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Jamie Osborne (Belgium)

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Debt: The First 5,000 Years
Debt: The First 5,000 Years
by David Graeber
Edition: Hardcover

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economics as if Adam Smith didn't matter, 27 May 2012
I've given this book 5 stars because I'm convinced that it has the potential to change the conventional narrative about economics and money, and in doing so can help us navigate towards a more humane economy that better serves the long-term interests of humanity...

Debt is a long overdue anthropological view of money and of human economies (by "anthropological" I mean it starts many thousands of years before Adam Smith!) In his exploration, Graeber challenges much of the conventional wisdom that we all "know" about economics and money.

The breadth of material that Graeber covers is extraordinarily ambitious and though anchored in the perspective of social anthropology, he also draws on economics and finance, law, history, classics, sociology, linguistics, and philosophy.

Few mere mortals can keep up with such multidisciplinary competence, so I was delighted to discover that CrookedTimber dot org has done a "seminar" on the book. (Look for the Book Events link on the bottom right) They draw on experts and scholars from many of these different disciplines to provide some important and fascinating critical perspective. Graeber himself responds in perhaps slightly too pugnacious but nonetheless enlightening detail.

Oh - In case you haven't heard... In addition to being a world-reknown intellectual anthropologist, Graeber is a world-reknown intellectual anarchist. This anarchist label is typically used to try discredit him and I admit that it gave me pause for thought about his motives in writing such a book. I have followed him closely on Twitter since starting this book though, and I have heard little to fear from his worldview and much to respect. In these current troubled times, I'm willing to listen to anyone who has a coherent story that challenges the orthodoxy that we hear from mainstream media, business leaders, and politicians. Graeber's core theses feel sound and they are well presented in an entertaining and highly educational book.

I'm convinced that if we are going to find our way out of the current mess then we need to think deeper and wider than just unrolling 30 years or so of neoliberal orthodoxy - What was happening before was just as damaging to long-term human flourishing and was just as surely destroying our only planet (although admittedly at a slightly less breakneck pace.)

By taking an anthropological view, Graeber helps shine a light on what it is about human economies that make them humane...

If you're the kind of person who loves to have your moral and intellectual foundations challenged, then this book is for you. The first chapter is free online at mhpbooks dot com - check it out and make your own call on whether it is worth investing in the full book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2015 8:36 AM GMT

World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
by Lester Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another important contribution from Brown and the Earth Policy Institute, 27 May 2011
As the other reviewers note, World on the Edge is at its core an updated and hence even more strident version of Brown's brilliant Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization.

I won't bore you with another long review, but instead refer you to my detailed review of Plan B here to understand what this is all about:

I will close this review in the same vein as my Plan B review though:

"I cannot recommend this book highly enough - read it - get your kids to read it - get your parents to read it - give it to your neighbours. What are you waiting for? It's free! Go to the Website and download the PDF - get the presentation and all the other stuff that goes with the book while you're there."

Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity
by James Hansen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leaves no room for continued debate., 24 Feb. 2011
These are the words of an expert who is sick of having his message filtered and manipulated by politicians and media. They are also the words of a caring scientist and grandfather, who is not afraid to show his human side.

It is a rare pleasure to hear such an eminent scientist speaking so clearly with his heart as well as his head. These words deserve to be heard - this is a truly wonderful book.

Storms of My Grandchildren is well written and comprehensive. My only slight reservation in an otherwise wholehearted recommendation is to suggest that it might not be the perfect *first* book for a climate change layman - *Complete* newbies might find that some technical concepts and terms are slightly more gently introduced in one of the other excellent books by popular science writers and journalists (such as Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet). Also, some of Hansen's personal anecdotes refer to situations that may be a little obscure if you haven't been following both sides of the debate for a while.

Don't let that put you off though - If you understand the basics, yet still have doubts, then you should read this book immediately. It fills in many of the scientific and political gaps that most other writers are either unqualified to comment on, or seem too afraid to touch.

There is simply no room for continued debate once you've heard Hansen's impassioned yet reasoned tale.

Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things
by Michael Braungart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Need help to imagine a sustainable future without giving up all our mod cons?, 28 Aug. 2010
Word of warning to anyone who already has the last edition - this is not a significant new revision - there are disappointingly few new revelations here.

Having said that, if you haven't read the first edition, then everything in here is still brilliant, and more relevant today than ever.

Like most books in this domain, Cradle to Cradle starts a little alarmist, with a catalogue of woes about many of the bad things in the world today. Don't be put off though because this is definitely a book about solutions, not problems.

McDonough and Braungart propose a sustainable economic and manufacturing model that is sound and easy to understand. A capitalist model that is far more resource efficient and better for the environment, but which still allows for differentiation and innovation of producers.

A model that rewards innovative and waste-conscious suppliers, but which leaves consumers who want to stay ahead of the Joneses plenty of scope to do so.

Most importantly, by helping us consider the real design source of the problems that humanity faces, Cradle to Cradle really proposes a fundamental shift from a perception of humanity as a parasite. It helps us to imagine a world where we live far better than we do today, but within our natural systems.

If you believe (as I do) that humanity is able to transcend our parasitism without devolving to mud huts, then this book is a brilliant place to start.

The Family
The Family
by Jeff Sharlet
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worldview changing - Helps to explain so much that is 'inexplicable'..., 26 Aug. 2010
This review is from: The Family (Paperback)
I grew up irreligious in secular Australia, so I had no mental model to explain the 'weirdness' that I experienced when I lived in the US for almost five years (coincidentally around 9/11).

I sensed that there was something deeper to American Christianity than secular Americans and even most religious non-Americans perceived, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It is certainly not all about the stereotype of greedy, hypocrite televangelists who exploit naÔve and (deliberately?) undereducated people. Yet, most secular analyses seemed to barely scratch the surface before dismissing the problem with a slightly embarrassed shrug.

Until I read Sharlet's book, I was unable to start a conversation on the topic of how dangerous I feel that 'American Christianity' is without sounding like a raving conspiracy nut - I admit that I still do sound a bit that way, but at least now, I have the language, historical perspective, and real-world examples to help get my point across a little better :-)

This book exposes in amazing detail (naming names all the way) the American religion of empire. It explains that beyond the stereotypical populist idiocy, 'American Christianity' has a 'private', elite stream. For the best part of a century, these elites have been directly implicated in many of the more 'inexplicable' horrors of modern history.

The Family is far more than just a history lesson though. It is an invaluable guide if, like me, you are searching for a deeper understanding of the critical issues of our 'enlightened' times. It gives a sense of the true agenda behind the recent rise in religiosity and science denial. Can't understand why neoliberalism seems so bigoted and shortsighted, or what really drives phenomena like climate change denial? Sharlet provides some excellent clues.

Sharlett is eloquent, intelligent, and dogmatic in his defence of a really quite challenging thesis. Whatever your religious persuasion, The Family is an important book that you will enjoy on multiple levels, while it changes the way you view the world.

Finally, don't believe me - As other reviewers have suggested, please read the reviews on the US amazon dot com site. There are over 170, almost all five or four stars, but I suggest that you forget the positive reviews and read the one star reviews and their comments...

As you might imagine for a book that exposes some particularly nasty truths about one of the world's most powerful religions, there are a *lot* of one-star reviews. The author, Sharlet, has pugnaciously responded to every one, with enlightening and often hilarious results.

The Undercover Economist
The Undercover Economist
by Tim Harford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

39 of 61 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Sickening Neoliberal Apologist Propaganda, 29 July 2010
I am delighted that I borrowed rather than paying for this book - I would hate to send a price signal to the market that might encourage Harford to write more of this rubbish.

Listening to a neoliberal talk about economics usually feels like listening to a fundamentalist talk about their religion. There is no doubt that Harford is a preacher of the neoliberal religion.

It is difficult to explain just how intellectually disingenuous this book is. I will attempt to do so by drawing an analogy with one of my favourite passages from answersingenesis dot org.

"As you add up all of the dates, and accepting that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to Earth almost 2000 years ago, we come to the conclusion that the creation of the Earth and animals (including the dinosaurs) occurred only thousands of years ago (perhaps only 6000!), not millions of years. Thus, if the Bible is right (and it is!), dinosaurs must have lived within the past thousands of years."

The above passage makes more sense than most of Harford's book, which is nothing more than a bunch of cherry picked examples that supposedly validate the author's fundamentalist neoliberal worldview. The examples are oversimplified to the point of irrelevance, and then tied together in a series of non sequiturs that Harford ultimately uses to proclaim "Thus, if neoliberalism is an accurate and complete model of human economies (and it is!), then globalisation is great, and poor countries are poor because they deserve to be."

This apologist propaganda would be funny if there weren't so many people falling for it. In its defence, this book does paint a reasonably accurate if grossly simplified picture of one of today's most widely (ab)used economic models. In doing so it also provides some damning insights into how the neoliberal mind "works".

It is unsurprising though that when a fundamentalist like Harford repeats (ad nauseum) that "we economists think ..." he completely neglects to mention that other economic theories and models exist outside the neoliberal doctrine.

The majority of readers who will be appalled by Harford's bigoted insincerity should take heart that there are vast numbers of principled economists working towards a sustainable and more humane future for us all.

Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization
by Lester Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just a plan to "save civilization" - a plan for making our society "civilized", 15 Mar. 2010
Plan B is an amazing effort - I could hardly put it down!

Like many people, I've put a lot of thought into the multitude of woes that face the planet and our poor (oh so human) race, and I've tried earnestly to do my bit here and there to make a difference...

Like just about anyone who's really tried to think things through however, I usually end up feeling overwhelmed, powerless and disheartened by the sheer magnitude of it all.

I try to stay informed, and I've read plenty of scary stuff by real experts about the terrible existential problems that we and our children face - Climate change, water crises, food crises, pandemics, overpopulation, terrorism, war, peak oil, biodiversity loss, rainforest depletion, collapsing fisheries, ...

I've also read plenty of amazing stuff by real experts about the solutions to these terrible existential problems - renewable energy, sustainable economies, sustainable fisheries, forestry, and farming, sustainable design and manufacturing, poverty eradication, universal primary education, population control, universal health care, ...

The problem with most of these "expert" solutions though is that they only address the problem that the expert understands - which would be just fine if we lived in a hypothetical world where that problem existed in isolation from the other problems that humanity faces.

Reading about these "solutions" usually leaves me feeling all positive and "Bono/We are the World" for a short time, but when I really think about it again, I realise that there is no point educating children who are dying of starvation or thirst! And what is the point of providing health care to a country that is so geopolitically unstable that it will collapse into civil war and genocide at any moment? What is the point of teaching sustainable farming practices to people whose land is turning into desert, or sinking into the ocean due to climate change?

No matter how hard most mere mortals try, it is just too hard to make sense of all the bad things that are going on in the world today. Quite the opposite - the more one tries to understand and to make sense, the more overwhelmed, powerless, and disheartened one becomes.

Clearly, Lester R Brown is no mere mortal.

I'm not going to spoil the book for you, but you need to know that Lester R Brown's life work has been to understand all the problems above and more, and to understand their interdependencies.

He has cultivated this understanding so that he and his Earth Policy Institute can develop a comprehensive programme that addresses these problems together, in a way that successes in one area reinforce progress in other areas - a programme that he calls "Plan B" - "Plan B is an integrated program with four interdependent goals." - "cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020, stabilizing population at 8 billion or lower, eradicating poverty, and restoring the earth's natural systems"

These goals are integrated because for example, it is unlikely that we can "stabilize population unless we can also eradicate poverty. Conversely, we cannot restore the earth's natural systems without stabilizing population and climate, and we are not likely to stabilize climate unless we also stabilize population. Nor can we eradicate poverty without restoring the earth's natural systems."

Boldly, Brown has put realistic dollar values on the various aspects of his programme, and has compared these costs with current military spending. The figures are particularly interesting when one considers how much of the current global military budget is really wasted putting band-aids on the problems described above.

Astonishingly, he's explained how all this might be achieved (or well under way) by 2020! This is not futuristic, pie in the sky, utopian science fiction - everything that Brown proposes is easily possible with today's technologies, and within today's socio-economic world order. We've just got to see the big picture and do it!

Most impressively, he has done all this in a 268 page book that is so absorbing and easy to read that even a child can follow it.

In Plan B, Brown describes not only how to "save civilization" as we know it, he actually describes what we must do as a society to become "civilized".

I cannot recommend Plan B 4.0 highly enough - read it - get your kids to read it - get your parents to read it - give it to your neighbours. What are you waiting for? It is free! Go to the Website and download the PDF - get the presentation and all the other stuff that goes with the book while you're there.

Six Degrees: Our Future On A Hotter Planet
Six Degrees: Our Future On A Hotter Planet
by Mark Lynas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well done., 31 Dec. 2009
The 2007 IPCC AR4 report predicts a potential increase in global mean temperature before 2100 of between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees C.

That's a broad range...? Why the uncertainty? What do these numbers actually mean? Surely 6 degrees is not such a big deal - we have that kind of difference every week, right?

Popular science writer Mark Lynas has done a Herculean job of sorting through all the reports, scientific papers, climate model predictions etc, and breaking down what these mean in terms of one degree C increments, in terms that everyone can understand.

The book is primarily six chapters, starting at "One Degree" and building up to a truly terrifying "Six Degrees". There is also a brief introduction, conclusion, and more than 50 pages of notes and references...

The conclusion, entitled "Choosing our Future" is particularly well done. Poignant and impassioned, yet measured, pragmatic and very cautiously optimistic... It avoids the pithy platitudes that you often find in such books.

Lynas has done his homework, and he's a good writer. If you want to understand what the science really means to you and your children then add this one to your cart.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2011 12:33 PM BST

Understanding SOA with Web Services
Understanding SOA with Web Services
by Eric Newcomer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £33.99

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compulsory reading, 4 Dec. 2005
I'm back here to purchase my 6th copy of this book, and 7th of Newcomer's earlier book ("Understanding Web Services"), as they are becoming compulsory reading in my division of a large and highly influential Financial Services technology player.
Newcomer and Lomow have done an outstanding job of putting a pragmatic, business and user-focused face on a field that is often either over-hyped, or too focused on technology for technology's sake. That is not to say that they only address the business-heads in this book (far from it - Newcomer in particular has been deeply involved in Web services technology and standards development since the very beginning, and this depth of knowledge of the technology is evident throughout), it is just that their discussion of the technology, even at its most abstract is easy to follow and well grounded in real-world benefits.
Rarely will you find a technical book written in such an approachable tone. Even more rarely will it cover the technology with the breadth and depth that these two industry luminaries demonstrate.
I have been working on the cutting edge of Web services and Mobile Web services for more than five years, but I can't count the number of times I uncovered a new and refreshing insight, or invaluable example based on the experience of the authors.
Perhaps the real value of this book, though, is demonstrated by my recent experience - When I show a copy to a senior manager they come back a few days later and ask me to get more copies. When I show a copy to a technical colleague, I have to fight to get it back!
Buy this book.

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