Books to Read Now

Seed Picks

October releases on the culture of consumption, the Golden Age of General Relativity, and how rumors spread on the internet.

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Release date: Oct. 13
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Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—A Ride to Our Renewable Future
By Amanda Little (HarperCollins)

At first blush, it seems like weaning ourselves off fossil fuels won’t be terribly hard: Swap that clunker for a Prius, that old lightbulb for a CFL, and that plastic bag for a sturdy tote. But, as veteran journalist Amanda Little reveals in this sweeping account, there is almost nothing in modern life untouched by oil and coal. To tell the story of America’s epic entanglement with hydrocarbons, she revisits President Franklin Roosevelt’s seminal pact with the King of Saudi Arabia and Fritz Haber’s revolutionary nitrogen fixation process and travels from the Corn Belt of Kansas to inside New York’s electrical grid. Finally, Little profiles a few “fresh greens,” who, using innovative scientific approaches, might help the world to survive withdrawal from its epic addiction.

Release date: Oct. 12
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Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
By Tristram Stuart (W.W. Norton & Co.)

The global food crisis of 2008 revealed a system strained to its limits. But, as journalist Tristram Stuart argues in Waste, some of that strain is artificial. Farmers, manufacturers, restaurants, and consumers in the US and Europe discard between 30 and 50 percent of their food every year—enough to feed the world’s hungry three times over. Traveling from rubbish bins behind supermarkets to sushi cases at delis, Stuart uncovers waste at every link in the food chain. He also suggests that better policy (food pantries and taxes on trash collection) and available technology (anaerobic digestion of food scraps for energy) could help reroute our edible detritus. Waste is both a moral crisis and an environmental liability—but with the right tools, Stuart maintains, we could turn it into a fantastic opportunity, feeding the hungry and generating clean fuel instead.

Release date: Oct. 27
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Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future
By Saleem Ali (Yale University Press)

Would the world be a better place if humans could curb their desire for material goods? With this question, environmental scholar Saleem Ali launches into a magnificent synthesis that goes beyond linear explanations of the links between human consumption, well-being, and the environment. Buzzwords like “petropolitics” and “blood diamonds,” he argues, present a stylized view of resource extraction and fail to consider, for example, how poor countries would develop were it not for mineral wealth. Ali’s goal here is an ambitious one—no less than a recasting of consumption as neither sin nor virtue.

Release date: Oct. 6
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Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity
By G. A. Bradshaw (Yale University Press)

Elephants are in crisis. Pressured by shrinking habitats, poaching, and other human activities, elephant populations plummeted in the 20th century, and the number of elder individuals who stabilized elephant society shrank. Observing the touching and sometimes terrifying behavior of traumatized elephants in the wild and in captivity, Bradshaw constructs a remarkable account of trans-species psychology that shows humans are not the only highly intelligent, social animals on this planet. This achingly lovely book will resonate with anyone endowed with compassion and curiosity about the workings of animal minds.

Release date: Oct. 20
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What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures
By Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown and Company)

Malcolm Gladwell explores how the world looks from inside other people’s heads in this collection of his favorite essays from 13 years at the New Yorker. Gladwell, a former science reporter and the author of three bestselling books—The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers—explores the world of behavioral science and profiles everyone from famed “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan to TV pitchman Ron Popeil. Through the lives of these “minor geniuses,” as he calls them, Gladwell leaves readers with a newfound reverence for the seemingly ordinary.

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