This list includes some of the books that we have found informative, inspirational and mind-opening (in no particular order). Many of these books are free to download (provided free by the authors, protected under Creative Commons, or out of copyright), and we include links where possible.
Some other (very extensive) recommended reading lists for relevant topics are provided by:
1. Ray Kurzweil – How to Create a Mind (2012)
Kurzweil is a computer scientist, author and businessman who focuses on artificial intelligence (AI). He has published a lot about the “singularity”, the point in time where AI will have the same processing power and capabilities as the human brain, or as he puts it “when humans transcend biology”. In this book he describes the brain from a computer science perspective and discusses how what we know about the functioning of the brain can be used to create an artificial mind. In addition to the mechanics and algorithms of the brain, he presents several thought experiments to explore concepts such as consciousness and free will. While this is definitely not light bedtime reading, it is a thorough and fascinating look at human intelligence and the implications of AI on the future.
2. Mark Boyle – The Moneyless Man (2011)
Mark Boyle is now internationally famous for undertaking a year-long social experiment to live completely without money. This got a lot of media attention and resulted in this book (the proceeds of which are being used to establish a Freeconomy Community in the UK). This is a very easy to read and humorous account of his journey from being a very ordinary Irish guy becoming aware of the problems in the world to deciding to live without money. Boyle explores our obsession with money in an accessible way and offers lots of solutions and resources for moneyless and low-cost living.
3. Weston A. Price – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (1938)
Dr Weston A. Price spent decades travelling the world and living with traditional communities to study their health and nutrition. He was there at the right time to witness the transition of many communities from their traditional way of life to the consumption of modern processed foods. He observed the severe degradation in the health of these communities and began advocating traditional diets. Price and his followers argue for the consumption of whole foods, for example eating meat (including organ meat) with the fat attached, whole unpasteurized dairy and for the proper preparation of grains and vegetables to make them easier for our bodies to digest (e.g. lacto-fermentation). These days such ways of eating have gone out of favour and are actively discouraged by health experts who shun saturated fats, consumption of red meat and unpasteurized dairy, and encourage high consumption of grains (often highly processed and lacking in nutritionts). In addition to Price´s original work, Sally Fallon (director of the Weston A. Price Foundation) has published excellent, well-researched books (the “Nourishing Traditions” series) describing the science behind traditional diets and providing numerous recipes.
4. Jacque Fresco – The Best That Money Can´t Buy (2012)
Jacque Fresco is an architect, futurist and creator of The Venus Project. In this book he presents a design for a future “beyond politics, poverty, and war”. Many of the core concepts of a resource-based economy are discussed, including the use of the scientific method, decision making processes, and possible paths for making government and money obsolete. Some enabling technologies for achieving a resource-based economy, including clean energy, smart cities, automation and education are presented.
5. The Zeitgeist Movement Defined
This book is a collection of eighteen essays written by members of The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM), comprehensively describing the background, concepts and train of thought central to TZM. This is a very thorough analysis of the state of the world with respect to society, economy, politics and psychology. The history of our current economic and class system is described as a background for analyzing how we got to our current position. The final half of the book is devoted to exploring ideas for change, alternatives to the current system and technological solutions for a post-scarcity society. Finally the goals of TZM and their specific role in the transition to such a new society is discussed. A very dense and academic read, but well-referenced and argued and a great introduction to TZM and a resource-based economy in general.
6. Carl Sagan – Cosmos (1980)
Sagan was a highly celebrated astrophysicist who spent most of his career collaborating with NASA on the Mariner, Viking and Voyager expeditions to the planets. Sagan had a passion for communicating the wonders of scientific discovery to the general public which resulted in the acclaimed TV series “Cosmos” and many books. This book is an accompaniment to the television series, exploring the concepts in more detail. “Cosmos” is a journey from the earliest sparks of human curiosity and application of the scientific method to the inconceivable expanses and wonders of the infinite universe. Spending so much time contemplating the cosmos, Sagan gained an appreciation of the fragility of this “small blue dot” of planet Earth that we call home – a tiny world within one of a hundred billion similar galaxies illuminated by one of a billion trillion stars. It is inconceivable that our planet is unique and we are the only intelligent life in the universe, but our planet is uniquely habitable for the human race as we evolved here. Sagan ends this book with warnings against continuing on the path of destruction of the human race, citing nationalism, nuclear proliferation and climate change as real threats for our extinction.
“There are worlds on which life has never arisen. There are worlds that have been charred and ruined by cosmic catastrophes. We are fortunate: we are alive; we are powerful; the welfare of our civilization and our species is in our hands. If we do not speak for Earth, who will? If we are not committed to our own survival, who will be?”
7. Douglas Adams – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
Firstly a radio series, then books and movies, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” is a bizarre comedic science fiction story that makes you look differently at planet Earth and our place within the universe. Join Arthur Dent, an ordinary earthman, on a crazy romp through space after he is rescued seconds before Earth is destroyed to make way for an intergalactic highway. Adams uses a string of zany characters including a manically-depressed robot, the bureaucratic Vogon species, a two-headed egotistical president of the galaxy and some pesky white mice to answer all the important questions in the universe and take a satirical poke at the crazy world we have created here on Earth.
8. George Orwell – Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
These are both classic dystopian novels that merge political comment with literary genius. “Nineteen Eighty-Four” introduced the world to Big Brother, the omnipotent leader of The Party, inflicting complete totalitarian control over the people. The story follows middle-aged Winston Smith who works for the Ministry of Truth, changing old newspaper articles to match the new truth as decided by The Party. Winston is disgusted by the excesses of his rulers and his lack of freedom and sets out to record his thoughts and expose The Party´s fraud, a dangerous desire in a world of 24 hour surveillance where even one´s thoughts are controlled. In many ways this was an accurate prediction of the 20th century which encourages the reader to question authority, government policy and media and be aware of the “double-speak” all around us.
Orwell described “Animal Farm” as a satirical criticism of the Stalin dictatorship. The story is set on Manor Farm where Old Major the boar incites a revolution to overthrow the dictatorial humans that are profiting from the labour of the animals. What starts as a better life with all animals being equal slowly degrades as the pigs take leadership and privileges for themselves until the animals have less freedom than they had before.
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.
9. William McDonough and Michael Braungart – Cradle to Cradle
Standard manufacturing of consumer goods operates on the “cradle-to-grave” model, where products are produced, consumed and then discarded. In the current economic system continuous growth is required for a strong economy and planned obsolescence (limiting the lifetime of a product to increase sales) is widely practiced. This results in an extremely wasteful system which uses raw materials and natural resources (energy, water etc.) in a highly unsustainable manner. Alternatively, the “cradle-to-cradle” concept promotes the consideration of the entire lifecycle of a product during the design phase, with the intention of returning as many of the raw materials as possible back into the manufacturing chain at the end of the useful life of the product. In addition, the processing and manufacturing of the product is designed for real efficiency (reducing time, energy and water use etc.). Fortunately these efficiency measures also save money, so McDonough and Braungart have been able to successfully sell this concept to large manufacturers (such as GM and Nike). Such a holistic view of resource use will be critical for the success of a resource-based economy, so it is very interesting to see its implementation within the monetary system.
10. Charles Darwin – On the Origin of the Species (1859)
Darwin´s lifetime of work culminated in this ground-breaking book describing his (then new) theory of the evolution of species – random genetic mutations favourable to the survival of a species in a particular environment are more likely to be passed on through a process of “natural selection”. Although this basic concept is now quite well known (although not universally accepted), it is fascinating to take the journey through Darwin´s thought process as he slowly accumulates extensive evidence for his theory, and questions and doubts his own religion and scientific beliefs.