The best books that can help us save the city

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been fascinated by city life since I studied Geography at high school. After twenty five years of teaching and researching urban geography, I am Professor of Urban Futures at a UK university. I now have a better sense of the challenges we face and what we can do about them. I spend my time supporting activists, campaigners, students, policymakers, and politicians about the urgency for change and what kind of ideas and examples they can use to tackle what I call the triple emergencies of climate breakdown, social inequality, and nature loss.

I wrote...

How to Save the City: A Guide for Emergency Action

By Paul Chatterton,

Book cover of How to Save the City: A Guide for Emergency Action

What is my book about?

This book is my call to arms. In How to Save the City I invite the reader to engage with the challenges of living and working in cities at a time when several conflating emergencies have become more pressing and connected. While the climate crisis is the most urgent, we also face deep social crises in housing, gender and race inequalities, the breakdown of our natural world, our energy consumption, and the deep ripples resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. These emergencies are playing out in acute ways in urban areas.

In this book I guide the reader through a sequence of challenges, strategies, players, moves, and practical tactics of how to create greener, cleaner, and fairer cities.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Crack Capitalism

Paul Chatterton Why did I love this book?

I read this book after I spent a year living and volunteering with the Zapatista revolutionary movement in Chiapas Mexico.

John based a lot of the ideas in this book on the Zapatistas mainly because they help us rethink what the revolution means – as an open, joyful, and everyday process. What I learned from this book is that If we really want to change society, or indeed crack capitalism, we have to build examples in the here and now that show a different world is possible.

It is a reminder that the state cannot and will not use on its own so we have to build self-managing autonomous structures in our communities that can create hope, dignity, resilience, and joy.

By John Holloway,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Crack Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can we rebel against the capitalist system? John Holloway argues that by creating, cracks, fractures and fissures that forge spaces of rebellion and disrupt the current economic order.

John Holloway, author of the groundbreaking Change the World Without Taking Power, sparked a world-wide debate among activists and scholars about the most effective methods of fighting capitalism from within. From campaigns against water privatisation, to simply not going to work and reading a book instead, Holloway demands we must resist the logic of capitalism in our everyday lives. Drawing on Marx's idea of 'abstract labour', Holloway develops 33 theses that…

Book cover of Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution

Paul Chatterton Why did I love this book?

David Harvey has been writing about how capitalism shapes city life since the global revolutions back in 1968.

What I learned from his book Rebel Cities is that we need a laser-like focus on how capitalism makes and remakes urban life, normally for the worse. Unless we realise this we don’t know what we are up against and what effective solutions look like.

What I really like about this book is that it encourages us to see that cities and their citizens are rebelling all over the world – and this means building alternatives to corporate capitalism power that is ultimately pushing our climate and natural world beyond safe limits.

By David Harvey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Rebel Cities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Long before Occupy, cities were the subject of much utopian thinking. They are the centers of capital accumulation as well as of revolutionary politics, where deeper currents of social and political change rise to the surface. Do the financiers and developers control access to urban resources or do the people? Who dictates the quality and organization of daily life? Rebel Cities places the city at the heart of both capital and class struggles, looking at locations ranging from Johannesburg to Mumbai, from New York City to S o Paulo. Drawing on the Paris Commune as well as Occupy Wall Street…

Book cover of A Postcapitalist Politics

Paul Chatterton Why did I love this book?

This is one of the defining books that has helped a generation of researchers name an important tendency – that capitalism isn’t all-dominant and there are always alternatives to it.

I use this book often with campaigners and city policymakers to help them understand that if you really take a closer look at our modern-day economy you will see all sorts of activity – co-operatives, family labour, barter, gift exchange.

I love the idea of postcapitalism as it really asks us to think about what should, or ought to, come next. This broader understanding of our economies as diverse entities opens up the possibility of supercharging more community-focused economies. 

By J. K. Gibson-Graham,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Is there life after capitalism? In this creatively argued follow-up to their book The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), J. K. Gibson-Graham offer already existing alternatives to a global capitalist order and outline strategies for building alternative economies.

A Postcapitalist Politics reveals a prolific landscape of economic diversity-one that is not exclusively or predominantly capitalist-and examines the challenges and successes of alternative economic interventions. Gibson-Graham bring together political economy, feminist poststructuralism, and economic activism to foreground the ethical decisions, as opposed to structural imperatives, that construct economic "development" pathways. Marshalling empirical evidence from local economic projects and action…

Book cover of Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

Paul Chatterton Why did I love this book?

There is one current zeitgeist at the moment that everyone needs to know about - degrowth.

Jason Hickel’s book is one of the best accounts of how the whole world got tangled up in a ceaselessly growing economy and what we can do to reverse out of it.

This book has really helped me make the case with students, urban policymakers, and politicians that we need a new kind of economy that doesn’t just value growth or getting bigger, but one that respects the health of people and planet, and undoes some of the big injustices that have emerged from the long history of colonialism.

By Jason Hickel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A powerfully disruptive book for disrupted times ... If you're looking for transformative ideas, this book is for you.' KATE RAWORTH, economist and author of Doughnut Economics

A Financial Times Book of the Year
Our planet is in trouble. But how can we reverse the current crisis and create a sustainable future? The answer is: DEGROWTH.

Less is More is the wake-up call we need. By shining a light on ecological breakdown and the system that's causing it, Hickel shows how we can bring our economy back into balance with the living world and build a thriving society for…

Book cover of Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work That Reconnects

Paul Chatterton Why did I love this book?

Joanna and Molly are two inspirational educators. What really connected me to this book was their work on the ‘great turning’ – how we can build a life-sustaining society in the face of our business-as-usual industrial growth society.

The great turning has three aspects – slowing down damage to people and planet, building alternatives that can benefit communities and nature, and changing what and how we learn about our world. I try to incorporate these three aspects in my own work with students, activists, and policymakers. It gives me a sense of possibility and connection to a whole world of workable alternatives.

By Joanna Macy, Molly Young Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Coming Back to Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Deepening global crises surround us. We are beset by climate change, fracking, tar sands extraction, GMOs, and mass extinctions of species, to say nothing of nuclear weapons proliferation and Fukushima, the worst nuclear disaster in history. Many of us fall prey to despair even as we feel called to respond to these threats to life on our planet. Authors Joanna Macy and Molly Brown address the anguish experienced by those who would confront the harsh realities of our time. In this fully updated edition of Coming Back to Life, they show how grief, anger, and fear are healthy responses to…

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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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