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‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

‘The Limits to Growth’ (1972)

Published in 1972, and shrouded in controversy since that date, ‘The Limits to Growth’ is the most successful econometric projection ever made.

The idea of these of blog posts is to introduce people to some ‘historic’ books and reports, which I think should be more widely read. To start, I thought I’d pick a book that for years has been vilified or deliberately ignored. Any discussion of its content is shrouded in controversy. It’s the 1972 book, ‘The Limits to Growth’.

My version is a second revised edition from 1974. Its 200 pages are a little more beaten-up than when I bought it second hand, as I refer to it quite a bit in debates.

Paul Ehrlich’s, ‘The Population Bomb’, had launched a debate about humans and the environment. Problem was, that book is based on pretty poor data. To resolve that lack of evidence, a group of scientists decided to create a properly researched model to look at humanity’s effect on their finite environment.

At this time ‘systems science’, computer models, and computer-based projection, were a very new thing – relatively little understood by politicians and the public. This new application of mathematics had arisen out of Cold War strategic planning. Applying it to global ecological issues was, though, a revolutionary idea.

The group outlined its work on page 27:

The model we have constructed is, like every other model, imperfect, oversimplified, and unfinished. We are well aware of its shortcomings, but we believe that it is the most useful model now available for dealing with problems…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book review of Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild & Americas Plant Hunters

Book review of Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild & Americas Plant Hunters

Preface. Botanist David Fairchild is one of the reasons the average grocery store has 39,500 items. Before he came along, most people ate just a few kinds of food day in day out (though that was partly due to a lack of refrigeration).

I have longed to eat a mangosteen ever since I read this book, Fairchild’s favorite fruit, with mango a close second. But no luck so far.

What wonderful and often adventurous work Fairchild and other botanists had traveling all over the world in search of new crops American farmers could grow. Grains that could grow in colder climates were sought out.

Since 80 to 90% of future generations will be farmers after fossil fuels are gone, who will be growing food organically since fertilizer and pesticides are made from natural gas and oil, it would be wise for them to plant as many varieties of crops as possible not only for gourmet meals, but biodiversity, pest control, and a higher quality of life.

As usual, what follows are Kindle notes, this isn’t a proper book review.


Amanda Harris.  2015. Fruits of Eden: David Fairchild and Americas Plant Hunters. University Press of Florida. 

At the end of the 19th century, most food in America was bland and brown. The typical family ate pretty much the same dishes every day. Their standard fare included beefsteaks smothered in onions, ham with rank-smelling cabbage, or maybe mushy macaroni coated in cheese. Since refrigeration didn’t exist, ingredients were limited to crops raised in the backyard or on a nearby farm. Corn and wheat, cows and pigs dominated American agriculture and American kitchens.

Fairchild transformed American meals by introducing foods from other countries. His campaign began as a New Year’s Resolution for 1897 and continued for more than 30 years, despite difficult periods of xenophobia at home and international warfare abroad…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alice Friedemann’s LIFE AFTER FOSSIL FUELS A Reality Check on Alternative Energy

Alice Friedemann’s


A Reality Check on Alternative Energy

Fossil fuels are the lifeblood of modern industrial society, and they’re steadily being depleted. Eventually, their rates of production will cease to grow and will begin to permanently decline, spelling disaster for a civilization dependent on ever-increasing quantities of ever-cheaper fossil energy. Their supposed replacements are pitiably inadequate, possessing nowhere near the necessary abundance, concentration, versatility, transportability and/or commercial viability. Given how long it takes to build an entirely new energy infrastructure, the time to begin doing so was decades ago. Since we didn’t do that, we now face not a continuation of our present lifestyles courtesy of alternative energy sources, but an involuntary “simplification” of every aspect of our lives, to quote energy researcher and author Alice Friedemann.

While many of the above facts are well known among those who follow the subject of fossil fuel depletion, they aren’t often presented as accessibly or concisely as in Friedemann’s book Life After Fossil Fuels. Friedemann excels at distilling the intricacies of our energy situation down into short, easily digestible chapters. Her writing is relaxed and witty, and she makes fine use of graphs, figures and future scenarios to illustrate her points. Her policy prescriptions are both eminently sensible and anathema to today’s mainstream sensibilities. (It’s difficult to imagine, for instance, a politician or pundit proposing the replacement of tractors with horses, no matter how great the benefit to fuel conservation efforts and the health of soils.) In short, herein lies a powerhouse of deftly conveyed information and insight into our current historical moment with regard to energy.

A Novel

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Rationing. Book review of “Any way you slice it” by Stan Cox

Rationing. Book review of “Any way you slice it” by Stan Cox

Preface. I can’t imagine that there’s a better book on rationing out there, but of course I can’t be sure, I don’t feel the need to find others on this topic after reading this book. As usual, I had to leave quite a bit out of this review, skipping medical care rationing entirely among many other topics. Nor did I capture the myriad ways rationing can go wrong, so if you ever find yourself in a position of trying to implement a rationing system, or advocating for a rationing system, you’ll wish you’d bought this book. I can guarantee you the time is coming when rationing will be needed, in fact, it’s already here with covid-19. I’ve seen food lines over a mile long.

As energy declines, food prices will go up and at some point gasoline, food, electricity, and heating as well, all of them ought to be rationed.

Though this might not happen in the U.S. where the most extreme and brutal capitalism exists.  Here the U.S. is the richest nation that ever existed but the distribution of wealth is among the most unfair on the planet.  When the need to ration strikes, economists will argue against it I’m sure, saying there’ll be too much cheating and it will be too hard to implement.  Capitalism hates price controls. That’s why “publicly raising the question of curbing growth or uttering the dread word “rationing” in the midst of a profit-driven economy has been compared to shouting an obscenity in church”.

Republicans constantly want to cut back the affordable care act and the food stamp program SNAP.  Companies keep their workforces as small as possible and shift jobs and factories overseas to nations with lower wages and fewer regulations…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy

In January, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Budget and Economic outlook for 2020 to 2030. It is horrific reading. Federal budget deficits are projected to rise from $1.0 trillion this year to $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years.

Federal debt will rise to 98% of GDP by 2030, “its highest percentage since 1946,” the CBO says. “By 2050, debt would be 180% of GDP—far higher than it has ever been.” And that was before Covid-19 hit. Now those numbers will be much, much worse.

On top of this, politicians have been announcing grand schemes for further spending: $47 billion on free college tuition, $1 trillion for new infrastructure, $1.4 trillion to write off student loan debt, at least $7 trillion on the Green New Deal and $32 trillion on Medicare for All. By one estimate, these new proposals total an estimated $42.5 trillion over the next decade.

Adding these new spending proposals to the flood of red ink the CBO projects just from following the current path, the federal government is set to face a serious fiscal crisis in the not-too-distant future.


Or, perhaps not. There is an idea afoot in economics that, as Bernie Sanders’ former economic advisor Stephanie Kelton argues in her new book The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, could revolutionize the field in the same way that Copernicus did to astronomy by showing that the earth orbited the sun.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) states that “in almost all instances federal deficits are good for the economy. They are necessary.” That being so, we don’t have to worry about this coming deluge of red ink, indeed:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Review of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System

Facing the Anthropocene


This review is a critique of Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System by Ian Angus. The review adopted a multi-theoretical framework that combines insights from socio-cognitive terminology theory (STT), legitimation code theory (LCT) and critical discourse analysis (CDA) to respond to some claims and a proposal discussed in the book. The review further appraises two essays in the appendix of the book that clarify some misconceptions and confusions on anthropocene discourse, particularly on whether the choice of the term anthropocene is appropriate. The review concludes with an analysis of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) with a view to show that: (a) the terminology of climate change discourse is also prone to variation and (b) the use of the terms (climate change) and (global warming) interchangeably in the book is indexical of growth in disciplinarity.


Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System describes a new geological epoch (the anthropocene) and its impacts on the earth system. The book further identifies the possible cause of the present crisis of the earth system (fossil capitalism) and discusses the effects of fossil capitalism on the earth system (environmental degradation, climate change). The book concludes with a proposal on what needs to be done (eco-civilization and solidarity) to address the environmental crisis caused by exploration of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) for economic gains. The book is a critique of fossil fuel economy that is underpinned with Marxist Ecological Thinking and backed with epistemic inputs from cutting edge research in the sciences (Chemistry, Geology, Atmospheric Science, Geophysics, Hydrology, Marine, Meteorology and Cosmology) and the social sciences (Neo-classical Economics, Geography).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

GROWTH: From Microorganisms to Megacities

GROWTH: From Microorganisms to Megacities

Vaclav Smil’s latest book explores growth in nature and society. It examines the rules and patterns of growth in four key domains, those of the living world; human energy consumption; human artifacts; and human populations, societies and economies. The author is a passionate advocate of quantitative analysis, and thus Growth is filled with numbers, graphs and mathematical notation. Yet it’s written to be easily understood by non-mathematicians, making brilliant but accessible use of statistics to illustrate salient features of growth in all its terrestrial forms (the book’s scope is limited to Earth). In short, Growth is a compelling read for statisticians and non-statisticians alike.

A favorite author of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and a Foreign Policy magazine Top 100 Global Thinker, Smil is known for his multidisciplinary approach, energy-related expertise and penchant for packing his many books with all manner of fascinating facts. Growth‘s chapter on the biological realm supplies as fine a sampling of this latter propensity as can be found. Did you know that average dinosaur body volumes declined at the beginning of the final period of the Mesozoic era but then made a near-comeback to their previous highs by the time of the dinosaurs’ extinction? You will after reading this book–and if you’re as much of a nerd as I am, you’ll relish this and innumerable other scientific tidbits. You’ll also be awed by the 100-page bibliography and the fact that scarcely a sentence goes by without some bit of quantitative analysis or scholarly citation.

A Novel

Prehistoric trivia aside, Smil’s chapter on the living world rightly focuses on those life forms most necessary to humanity’s survival and the functioning of the biosphere. These include, of course, modern-day trees and forests, microorganisms, agricultural crops and animals.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Uninhabitable Earth.

The Uninhabitable Earth.

This is a book review that I wrote, which will be published in the journal, Science Progress, of which I am an editor.
“The Uninhabitable Earth.” DAVID WALLACE-WELLS. Allen Lane 2019 ISBN 9780241355213; xx + 310 pp; £20.00

As set in motion by human hands, the forces of the Anthropocene – a word coined to mark the scale of our intervention in Nature as numbering among those of previous geological epochs – are predicted to drive the Earth system in expressing climate change to a degree that for many of the almost 8 billion, let alone 11-12 billion predicted to be here by 2100, the Earth would have become barely tolerable, and for some, actually uninhabitable, depending on the degree of warming that prevails by then, and the attendant consequences to the natural commons of air, land and water, which would be manifest unevenly around the globe. Even if we could halt our carbon emissions, instantly and today, the intrinsic inertia of the Earth system would nonetheless unfold the rising of sea levels, the degradation of land, and other changes (some, as yet, unknown) for centuries, perhaps millennia, to come. The book, “Uninhabitable Earth”, begins with “Cascades”, and takes a look at some of the likely consequences of climate change, the magnitude of which will be tuned according to the degree of warming that is unleashed, including mass migration of climate refugees, water scarcity, famine, a more extreme climate,  wildfires, outbreaks of disease, and extreme “once every 500 years” events that become more the norm (“rain bombs”, mighty hurricanes), since the effects are not binary – “yes”, “no”; “on”, “off” – but exponential, and worsen over time, so long as we continue to produce, and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Demonocracy: The Great Human Scourge!

Demonocracy: The Great Human Scourge!

Review: Christophe Buffin de Chosal, The End of Democracy, Translated by Ryan P. Plummer.  Printed in the U.S.A.: Tumblar House, 2017.


One cannot speak too highly of Christophe Buffin de Chosal’s The End of Democracy.  In a fast paced, readable, yet scholarly fashion, Professor Buffin de Chosal* demolishes the ideological justification in which modern democracy rests while he describes the disastrous effects that democratic rule has had on Western societies.  He explodes the myth of Democracy as a protector of individual liberty, a prerequisite for economic progress, and a promoter of the higher arts.  Once Democracy is seen in this light, a far more accurate interpretation of modern history can be undertaken.  The book is a very suitable companion to Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s iconoclastic take down of democracy in Democracy: The God That Failed, released at the beginning of this century.  Buffin de Chosal has spoken of a follow up which will be eagerly awaited for.

Democratic Governance

The idea of rule by the people is a scam, one perpetuated by those who, in actuality, are in control of the government.  Through the “democratic process” of voting and elections, a small, determined minority can impose its will despite majority opposition:

We often hear it said that ‘in a democracy,

it is the people who rule. . . .’  Rule by the

people is a myth which loses all substance

once confronted with the real practice in

democracy.  [13]

Quoting from a Russian philosopher, Buffin de Chosal continues his criticism:

    The best definition [of democracy] was

given by the Russian philosopher Vasily Rozanov. 

‘Democracy is the system by which an

organized minority governs an unorganized

majority.’  This ‘unorganized majority’ is the

people, aggregated and individualistic,

incapable of reaction because disjointed.  [28]

He expands upon Rozanov’s theme:

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft

The threat posed by global warming and environmental degradation are the most pressing examples of what has become known over the past several decades as the ‘tragedy of the commons’. In this book, Derek Wall explores the work of the late Nobel Laureate, Elinor Ostrom, on how humans can overcome this problem, and sustain the commons over the long term. Chris Shaw finds that this book is an accessible presentation of Ostrom’s ideas.

The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft. Derek Wall. Routledge. 2014.

Derek Wall has been an important figure in the Green Party for a number of years and also works as Associate Tutor in the Department of Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London. He has written extensively on the subject of green politics and green economics. In The Sustainable Economics of Elinor Ostrom: Commons, Contestation and Craft, he examines what the idea of the commons can contribute to the building of an ecologically sustainable future. He approaches this analysis through an overview of the work of the late Elinor Ostrom (who died in 2012), the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in economic sciences.

Ostrom’s principal interest was in how institutions worked or failed to sustain collective resource use. Ostrom noted that self-governing entities exist at a variety of scales and can be found in both the public and private sphere. The key question for Ostrom was: ‘How can fallible human beings achieve and sustain self-governing ways of life and self-governing entities as well as sustaining ecological systems at multiple scales?’

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage; A friendly critique

Few have made a more commendable contribution to saving the planet than George Monbiot. His recent book, Out of the Wreckage, continues the effort and puts forward many important ideas…but I believe there are problems with his diagnosis and his remedy.

The book is an excellent short, clear account of several of the core faults in consumer-capitalist society, and the alternatives advocated are admirable. George’s focal concern is the loss of community, and the cause is, as we know, neo-liberalism. He puts this in terms of the “story” that dominates thinking. Today the taken for granted background story about society is that it is made of competitive, self-interest-maximizing individuals, and therefore our basic institutions and processes are geared to a struggle to accumulate private wealth, rather than to encouraging concern for each other and improving the welfare of all. Thatcher went further, instructing us that there is not even any such thing as society, only individuals. George begins by rightly contradicting such vicious nonsense, pointing out that humans are fundamentally nice, altruistic, caring and cooperative, but we have allowed these dispositions to be overridden primarily by an economic system that obliges us to behave differently.

He gives heavy and convincing documentation of- this theme. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with several indicators of the sad state of affairs. “ … this age of atomization breeds anxiety, discontent and unhappiness.” (p. 18.) “An epidemic of loneliness is sweeping the world.” (p. 16.) Chapter 3 deals with the way neoliberalism has caused the social damage that has accumulated over the last forty years.

But my first concern with the book is that disastrous as it is, neo-liberalism isn’t the main problem confronting us and likely to destroy us.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The progress of this storm: Nature and society in a warming world

The progress of this storm: Nature and society in a warming world

Andreas Malm’s powerful critique of current environmental philosophies puts historical materialism and cutting-edge science at the center of a call for militant action

Andreas Malm
Nature and society in a warming world

Verso Books, 2018

reviewed by Ian Angus

Anyone who reads contemporary green literature has seen books with titles like The End of Nature, and statements such as these:

  • “There is no such thing as nature.”[1]
  • “Nature is nothing if it is not social.”[2]
  • “Many of us no longer believe in a Nature that is independent of the Anthropos.”[3]
  • “There is nothing in our environment that we have not, in some sense or other, had a hand in producing.”[4]
  • “In every respect the world we inhabit will henceforth be the world we have made.”[5]
  • “The contrast between what is nature and what is not no longer makes any sense.”[6]

In contrast to environmentalists who want to protect nature, in some circles it has become common, even fashionable, to assert that nature no longer exists, that humans have taken over and it is impossible to distinguish between what is natural and what is social. The proponents of such views aren’t just saying that humans are part of the natural world; rather they claim that nature and society literally cannot be separated, in theory or in practice. “For better or worse,” writes Bruno Latour, “we have entered into a postnatural world.”[7]

Proponents of this viewpoint fall into three camps. Ecomodernists see the end of nature as cause for celebration. We should expand and deepen the process, to free humanity from dependence on nature and use whatever of it remains for our benefit. Others mourn the loss of nature but see no way out.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Seneca Effect: a Book Review by Jantje Hannover

The Seneca Effect: a Book Review by Jantje Hannover

This is a review of the German edition of “The Seneca Effect” written by Jantie Hannover for the site of the radio station “Deutschelandfunk.” Very well done by someone who really read the book. Here I report a translation made mainly using “Google Translate,” and also some intervention on my part. Not a very good English, but at least understandable (U.B.)

Collapsing Systems

What empires and avalanches have in common

The Italian chemistry professor Ugo Bardi has written a book about the Seneca effect. He refers to the abrupt collapse of systems: observed in avalanches and balloons, but also in financial market bubbles and powerful empires.
By Jantje Hannover

When a balloon bursts or an avalanche takes place, it is a network structure that suddenly reorganizes. (image stock & people / Michael Nolan and Oekom Verlag)

Net, nodes, and collapses

“It would be a consolation to our weak souls and our works, if all things would slowly pass away as they arise, but as it happens, growth is slow, while the road to ruin is fast.”

This is what the Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said about 2,000 years ago. And as if Seneca had wanted to prove this sentence, in the course of his life he too had become more and more wealthy and influential, even rising up to become advisor to Emperor Nero. Until he fell out of favor and was eventually suspected of being part of a plot against the Emperor. Then, Nero ordered him to commit suicide.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Book Review: Food Scarcity. Unavoidable by 2100?

Book Review: Food Scarcity. Unavoidable by 2100?

This is an excerpt from the review by Ugo Bardi published on the “Journal of Population and Sustainability

Scientific studies that examine the food supply and its correlation to human population have a long tradition that goes back to Thomas Malthus and his “An Essay on the Future of Population“ of 1798. From then on, the field has remained politically charged. Still today, Malthus is often dismissed as a doomsday prophet whose apocalyptic predictions turned out to be wrong. But Malthus lacked the modern concept of “overshoot and collapse” and he never predicted the kind of population crashes that we associate to modern famines.

Another study often accused of having been overly catastrophistic in terms of the future of the human population is the report to the Club of Rome titled “The Limits to Growth”, published in its first version in 1972. This is also a misinterpretation, since none of the several scenarios reported in 1972 foresaw a population decline before entering the second half of the 21st century.

In analogy with the first report to the Club of Rome, the recent book by Weiler and Demuynck, “Food Scarcity” approaches an old problem with a new methodology. While “The Limits to Growth” was one of the first studies to apply system dynamics to the study of the economy, “Food Scarcity” is among the first studies that applies the modern network theory to the world’s food system. The resulting book, “Food Scarcity,” is an ambitious attempt to pack an enormous amount of material into just 150 pages. It starts with a review of the situation of the world’s food supply with extensive data on the different climate systems, cultivation technologies, geographical conditions, and more.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Rauli Partanen, Harri Paloheimo, and Heikki Waris

Reviewed by Frank Kaminski

Toward the end of this book, its authors make an astute, if self-deprecating, observation about its potential merits. They’ve been discussing how innate human biases cause us to make cognitive errors when trying to make sense of world crises. They’ve described in particular the tendency of scientifically knowledgeable people to become less convinced about climate change the more evidence they encounter for it, due to confirmation bias. For the authors, this fact “raises the question of how meaningful writing this book has actually been.” Won’t skeptical readers simply cherry-pick the data that supports their views and reject the rest? While it is, of course, correct that some readers will do this, there’s no question that writing the book has been meaningful. Indeed, in this era of unprecedented challenge, few things could be more meaningful than accurate knowledge such as this book contains, together with the will to act on that knowledge.

Written by Finnish energy analysts Rauli Partanen, Harri Paloheimo and Heikki Waris, The World After Cheap Oil offers an exhaustive, up-to-date dissection of the world oil situation. It looks at the issue from every angle, starting with the looming supply shock for which the world’s developed nations are tragically unprepared, and moving on to the concomitant crisis with Earth’s climate that our oil use has unleashed. It also supplies an in-depth assessment of alternative energy sources, as well as the science, geopolitics, psychology and economics vital to understanding our predicament. Unquestionably the book’s strongest points are its wealth of hard data, straightforward explanations and informative visual aids. Indeed, the authors aptly describe their purpose as providing “a thorough package of information” about the end of cheap oil.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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