The best books on urgent menaces to the human species

Howard Bruce Franklin Author Of Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War
By Howard Bruce Franklin

Who am I?

My twenty books have won top awards for lifetime scholarship in American studies, science fiction, prison literature, the Vietnam war, and marine ecology. My writing is just part of my six decades as an activist for peace and justice, which made me a major target of the FBI’s operation COINTELPRO and led Stanford to fire me from my tenured professorship.  I then taught for 40 years at Rutgers University in Newark as The John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War

What is my book about?

America. The 1939 World’s Fair and World War II shaped my earliest views of America. Then I worked in factory sweatshops and on tugboats amidst the wars for New York Harbor. I flew as an Arctic navigator and intelligence officer and later helped set up the Vietnam deserter network in France. Then I joined the revolutionary movement of the sixties and seventies. Crash Course is a revolutionary history of America and a meditation on Homo sapiens, the most intelligent species on planet Earth, the only known species that has figured out not one way, but two ways, to make our planet unsuitable for our continual existence: nuclear war and global warming. 

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The books I picked & why

Star Maker

By Olaf Stapledon,

Book cover of Star Maker

Why did I love this book?

No other book has influenced me so deeply. Arthur C. Clarke wrote it is "probably the most powerful work of imagination ever written." As I now reread Star Maker, published in 1937 when I was three years old, I still find passages so profound that they send my mind into orbit. The book takes us through time and space to a future when that entire conscious cosmos yearns to meet its creator. It ends with a prophetic awareness that “the struggle of our age was brewing” and the hope that our species can make it “before the ultimate darkness.”

By Olaf Stapledon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This bold exploration of the cosmos ventures into intelligent star clusters and mingles among alien races for a memorable vision of infinity. Cited as a key influence by science-fiction masters such as Doris Lessing, this classic has left its mark not only in modern literature but also in the fields of social anthropology and philosophy.
Olaf Stapledon's 1937 successor to Last and First Men offers another entrancing speculative history of the future. Its narrator, a contemporary Earthman, joins a community of explorers who travel to the farthest reaches of the universe, seeking traces of intelligence. Along the way, they encounter…


Book cover of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Why did I love this book?

Russia and the U.S. each possess a Doomsday Machine: a weapon that could wipe out our species. If either launched their thousands of nuclear ICMBs, that would probably doom us, even if the other did not retaliate. So argues Ellsberg, who confesses his role in creating the menace.  (None of the seven other nuclear nations have more than a few hundred, as a deterrent.) The book’s invaluable history includes multiple occasions when either Russia or the U.S. came perilously close to triggering Armageddon. When I was flying in the Strategic Air Command, we launched three times. Barely before it was too late, we were recalled. But that was before ICMBs; ICMBs can not be recalled. Read this book and spread its message.

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction

From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, the first insider expose of the awful dangers of America's hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that is chillingly still extant

At the same time former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentagon Papers, he also took with him a chilling cache of top-secret documents related to America's nuclear program in the 1960s. Here for the first time he reveals the contents of those now-declassified documents and makes clear their shocking relevance for today.

The Doomsday Machine is Ellsberg's hair-raising…


The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Why did I love this book?

The gruesome first scene of The Ministry for the Future dramatizes the disaster that global climate change will soon give us. The novel assumes an international organization with some responsibility to future humans and other beings, and awareness of what we humans must do to survive. Kim Stanley Robinson offers us a compendium of tasks—geoengineering, new economic systems, and sail vessels, currency based on carbon reduction, et al. The political and economic forces behind global warming fight back, so there is an underground organization that responds with violence. When I asked Stan if violence will be necessary, he pointed out the novel is not a how-to-do manual. This profound volume should be read by everyone who wants to help save us from our colossal folly.

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Ministry for the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR

“The best science-fiction nonfiction novel I’ve ever read.” —Jonathan Lethem
 
"If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future." —Ezra Klein (Vox)

The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, postapocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us. Chosen by Barack Obama as one of his favorite…


Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why did I love this book?

I taught Parable of the Sower in my science-fiction class shortly after it was published in 1993. The novel begins in 2024 and ends in 2027. Rereading today scares the hell out of me because its vision of a divided and privatized and drugged up America, with hordes of desperate homeless people and remorseless gangs of thieves and rapists, now seems so plausible, perhaps imminent. Lauren, the teenaged super-empathic narrator, hasn’t seen a California rainstorm in six years. In California, we are close to that already. On her four-year hellish trip, Lauren composes Earthseed: The Books of the Living, a scripture for the community of Acorn, a seed that might begin to fulfill the Parable of the Sower.

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI

--

We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…


Book cover of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Why did I love this book?

Melville’s first novel calls “the white civilized man” “the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth.” Billy Budd, his final work, predicts the triumph of militarism and war. My first public speech against the Vietnam War began with a quote from The Confidence-Man (1857). I’ve read it many times and published an annotated edition, so I can guarantee you that every time you read this book you will get more out of it, just as I do. The steamboat Fidele sails down the Mississippi. A Christ-like passenger disappears. A negro cripple lists passengers we should look for. Avatars of the confidence man bamboozle representative Americans. After the sun sets, slave states are on both sides of the southward voyage, a mysterious “Cosmopolitan” appears, darkness envelopes the boat, and its destination seems to be the apocalypse.  What is this book about? America. Our species. Where we are headed. 

By Herman Melville,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On April Fool's Day in 1856, a shape-shifting grifter boards a Mississippi riverboat to expose the pretenses, hypocrisies, and self-delusions of his fellow passengers. The con artist assumes numerous identities — a disabled beggar, a charity fundraiser, a successful businessman, an urbane gentleman — to win over his not-entirely-innocent dupes. The central character's shifting identities, as fluid as the river itself, reflect broader aspects of human identity even as his impudent hoaxes form a meditation on illusion and trust.
This comic allegory addresses themes of sincerity, character, and morality in its challenge to the optimism and materialism of mid-19th-century America.…


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The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

Book cover of The Rosewood Penny

J.S. Fields

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction. 

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band, they rob the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is, maybe more than Marani herself.

The Rosewood Penny

By J.S. Fields,

What is this book about?

The dragons of Yuro have been hunted to extinction.

On a small, isolated island, in a reclusive forest, lives bandit leader Marani and her brother Jacks. With their outlaw band they rob from the rich to feed themselves, raiding carriages and dodging the occasional vindictive pegasus. Thanks to Marani’s mysterious invulnerability, this mostly works out well…until Marani and her quirky band of outlaws plunder the carriage of the very bossy princess Nuria.

The princess’s carriage contains not just gold, but a dragonscale comb that belonged to Marani’s murdered mother. Worse yet, Princess Nuria seems to know exactly who Marani is,…


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