28 Must-Read Books That Will Forever Change How You See the World


1. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough & Michael Braungart. Why settle for a throwaway culture? This book is a must read because it inspires elegant design solutions, stating that every single product must either go back to the earth or back into industry to be made into something else. A revolutionary way of upgrading the Industrial Revolution – talk about life changing.

2. Introduction to Permaculture by Bill Mollison. The classic text on permaculture design (which is not limited to gardens, but can also be used to design homes, communities and societies in general). An excellent introduction for the aspiring student or someone who just wants to know what it’s all about.

3. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. What exactly would happen to the earth if human life disappeared? The author explores a few different scenarios in great detail (including a suddenly depopulated Manhattan). Absolutely addictive reading.

4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. A great read for the locavores. The author spends a year eating only from her garden, or that which is locally grown or raised. A foodie’s delight, this book proves how richly one can live off the land.

5. Eating For Beauty by David Wolfe. Leading raw foodist David Wolfe takes that old adage “you are what you eat” to a new level. He describes how what you eat literally creates who you are, and which foods will create the most beautiful you – in body and in spirit.

6. Lifeplace: Bioregional Thought and Practice by Robert L. Thayer, Jr. In a world gone insanely global, this book takes us deeper into the microcosm. A bioregion is defined by nature, not by politics, and having intimate connection with your home means living within that context – historically, geographically and culturally.

7. Green Building & Remodeling For Dummies by Eric Corey Freed. Written by the founder of organicARCHITECT, this book is a comprehensive guide to green building materials and techniques, energy and water systems, and the pros and cons of everything. Check out a sample chapter here.

8. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock. First published in 1979, this book sets forth the Gaia Hypothesis, stating that our planet is more than a sum of its resources, but rather a fully integrated living being, with systems of life more complex than previously imagined. I wonder what Gaia’s thinking about us now?

9. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. Follow a McDonald’s meal back to a cornfield in Iowa. Learn about the differences between large and small organic farms. See what it’s like to hunt and gather for oneself. Food is what builds our bodies – we ought to know what it takes to build our food.

10. Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities by Jan Martin Bang. Documenting some of the successful Ecovillages around the world, the author shows us how groups of people have come to together to live out the permaculture model in both rural and urban environments.

11. Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves by McCamant, Durrett and Hertzman. If you think intentional communities are too much like communes, but typical modern housing creates too much isolation, cohousing may be the answer you’re looking for. Explore these European neighborhoods built with the aim of fostering community while simultaneously respecting each family’s personal space.

12. The Findhorn Garden: Pioneering a New Vision of Man and Nature in Cooperation by The Findhorn Community. The founders of Findhorn were guided to begin growing a garden (including tomatoes, roses and tropicals) on an infertile, sandy plot in cold coastal Scotland. The quality and quantity of what they grew stunned horticulturists around the world. Enjoy this photo-filled book and learn the surprising secret of their success.

13. Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus. We’ve thus far created a modern world based on artificial ideals, but nature, which runs on sunlight and creates no waste, holds the solution to many modern problems. This isn’t a “back to nature” book, but rather a book proposing thoroughly modern technologies that copy nature’s best traits.

14. Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making by Allan Savory and Jody Butterfield. A great read for businesspeople and managers – particularly those in charge of large areas of land. This book views people, economies and the environment as interconnected. Using holistic management techniques, we can make decisions that take all factors into account, for both short and long term. I’d like our government leaders to read this book.

15. Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin. Living with less “stuff” can mean living with more purpose, balance and connection. Here’s the inspiration you need to scale back on material goods and make more room for the priceless things that money can’t buy.

16. Beyond Fossil Fools: The Roadmap to Energy Independence by 2040 by Joseph M. Shuster

If you’re on the fence about peak oil and the idea that we can “drill baby drill” our way to energy security, this book will be your wake-up call. The advice is practical, well-researched and very well-documented. It’s the kind of book you’d want everyone in Congress to read too, not to mention leaders all around the world.

17. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg

Until you read this book, you may not realize how the words you choose contribute to conflict. You think you’re explaining your feelings very clearly, but to the other person it sounds like an accusation. Nip misunderstandings in the bud, communicate more effectively and watch as you do a little soul searching to boot.

18. Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World by Alan Weisman

The ultimate intentional community that literally sprung out of nowhere. Deep in the impossibly barren savanna of Columbia, a community of brilliant, creative and visionary people (including scientists, artisans and ex-street kids) decided to do the unthinkable: create a self-sufficient village and invent the right technology (wind turbines, solar collectors and soil-free crop systems) to make it happen. If you hear anyone say “it just can’t be done,” give them a copy of Gaviotas and watch hope spring eternal.

19. Choosing Simplicity by Linda Breen Pierce

Living a simple life – that sounds good, but what does it really look like? What does it mean to implement simplicity in a hectic and complicated world? Read the stories of over 200 people – urban and rural – who have done just that.

20. Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf

Too much, too much, too much stuff, that’s what this culture is all about, and it’s making us sick. Affluenza is more than just overflowing landfills and obesity – it’s a deep spiritual illness and the root of many of the social problems we have in the world today.

21. Hope’s Edge by Frances Moore Lappe’

Author of 1971’s groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet, Lappe’ again explores the issue of food, but in the contemporary global world of the 21st century. She explores the way food is grown and the way communities thrive – or fail – around the world. Lappe’ busts corporate myths, gets to the core of truth and gives practical advice (and vegetarian recipes!) for creating a wholesome life in a better world.

22. One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

For the many among us who find gardening both a grounding and spiritual pursuit – and realizing that the two are not mutually exclusive – One Straw Revolution will likely improve your crop yields, lessen your work load and nudge you further along the road to inner peace. This is farming so radical, so simple and so passionate, you’ll be hard pressed to keep from creating an abundant patch of your very own.

23. Blessed Unrest: How The Largest Movement In The World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken

Word of mouth, grassroots and very likely Twittered, the (r)evolution is happening. With no leader, no headquarters and no media coverage, there still exists what can be called the largest gathering of people on Earth. And you’re very likely part of it.

24. A Reasonable Life: Toward a Simpler, Secure, More Humane Existence by Ferenc Mate

The author’s views might be radical, but someone has to say it. After all, if no one pushes the envelope, we might never change the status quo. Kind of like a smack upside the head to wake you up out of a bad dream – the American Dream.

25. The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff

Perhaps it’s obvious to you that our culture has a big, gaping hole of unhappiness that we constantly stuff with material possessions (think Affluenza), but how did we get this way? Liedloff’s fascinating observations on child-rearing, both in the modern world and among tribal people of the Amazon, shines a bright light on the issue. How we treat our babies makes a huge difference in how they treat the rest of the world later on. This is the book that sparked the babywearing trend in the United States.

26. The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Loss of tribal culture, overpopulation, the end of our excessively affluent petroleum-fueled lives; sounds like doom and gloom, but what next? This book presents the case passionately, then provides real options for future hope and change. But caveat emptor, the solution will require more than buying a Prius and switching to fluorescent lights – ultimately, we’ll need deep and systemic change. Think establishing communities, empowerment of women, turning off the television and reconnecting.

27. Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path of Awakening by Matthew & Terces Engelhart

Some people start a business simply to make money. Others want to provide valuable goods and services to the community. But have you heard of people starting a business as a way to move further along the spiritual path? The creators of Cafe Gratitude explain how this is possible – and even imperative – for the healthy future of commerce. Managers, this is your chance to create a quiet revolution in the workplace.

28. The Food Revolution : How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World by John Robbins

The title says it all. Whether you’re just beginning to understand the connection between diet and our environment at large, or if you need a well-documented resource to gather your own statistics and quotations, this is an essential book for the conscious eaters among us. Robbins, author of Diet for a New America, breaks down industry jargon and propaganda and presents the truth about what you eat, how you feel and how it all affects the world. Clear, concise and accessible.

Now if all these books were printed on tree-free paper (like Cradle to Cradle) with soy-based ink, we’d be another step towards true sustainability. Otherwise, the audio or e-book will suffice. However you do it, you’ll be inspired. Let us know any other books that are on your list of eco essentials.

Each week here at EcoSalon, the editors choose a post from the archives that we think you’ll love. The original posts can be found here and here.

Images: kimota, Lissalou66