The best agriculture books

19 authors have picked their favorite books about agriculture and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

By James C. Scott,

Why this book?

Scythians and other nomad peoples are often studied and framed as a foil to sedentary societies, with the latter held up as further step along a path of “progress”. Against the Grain completely upends this notion, framing early states (the sedentary counterparts to nomadic people) as unnatural and authoritarian, and nomadic lifestyles as attractive alternatives. While not a study of the Scythians, specifically, this book is an important counterpoint to the sedentary-states-are-better framework that has characterized much discussion on Scythians.

From the list:

The best books to understand the Scythians

Book cover of Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives

Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives

By Carolyn Steel,

Why this book?

Such an important, relevant, and well-written book. Carolyn Steel traces the journey food takes to feed our cities – from the land where it is grown to the waste dumps, where its decay causes environmental degradation. It is a book that looks forward as well as to the past. Hungry City ends with a rallying cry to create a better food system – better for us, for society, for the planet. ‘How food shapes our lives in our future is up to us,’ writes Steel.

From the list:

The best food history books that help us explore the world

Book cover of The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets

By Jean O'Malley Halley,

Why this book?

Weaving together a social history of the American beef industry with her own account of growing up in the shadow of her grandfather's cattle business, Halley juxtaposes the two worlds and creates a link between the meat industry and her own experience of the formation of gender through family violence.

From the list:

The best books about human relationships with other animals

Book cover of The Taste of Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

The Taste of Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

By Lizzie Collingham,

Why this book?

Collingham has written multiple books on food and the British Empire, and this one is my favorite. Stretching from 1545 to 1996, each of the twenty chapters selects a historical meal, dissecting its ingredients and manner of preparation in order to explore the imperial forces and experiences that created it. Painstakingly research, each chapter is a standalone history.

From the list:

The best books on food and empires in history

Book cover of Red China's Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change, and Economic Development Under the Commune

Red China's Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change, and Economic Development Under the Commune

By Joshua Eisenman,

Why this book?

This book, like Mao and After, credits the era of Mao with far more achievements than they are given by the political and intellectual elite in post-Mao China. This book particularly focuses on the collective system or what was called the Commune and exploits the technical innovation and economic developments under the Commune. This is in total contrast to the accepted wisdom that there was economic stagnation in the era of Mao
From the list:

The best books to understand modern China

Book cover of The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East

By Melanie S. Tanielian,

Why this book?

During the war, Beirut and Mount Lebanon were heavily impacted by a famine because of several factors, including the Allied blockade of the Mediterranean, bad harvests, heat waves, shortage of workers, and a destructive locust invasion. As a result, even though the area did not witness any battles on its territory, hundreds of thousands of people died due to famine and disease. Fiction or real, the horrors reached to a degree that “mothers eating their children” stories carved in the collective memory of the war. Drawing on the reality of famine, the book deals with how war relief and welfare…
From the list:

The best books on the Middle East during the First World War

Book cover of The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry

By Wendell Berry,

Why this book?

Wendell Berry writes in multiple forms—poetry, essays, novels—and also practices sustainable farming in rural Kentucky. The World Ending Fire is a compilation of essays spanning over fifty years of his work and displays his wide-ranging intellect and care for the natural world. He emphasizes individual responsibility and stewardship of the earth, but his tone never becomes pedantic or preachy. Instead, his passion and conviction are contagious, and I always feel a sense of gratitude and clarity when I read his words. 

From the list:

The best books on our relationship with nature

Book cover of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

By Lierre Keith,

Why this book?

The importance of this book is less about human diets, and more about the food system itself. Keith explains in great detail that agriculture — the growing of annual monocrops — is the single most destructive activity humans have ever undertaken. Much of the planet’s surface, formerly teeming with wildlife, has now been cleared, drained, plowed, fertilized, and dedicated to one species: humans.

This doesn’t mean all food production is destructive; Keith distinguishes between agriculture and other methods of growing food, like horticulture, wild-tending, and pastoralism. But the conclusion is simple. We’re in overshoot, and agriculture is a big part…

From the list:

The best environmental books of all time

Book cover of The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

By Wendell Berry,

Why this book?

Farmer and author Wendell Berry is a personal hero of mine. From his home in Kentucky, Berry has been writing about regenerative agriculture for decades. The Art of the Commonplace gathers together twenty of his best essays. They articulate a compelling vision for people dissatisfied with the stress, anxiety, disease, and destructiveness of contemporary life. Berry is also the author of numerous works of poetry and fiction.

From the list:

The best books to learn about regenerative agriculture

Book cover of Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth

By Charles Massy,

Why this book?

In this book, Australian farmer Charles Massey takes a ‘big picture’ view of regenerative agriculture. It’s full of personal stories but it also goes deep into the history of industrial agriculture, the damage it continues to do, and how we can heal the planet. Massey lays out an inspiring vision for a new agriculture and the vital connections between our soil and our health. It’s a story of how a grassroots revolution can help turn climate change around and build healthy communities, pivoting on our relationship with growing and consuming food. 

From the list:

The best books to learn about regenerative agriculture

Or, view all 28 books about agriculture

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