We wanted to include a page that shows both some of the sites that have inspired our trip and that inform the incoherent ramblings we stick up on the site. Not surprisingly, some of the most interesting links are not on the internet at all, but are on sale at your local (independent we hope!) book store. If you have any others to suggest, we are, of course, always open for reading suggestions!
Africa: a Biography of the Continent by John Reader is probably the best overall book on the subject. Reader traces the history of Africa from the cooling of the planet to the genocide in Rwanda and the first free elections in South Africa. The book is a sharp rebuff to the popular view that African history began with colonization (or even with independence); Africa is the oldest continent and Reader adequately shows that its history is the longest, not the shortest.
Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles by Richard Dowden is another good overall view of the continent, this one written by the former Africa editor for the Independent. As with many overview books by newspaper journalists, it can be a bit rambling and sometimes lacks synthesis, but the stories he tells of contemporary Africa, of both the challenges it faces and the opportunities it offers, are truly provocative. The book raises a lot of questions both about where the continent is going and about how we in the west can help and hinder it along that path.
A Continent for the Taking: the Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard French gives yet another great overall view on the continent. French was for 25 years the correspondant for the NY times and was permanently based in Ivory Coast for that time. The book is his memoir with a large part being dedicated to thought provoking facts. French’s African-American origins also give him a perspective different from other writers – as we have come to learn while biking, when it comes to Africa, skin color makes a big difference. Very engaged; a must read.
African Friends and Money Matters by David Maranz probably did more to help us understand Africa than any other book we read. An anthropologist, Maranz examines a hundred or so practical every day situations where cultural misunderstandings arise between Africans and Westerners, particularly relating to money. It is simple and clear and the most practical and useful book about Africa that exists.
There are plenty other books we have read that we would love to recommend, but we worry this would take too much space. Novels, for instance, can give a more intimate look on a country’s personality than nonfiction, and Africa is home to some of the world’s best novelists: Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, the list goes on and on…
If it really is nonfiction you need though, there is Unbowed: One Woman’s Story, a memoir by Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, Congo: Plunder and Resistance by David Renton, David Seddon, and Leo Zellig and even Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which isn’t about Africa in particular but can still go a long way to answering the pesky question of why the world is the way it is…
Well, if you talk about the environment, you talk about climate change. The book which really woke us up to the immediacy of this problem was Eaarth by Bill McKibben, which looks at the most recent scientific discoveries and makes the case that we live on a fundamentally changed planet – one that seems the same but that is fundamentally different. Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard has a similar idea, though it goes into much more practical detail on actions being taken all over the world to adapt to the changes that are coming.
Six Degrees by Mark Lynas is the next logical book for anyone interested in really understanding climate change. Lynas has compiled a survey of peer-reviewed literature to look at what changes we can expect with each degree of global warming. If you’ve ever wondered just what it means when your president says “We must limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius,” then this is the book for you. It is an easy read, but be warned, it’s very scary, very upsetting stuff. Everyone should read it though, this is happening now, and far scarier than understanding it is understanding that nothing is going to stop it.
Storms of my Grandchildren, is by James Hansen from NASA, considered by many to be the world’s foremost climate scientist. The book covers not only the science behind climate change, but also the politics, including the Bush administration’s attempts to silence Hansen and ignore climate science. Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes would make a nice next read – it covers how science and politics mix in the United States, tracing anti-science propaganda from the tobacco industry to attempts to discredit Silent Spring today and of course, climate change as well.
Another excellent book about the state of the environment and our global food system is End of Food by Paul Roberts, a fairly balanced account that comes to some pretty chilling conclusions. If this doesn’t make you want to go out and plant your own garden then nothing will. Seriously, it’s a must read.
On the water subject, we enjoyed When the Rivers Run Dry by Fred Pierce, a more magazine-esque review of the state of the world’s rivers. Again though, some pretty upsetting conclusions. But then, doesn’t that seem to be always the case with books about the environment? We tried reading another book by Pierce about population, but it read like an incoherent rant and we couldn’t finish it.
The Way: Towards an Ecological Worldview, by Edward Goldsmith is the beginning and end for us when it comes to ecology. Goldsmith doesn’t mention permaculture once in his book, a sort of treatise on ecological thinking, but any ecology which doesn’t follow The Way is going to find itself short in the long run, and permaculture is a big part of this. For us, this book is the answer, a challenge for how we all should aspire to live our lives.
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway does a great job of introducing the concepts of permaculture and showing how they can be applied in a temperate climate (though he lives in Oregon, the land of milk and honey, so it’s not quite fair…). The book is a bit more profound than many other introductory texts on permaculture, and yet not quite so dense as the Designer’s Manual, and so it makes for a nice place to begin or to continue thinking about questions of design.
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual by Bill Mollison is just as much a bible as The Way. If there is a question you confront in planning your land, it is addressed in this book, though maybe on a much deeper level than you would need. Still, it gives you all kinds of bad ideas and makes you dream, so what more could you want.
We’re tempted to include Collapse by Jared Diamond here, since it certainly makes the case for sustainable agriculture, even if it isn’t about permaculture in particular. And of course The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka is a book to read over and over again.
There are also plenty of good permaculture websites around, including:
www.neverendingfood.org – Stacia and Kristof have lived in Malawi for so long they’re almost citizens – and this is a big part of why they’re such impressive people. Teaching permaculture in Africa the way it should be, and really reaching people because of it. We could all learn a lot from them.
www.naturesgiftpermaculture.org – A permaculture center started in 2010 that we visited while in Malawi. They’re fantastic, and they’ve accomplished a ton considering the short period they’ve been around for. Really, can’t say enough about them, if you’re in the area you should swing by and check it out.
www.permacultureusa.org – Permaculture in the US of A! Great site, lots of links to other permaculture activities all over the US and world.
www.permacultureactivist.net – American magazine on permaculture. Dave had an article appear in their December ‘09 issue, so we like them…