Full disclosure: For an intellectual, I'm a slow reader. Some of these books I have not actually read! I haven't turned the book titles into buy-links because I don't want to endorse any seller. For reviews I recommend Amazon
, and for getting the books I recommend libraries or local independent bookstores.
William Kötke's The Final Empire
is so clearly written and so important that it's almost unreadable. The ideas that Daniel Quinn will spend a whole book gently revealing, Kötke clobbers you with in a single paragraph. Then in the next paragraph he does it again. Where other writers (and Derrick Jensen is the master) will use their personal voice and story to put a smooth enticing coating on their shocking revelations, Kötke gives it to you straight. This book is not for everyone, but for people who have already read some anti-civ books and are looking for harder stuff. Here's a link to the whole text of The Final Empire
online. Also Kötke has a newer book, Garden Planet, basically a streamlined and updated version the same stuff.
Another one to look for is Rogue Primate
by John Livingston. I cover it in The Animal in the Dark Tower
, and in addition to what I say there, the book has strong arguments that there is no competition or domination in nature, but that we're just projecting those ideas from our twisted culture. Here's a great summary of Livingston
by Dan Bartlett.
If you like my anti-civ essays and you haven't read Derrick Jensen
, read him soon. Jensen is probably the only person alive who could write a 600 page book about atrocities that's easy to read (The Culture Of Make Believe
). I disagree with him on tactics.
Ivan Illich was so smart, and wrote so clearly, that I can barely stand to read him -- it's like looking at the sun. His critiques of technology and modern institutions are way beyond almost everyone else. I especially recommend Tools For Conviviality
. Here's a good source of Ivan Illich writings online
One person who wrote just as well about technology, and sooner, was Jacques Ellul, in his book The Technological Society
. In the original French, the title is La Technique
. If you're lucky your city's library has it.
Another author who's anti-modern but not anti-civ is Morris Berman. His book The Reenchantment Of The World
is a big source of my science-bashing.
, last time I checked, was the most popular anti-civilization author. He writes mostly novels with a lot of dialogue where a mean teacher tries to explain Quinn's ideas to a dense student. My favorite is The Story Of B
-- it's the most thorough and (I think) has the funnest plot.
The best all-around book on "primitive" people, so I'm told, is In Search Of The Primitive
by Stanley Diamond.
The best all-around book on civilization, so I'm told, is The Myth Of The Machine
by Lewis Mumford.
And of course there's John Zerzan, the most thorough and dedicated anti-civ philosopher. I find his writing style too difficult, but he's great in interviews. Enemy of the State
is a good one, and his Against Civilization
anthology is compiled from the writings of other people.
The best single book to start with or convert people with is Ishmael
by Daniel Quinn. The best one to go to next (depending on personal taste) is A Language Older Than Words
by Derrick Jensen, or My Name Is Chellis and I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization
by Chellis Glendinning, or In The Absence Of The Sacred
by Jerry Mander.
Days of War, Nights of Love
is a masterpiece of break-from-the-system motivational writing. The Crimethinc
people are great writers with a great value system, but like all motivational writers, they lie. Real dropping out is much more difficult and takes much longer than they tell you.
If you know someone who's young enough, they can get a huge head start on dropping out with The Teenage Liberation Handbook
by Grace Llewellyn.
Younger than that, you need The Complete Home Learning Source Book
by Rebecca Rupp.
The Communities Directory
is a giant book of listings of "intentional communities" and advice for starting your own. Here's the Communities Directory Online
by Rob Roy is an excellent guide to buying land and building a house dirt cheap. If you're going to buy land, you need Finding & Buying Your Place in Country
by Les Scher.
And if you're going to spend thousands for land, spend an extra hundred for Bill Mollison's Permaculture, a Designer's Manual
, also published as Permaculture, a Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future
. Another great book for homesteading and general self-sufficiency is Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living
If you're going to build a cob house, I like Becky Bee's
Cob Builders Handbook
better than The Hand Sculpted House
. That book tells you what you should
do, and Bee tells you what you can
For the option of dropping way
out, the books of Tom Brown Jr are the best wilderness survival guides, and are also excellent guides to de-industrializing your thinking.
A great book for beginners is Your Money Or Your Life
by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.
Paranormal / Spirituality
Yes, I'm totally into this stuff! Of course so are a lot of emotionally damaged people -- true believers and those who prey on them. If you persist in exploring these subjects, you'll probably reach a point where your mind cracks open and you'll think you've discovered something overwhelmingly important, and whatever you're seeing at the moment will seem like the Truth. This is the moment of greatest danger!
You must not stop, but keep looking at different perspectives. Then you'll think, wait, now this
is the Truth, and now this... Hold on here! It's looking like reality itself is so packed and multifaceted that it's easy to make any nutty system of thought seem like the Truth -- including the dominant paradigm itself. Now you're getting it!
I still insist that my biggest all-around influence is Charles Fort. When I use the words "dominant" or "exclusionist," or start a sentence with "or," or argue for one strange theory and then switch and argue for a different one, or belittle science, or view reality as intrinsically shifty and fuzzy, alive and full of cracks, that comes straight from Fort (or indirectly through Roger Zelazny or John Keel). Fort spent 27 years in libraries collecting notices of physical phenomena unexplainable by science, and put them together into four books in the 1920's. I consider him the greatest natural philosopher of all time, and I aim to carry his style of thinking into social philosophy. His books are not for everyone, or even for very many people. The Book Of The Damned
is first and best, and his one-volume Complete Books are still in print. Here's another source of Fort online
Also I love the books of the Fortean paranormal researcher John Keel
. They're all great! Like Keel, I think UFO's are an occult phenomenon, whatever that means, and my other favorite UFO author is Jacques Vallee.
The smartest and most thorough book on the "paranormal" is The Trickster and the Paranormal
by George P. Hansen. Even though his writing style is aggressively clear, it's still hard to read because the ideas are so difficult. He covers anthropology, literary theory, shamanism, stage magic, UFO hoaxes, psychic research, and more, and the general idea is that it's the very nature of these phenomena to only exist on the fringes. Another big idea is that the real stuff and the fake stuff are not opposites, but blended together.
One example of fake stuff: I'm now convinced that the book Proofs Of My Return
, and its author John Palifox Key, never existed, and I've made a page about it: the John Palifox Key hoax
Another big influence on my thinking is The Lazy Man's Guide To Enlightenment
by Thaddeus Golas, a tiny book with unsurpassed value per page. When I write about expansion and contraction, or view reality as a lot of equal perspectives playing, that comes from Golas.
A good gateway book from cartesian science to the "paranormal" is The Holographic Universe
by Michael Talbot. Another good one is The Field
by Lynne McTaggart, which does such a good job of explaining the "paranormal" scientifically that it almost isn't fun any more. You might also enjoy The End of Materialism
by Charles Tart.
Charles Tart is also a great explainer of meditation. My favorite is Mind Science
, and Waking Up
is excellent. Also check out Cheri Huber, and either The High Performance Mind
or Awakening the Mind
by Anna Wise. She merges meditation techniques with years of brainwave research on EEG machines, and seamlessly blends hard science with metaphysics.
A great source for all kinds of fringe books is Adventures Unlimited
This category blurs into the above. I'm good at math and science and in another age I would totally be a scientist, but in college I sensed what I can now articulate: that right now science (with the exception of quantum physics) is extremely conservative, just filling in holes in its ossifying structure, less receptive to revolutionary ideas than almost any other institution. The Catholic church reformed itself more in the 1960's than science has since Newton. But there are always a few honest and curious researchers courageous enough to continue lines of inquiry that the dying dominant paradigm tries to crush or marginalize.
My favorite hard scientist is the astronomer Halton Arp
. Check out Seeing Red
or Quasars, Reshifts, and Controversies
. Arp has spent his career gathering evidence that redshifts are mostly caused by something other than recession velocity (which could cancel the expanding universe and the big bang), and that quasars are not extremely remote and bright, but are associated with nearby galaxies, spat out of them to form new galaxies like seeds! When dominant astronomy (possibly the most conservative science) couldn't counter him fairly, they eliminated his telescope time, and for 20 years he has been forced to use the discarded and suppressed evidence of his enemies.
I'm totally a follower of Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist who writes popular books of scientific hypotheses that explain a lot of the so-called "paranormal" and also a lot about biology: biological behavior and development are greatly influenced by neither DNA nor obvious environment, but by organisms resonating with similar organisms across space and time. Probably the best book to start with is The Presence Of The Past
Wilhelm Reich is still considered a nutcase by alleged scientists who have not attempted to duplicate his experiments. Like Royal Rife he got in terrible trouble with the authorities by looking through super-high-magnification microscopes at living things instead of dead things -- he observed living "bions" spontaneously forming out of nonliving matter. Mostly he worked with "orgone" -- his word for what Eastern traditions call "chi" or "prana". But Reich actually invented tools to measure and channel it. His scientific books are almost impossible to find, but you can find summaries here and there on the internet, or look at Jim DeMeo's The Orgone Accumulator Handbook
Louis Kervran was a biological researcher who discovered decades ago that biological creatures routinely transmute chemical elements. He's still almost completely unknown. One of many implications of his work: to build calcium in your body, you do not eat calcium, but organic silica, which your body changes to calcium. Kervran's book is Biological Transmutations.
William Corliss is an heir to Charles Fort in that he collects anomalies from respected sources. He doesn't comment on them but reprints them in many books, which you can browse or buy at Science Frontiers
Vine Deloria is an American Indian author who has written a couple books bridging fringe science with indigenous history and spirituality. I suggest Red Earth, White Lies
I generally follow the Weston Price diet, for which the main book is Nourishing Traditions
by Sally Fallon.
A great book on fermented foods is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. Also there's Bill Mollison's The Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition
, now out of print and very expensive.
The best book on sourdough bread is Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery
I've heard about, but haven't looked at Play as if Your Life Depends on It
by Frank Forencich. It's a fitness book based on moving like natural humans, doing "exercise" so it's functional instead of repetitive, play instead of work. 2010 Update: I should have bought a copy. Now it's out of print and worth hundreds of dollars.
Alice Miller's For Your Own Good
exposes the most profound and hidden abuse of our whole civilization -- the horrific abuse of young people that we think of as normal child-rearing. Another great book on the same subject is The Continuum Concept
. Here's For Your Own Good
John Taylor Gatto
's The Underground History of American Education
is a massive, impassioned book detailing how American schools have been turned into mind-killing factories to churn out docile, unquestioning citizens and workers... not by accident or negligence but by the explicit planning and interference of the elite beginning in the mid-1800's. Gatto is in some ways a conservative, but his attitude is nearly anarchist.
Kurt Vonnegut always plugs a book called The Mask of Sanity
download) by Hervey Cleckley, so I found a library copy, and he's right -- the book is an eye-opener! It's about psychopaths, who are not drooling axe-murderers, but very charming people who have no empathy and leave a path of suffering in their wake. Pretty soon you'll be noticing them everywhere.
Fiction by guys named Philip
Philip K. Dick wrote more than 40 novels and at least half of them are mind-blowing masterpieces. A reviewer once remarked that Dick had so many ideas that he would just scatter ideas in the margins that other authors would hang whole books on. He wrote "science fiction", but it's light on the science and heavy on metaphysics and trippy reality shifts and the internal lives of the characters. Most of his protagonists have the same personality: sulky, uncomfortable, paranoid, impulsive, a loser who still keeps valiantly plodding on.
Dick himself said A Scanner Darkly
was both his saddest and funniest book, and I agree. Another great one is Ubik
. The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch
is definitely the scariest (don't read it first -- you have to work up to it!) and The Game Players Of Titan
is the best page-turner. The Valis
trilogy is for advanced Dickheads.
Right now my favorite author is Philip Reeve. Mortal Engines
grabs you in the first sentence: "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."
The premise of the four-book series is that around 2000 years from now, most of the Earth will be ruined and cities will move around and eat other cities for resources. Reeve has great ideas, good characters, lively prose, and a mature understanding of politics and evil.
Philip Reeve is sometimes compared to Philip Pullman, whose most famous work is the trilogy that begins with The Golden Compass
(aka Northern Lights
). I loved the first two books! They're set in an alternate world combining old technologies with super-advanced ones. Metaphysically, the story is shockingly radical, with the idea that God himself has become corrupted by power. The second book, The Subtle Knife
, is just as good as the first and much darker, but I found the third book uninspired, with a feeble ending in which the effect of an epic upheaval in reality itself is that nothing changes.
One of the things I like best about Philip Reeve is that he makes a "No Exit" future sound fun. Back in the early 80's, Gene Wolfe did the same thing with more complexity in his classic Book of the New Sun
series, starting with The Shadow of the Torturer
. Wolfe was on the cutting edge of cyberpunk by imagining a future that doesn't get cleaner with new technologies, but messier, and he was years ahead of other sci-fi by understanding that technology does not prevent collapse. The story seems to be set around ten thousand years in the future, after so many civilizations have risen and fallen that you can dig a hole anywhere and find strange artifacts, and all the coolest Medieval stuff, high tech, and magic are all mixed together.
M.T. Anderson's Feed
is the ultimate dystopian extrapolation novel, sadder than A Scanner Darkly
, bleaker than The Sheep Look Up
, and more readable than either. It's set two or three generations in the future, when the internet has become much more commercial and is beamed straight into everyone's head as "the feed". Space travel and flying cars have only extended the range of the usual American nightmare. All the forests are gone and you can't go to the beach without a toxin suit. And almost everyone is stupid and immature. Imagine if Lars von Trier or Todd Solondz had made Idiocracy
, and you'll begin to get a sense of Anderson's vision. Also it has an incredible first sentence: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
I know three people including myself who have read Orson Scott Card's novel Treason
, and we all think it's better than Ender's Game
. I also recommend Damon Knight's short story Masks
, Terry Pratchett's The Wee Free Men
and Going Postal
, and I've always liked Roger Zelazny, especially his early stories and Roadmarks