frank Sr., Maxwell Limanowski (editor), Peter Sander (editor)

Book cover of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

Larry R. Frank Sr. Author Of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

What are you trying to do with your money?

Few of us take the time to analyze our financial needs and goals to answer that pressing question. In Wealth Odyssey, author Larry R. Frank Sr. uses his extensive financial background to provide a universal road map that will help you determine the wealth you need to support your chosen lifestyle.

Frank discusses such topics as the wealth rule, the earning-spending-saving formula, using debt wisely, and 
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Wealth Odyssey is authored to be timeless; it does not matter what the market has done, or will do. This…

Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

By Larry R. Frank Sr., Maxwell Limanowski (editor), Peter Sander (editor)

What is this book about?

"Frank, a Certified Financial Planner in California, offers a concise, precise guide to "prudent thinking" about personal finances, along with simple tools to estimate how much is required for a comfortable retirement." "A sound guide designed to help people make sensible plans for a successful retirement" - Kirkus book review "First let me tell you Larry Frank knows his stuff. He has a procedure that many will find worth taking the time to implement.” " The book is full of good advice." - Armchair interviews "Larry Frank Sr, gives you a guidebook or "road map" for your financial goals or…


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