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“If You Don’t Have Time to Read Books . . .”

The Top 50 Sustainability Books
(Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing, Ltd., 2009)
Presented by The University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
Written by Wayne Visser

A Review by William C. Frederick©
February 2010

“. . . but want to know what the good ones say”, then you should take a look at this splendid array of best sellers about sustainability and related issues. As books go, it’s quite unique because you get 50 for the price of one and in a compact package of 250+ pages. Do the math’ that’s 5 pages per book. Students’ and let’s admit it, their
teachers, too will love the shortcut. For each one of the Top 50 books, author Wayne Visser gives you key ideas, a one-page synopsis, illustrative quotations, author bio, follow-up interviews with most authors, and citations to related books and website listings. So armed, you can bluff your way through any social gathering (or student classroom) as if you had read the whole thing.

Books are treated chronologically, beginning in 1949 with Aldo Leopold’s powerful case for land conservation, A Sand County Almanac, followed by the better known Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 classic about the dangers of DDT pesticide use. Toward the end are two books about climate change: Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and The Economics of Climate Change by the UK’s Nicholas Stern as No. 50. In between are many examples illustrating the pro and con public dialogue about preserving the Earth’s ecosystems seen as under siege by mindless, reckless, greedy corporations pursuing profits at all costs. All 50 titles are listed in an appendix to this review.
Reading through from front to back carries you along enjoyably and informatively on the emerging currents of thought generated by business leaders, corporate consultants, academic experts, NGO critics of corporate behavior, and perhaps most intriguingly as a harbinger of future thinking a few bioethicists and ecosystem specialists who draw directly on natural processes for making sustainability stick. Taking this journey from the 1940s through the early years of the 21st century is well worth the trip.