The best books on the state of the world we live in

The Books I Picked & Why

Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse: Man and Beast in an Age of Human Warfare

By Frank Westerman

Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse: Man and Beast in an Age of Human Warfare

Why this book?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading nine of Westerman's books, some of them twice. This is literary contemporary history. Aside from a place, a period, and a prism through which to look, Frank combines award-winning literary skills with a journalistic journey. His stories are both big and small, personal and universal. Here he follows a fascinating 20th-century journey of the so-called ‘most pure’ horses of Europe. Through that story, you will find yourself cantering through the nature versus nurture debate that defined much of Europe’s recent history. On top of all that, I also recognise his journey through life, from his studies to ‘development’ work to foreign journalism to literary non-fiction writing on the big issues at the people & places interface. 


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This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

By Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Why this book?

This book changed everything for me too. I met Naomi after a lecture and started producing articles for her. As I weaved her arguments against capitalism together with the frontline stories I was capturing, the pieces of the puzzle for my own Frontlines book fell into place. Naomi knows how dirty power plays at corporate and state levels shapes our lives, but by linking all this with the state of play in the living world, she gave the environmental movement the shock therapy it needed. A perfect present for anyone concerned by the war on nature, which by definition is also a war against all of us. Whether you like it or not, environmentalism is a social and political struggle. And it really does matter on what side you're on.


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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

By Amartya Sen

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

Why this book?

This may seem a niche choice for India-geeks only, but that just doesn't do justice to the scope of this book from a Nobel Prize in Economy winner. While working in zero-tourist rural India for a local NGO, this book was the Bible that kept me going. Sen helped me to make sense of “it all” and gave me depth, hope, and mindblowing insights about what I have come to see as a shared history we Europeans have with Indians, since he goes 1000s of years back. Hence, even if you're only vaguely interested in the culture, identity, and politics of what is soon the most populous country in the world: you'll get to learn a lot about a massive part of humanity.


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The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

By Robert D. Kaplan

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

Why this book?

As a geographer specialized in conflicts, the title in itself is enough to pick it up. But the reason for reading and rereading this book is that even after two readings, I'm still torn between defending or debunking the controversial author. Like him, I feel frustrated by the neglect of physical geography in so many discussions of the conflicts in this world and Kaplan really opens eyes and puts things in a much needed context. At other times, his determinism and his “America first” undertone irritates me. But to understand the world better, this and his book Monsoon. The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power are truly eyeopeners.


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How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature

By George Monbiot

How Did We Get Into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature

Why this book?

Politics, nature, society, identity, money, work, energy...Monbiot doesn't only touch a whole lot, I almost always agree with him. This selection of his best essays is like a box full of brain candy and one should treat it accordingly: do not swallow it all in one go. In one of his small-group talking rounds right after a big lecture, I witnessed his never appease-able hunger to bounce ideas off, get to the bottom of things, identify flaws in assumptions that most of us didn't even know we had. Monbiot doesn't allow social or political conventions to get in his way. His goal is clear: unpacking the reality of the world of today, no matter how dark this needs to be. 


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