The best books on the religious ethics of globalization

Why am I passionate about this?

My plan to write my book clicked after I bought an apple grown in New Zealand, 10,000 miles away from my home in Ohio. How did it make sense that we could buy apples so cheaply from so far away? What was the carbon footprint of that one transaction? Growing up in Michigan in the 1970s and 1980s, I had seen our industrial cities decay as trade globalized. Later I watched with horror as global financial markets crashed in 2008. With these experiences in mind, I wanted to write about both the benefits and the costs of globalization—and about its ethicsfor religious communities like mine. So I did.  


I wrote...

The Fullness of Time in a Flat World

By Scott Waalkes,

Book cover of The Fullness of Time in a Flat World

What is my book about?

The emergence of globalizationthe increasing connection of our world’s economies, ecology, politics, and cultureshas flattened the world and has triggered financial crises, climate change, identity clashes, and cultural mixing (among other things). While some have responded to these challenges by rejecting “globalism” altogether, what role could the Christian practice of the liturgical calendar play in responding constructively?

Taking each season of the Christian liturgical year as inspiration, I re-imagine the religious and ethical challenges posed by the globalization of finance, ecology, labor markets, consumption, US military dominance, free trade, politics, and culture. In each case, we escape the dead end of the Flat World so that we can improvise healthier ways of being globally integrated. Readers are invited to join this journey from Advent to Ordinary Time.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization

Scott Waalkes Why did I love this book?

Friedman, a longtime New York Times foreign affairs columnist, was one of the first to show me what I should love and hate about globalization, circa 1999, at the peak of Western support for neoliberal globalization.

Although his gee-whiz, gung-ho enthusiasm for the world of the Lexus (high-tech globalization with global supply chains and integrated financial markets) sometimes wears thin, he also covers the problems caused by globalization. He even appeals to the need for the “olive trees” of community, family, and religion to make globalization ethical.

Even when the breezy tone annoys me, this book is still my go-to guide for mapping the effects of globalization on business, economics, politics, culture, and the environment.

By Thomas L. Friedman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lexus and the Olive Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant investigation of globalization, the most significant socioeconomic trend in the world today, and how it is affecting everything we do-economically, politically, and culturally-abroad and at home.

As foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman crisscrosses the globe talking with the world's economic and political leaders, and reporting, as only he can, on what he sees. Now he has used his years of experience as a reporter and columnist to produce a pithy, trenchant, riveting look at the worldwide market forces that are driving today's economies and how they are playing out both internationally and…


Book cover of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order

Scott Waalkes Why did I love this book?

The late Huntington, a longtime Harvard professor, states early in this book that “people use politics not just to advance their interests but also to define their identity.”

As people from different cultures and civilizations began interacting with each other in our increasingly globalizing world, Huntington predicted that they would clash over deep collective identities. Way back in the early 1990s, long before 9/11, Huntington predicted that clashes between the Muslim world and the secular West were the most likely.

Cultural-religious identity matters, no question about it. My only gripe is that he devoted just a few sentences to how civilizations could promote peace. Classic political science: All dismal diagnosis, with little constructive hope!

By Samuel P Huntington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As people increasingly define themselves by ethnicity or religion, the West will find itself more and more at odds with non-western civilizations that reject its ideals of democracy, human rights, liberty, the rule of law, and the separation of the church and the state. Huntington feels that the fundamental source of conflict in the post-Cold War period will not be primarily ideological or economic, but cultural. Picturing a future of accelerated conflict and increasingly "de-westernized" international relations, he argues for greater understanding of non-western civilizations and offers strategies for maximizing western influence, by promoting co-operative relations with Russia and Japan,…


Book cover of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Scott Waalkes Why did I love this book?

Hamid’s prose is sparkling, reflecting his experience of globalization, as a Princeton-trained native of Pakistan who lives in Lahore, New York, and London.

Framed as a self-help book and narrated in twelve short chapters with self-help titles like “work for yourself,” this novel follows the life story of one man in a country that sounds a lot like Pakistan, as he moves from the village to the city and tries to make it in business.

I loved Hamid’s vivid portrait of challenging daily living conditions in a developing country, including unclean water, stifling rural life, urban overcrowding, and corrupt bureaucrats. While reading, I felt like I was living in Lahore, rooting for a Pakistani friend to succeed.

Is the self-help advice ironic or earnest? The reader will have to judge. 

By Mohsin Hamid,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The unabridged, downloadable audiobook edition of Mohsin Hamid's How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, read by the author himself.

The astonishing and riveting tale of a man's journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, 'How To Get Filthy Rich in Asia' steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by youths all over 'rising Asia'. It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on the most fluid and increasingly scarce of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star…


Book cover of In Search of the Good Life: The Ethics of Globalization

Scott Waalkes Why did I love this book?

Professor Peters was my first and foremost guide when it came to framing the ethics of globalization from within my own religious perspective.

She helped all of us later writers by mapping the academic terrain, describing two dominant theories of globalization and two resistance theories. The two dominant theories are neoliberalism (as exemplified by Thomas Friedman) and reformist social development (as exemplified by John Maynard Keynes), while the two resistance theories stem from ecological and postcolonial perspectives.

She evaluates all four theories according to how they contribute (or don’t) to human flourishing. While I don’t always agree with her conclusions, she is asking the right questions and applying them to the most important perspectives on globalization.

By Rebecca Todd Peters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In Search of the Good Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rebecca Todd Peters provides a helpful overview of the complicated contemporary debates about globalization. By engaging in a careful reading of the cacophony of views on the subject, she unearths four identifiable positions within these debates, each offering a different moral vision of the world. As she observes, policy debates about the direction in which globalization should move are morally serious debates about what values humanity will choose as most significant in the post-Cold War world. In Search of the Good Life argues that our moral task is to ensure that globalization proceeds in ways that honour creation and life,…


Book cover of Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World

Scott Waalkes Why did I love this book?

Full disclosure: I spent two weeks studying with Professor Volf in a summer seminar on Faith and Globalization in 2010, which occurred after the publication of my book.

Along with Tony Blair, he taught a similar undergraduate seminar between 2008 and 2011 at Yale University, which became the basis for Flourishing. I admire Volf’s boldness in summarizing the vast debates between major world religions concisely here. But, characteristically, he defines his terms precisely and defends his thesis clearly.

Although he identifies with the Christian tradition, he is eager to foster an inclusive dialogue between that tradition and others. His consistently evenhanded tone models the very kind of dialogue our world needs if we are to begin making peace.

By Miroslav Volf,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A celebrated theologian explores how the greatest dangers to humanity, as well as the greatest promises for human flourishing, are at the intersection of religion and globalization

More than almost anything else, globalization and the great world religions are shaping our lives, affecting everything from the public policies of political leaders and the economic decisions of industry bosses and employees, to university curricula, all the way to the inner longings of our hearts. Integral to both globalization and religions are compelling, overlapping, and sometimes competing visions of what it means to live well.

In this perceptive, deeply personal, and beautifully…


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The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

Book cover of The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

Kathryn Betts Adams

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Pianist's Only Daughter is a frank, humorous, and heartbreaking exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her mother, an English scholar and poet, and her father, a pianist and music professor. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' newly single father flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Their daughter watches in disbelief as they reconcile and decide to live together again. She steps in to become her parents' eldercare manager when her mother’s condition worsens, facing old family dynamics and disappointing limitations to available services. Throughout, she attempts to help her parents maintain their humanity in their final years.

The Pianist's Only Daughter: A Memoir

By Kathryn Betts Adams,

What is this book about?

Grounded in insights about mental health, health and aging, The Pianist’s Only Daughter: A Memoir presents a frank and loving exploration of aging in an aging expert's own family.

Social worker and gerontologist Kathryn Betts Adams spent decades negotiating evolving family dynamics with her colorful and talented parents: her English scholar and poet mother and her pianist father. Their vivid emotional lives, marital instability, and eventual divorce provided the backdrop for her 1960s and ‘70s Midwestern youth.

Nearly thirty years after they divorce, Adams' father finds himself single and flies in to woo his ex-wife, now retired and diagnosed with…


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