These are some of my all-time non-fiction favorites:
Chinese Tonic Herbs
Ron Teeguarden’s masterful summary of Chinese herbal therapy is an essential addition to your health library. Covering both major and minor tonic herbs in a clear and easily understandable style, Teeguarden allows his enthusiasm and love for Chinese herbs to shine through.
Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do- The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in A Free Society
This book had a profound influence on my political thinking when I was in my early 20s. The title of the book grabbed me immediately. I had never heard the term ‘consensual crime’ before and was intrigued. Peter McWilliams wrote a ‘Common Sense’ for our modern era. Stop imprisoning people for ‘crimes’ which have no victims!! Filled with hundreds of memorable quotations from philosophers both ancient and modern, as well as everyday people, ‘Ain’t’ is a must-read for freedom lovers, anarchists, libertarians, and anyone interested in a truly free society.
Playing God in Yellowstone
Author Alston Chase takes the U.S. Park Service to task for ‘playing god’ in Yellowstone National Park and making matters far worse for the flora and fauna they were trying to ‘manage.’ I’m not a wildlife biologist nor have I ever even visited Yellowstone, but I found this book to be interesting reading from start to finish. The book shows the difficulty of managing complex ecosystems and how bureaucracies like the Park Service can go so far off course.
The New Media Monopoly
Want to know where we get our ‘news’ from? This book will tell you. Updated regularly since its first publication, The Media Monopoly lays bare the tight grip that a few giant corporations have over the information which is consumed by the world’s masses.
The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
The late Gore Vidal had a superb grasp of history and American history in particular. Analyzing the power brokers and trends in 20th century America, Vidal connects the dots to show where all of this empire building must end: in catastrophe. This is a short, easily readable book, written in plain language and free of political haranguing and partisanship.
Amusing Ourselves to Death
Neil Postman is one of my favorite writers. His accessible and engaging writing style, combined with his historical knowledge and insight into today’s technological society made him one of America’s pre-eminent intellectuals. In this book, he theorizes that the Huxley-ian dystopia is far more likely than the Orwellian. I think he was wrong about that, but he makes convincing arguments here.
Voices from the Edge
This is a compendium of interviews with ‘cutting edge’ thinkers, written in the early 90s. There is something here for everyone. The interviewees cover the whole spectrum, from Christianity to Paganism, to neo-tribalism and beyond. This is material to stretch the mind.
The Hero With a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell had spent a lifetime researching and writing about mythology, most of it in relative obscurity, until Bill Moyers interviewed him for a PBS special and suddenly, late in life, he became a household name. Though he wrote many books, ‘Hero’ is perhaps the most readable and covers mythology across millennia and continents. Campbell was able to see patterns and similarities like few before or since.
In the Absence of the Sacred
Jerry Mander had already made his mark when he published Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, but with this book he took his analysis of technology to a new level. Taking two big subjects- the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian nations- and combining them into book was no easy task but Mander pulls it off and shows the fundamental dichotomy between the Indian way of living and our technology-mad society.
A People’s History of the United States
A respected history professor, Howard Zinn, finally told American history from the other side, the point of view of the victims: the Native Americans, the Africans, the poor working classes, the oppressed and the abused. This is a detailed , thoroughly researched text and a must-have for a serious student of American history.
Trail of Tears. The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation
The story of the Cherokee is a fascinating one. Like all the Indian nations, they succumbed to the European onslaught, and their eventual forced march to the Oklahoma territories is heart-wrenching. In their heyday, they were a large, proud and powerful tribe and some of their members made a significant mark in colonial American society. Typical American history courses have neither the time nor the inclination to go into great detail about many of the Indian nations. The story of the Cherokee is well worth reading.
Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee
This book is not a pleasant read. I had to struggle to finish it. By the end of the second or third chapter, I was already so appalled by what Dee Brown had written about the conquering of the West that I was ready to scream. Conquering territory is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, and the American military set out to clear the West for settlement with a mandate and determination. That meant the destruction of the Indian tribes who lived there and the massacres which resulted were well documented. ‘Manifest Destiny’ brought with the barrel of a gun.
Black Elk Speaks
If you want to understand Native American spirituality, this is a good place to start. The vision that Black Elk received is a profound and moving one, full of poetry and vivid imagery. This is a timeless classic.
Edward Abbey was one of America’s great writers of the 20th century. Equally skilled at writing fiction and non-fiction, Abbey preferred a life close to nature and chose the West as his home. He spent time working in the desert Southwest for the park service and in this book he offered his reflections on nature, cowboys and Indians, American government, ecology and preservation, land management, anarchism and many other subjects. A gifted storyteller, Abbey was gruff, opinionated, practical and fiercely individualistic.
If you really want to understand the American West, I would recommend the previous two books and this one- Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. It is long, dense, and documents a seemingly endless web of dealings, studies, laws, contracts and back-room shenanigans. At bottom, it is the story of nature versus the hubris and arrogance of the white man trying to impose his civilization on the Great American Desert. The settlement of the West meant the building of dams, and this book shows how it all went down.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Thank goodness Alex Haley sat down with Malcolm X to record his life story because not long afterward Malcolm was assassinated in New York at the age of 39. This is a story of redemption, documenting Malcolm’s transformation from street hoodlum to a worldwide figure, renowned for his speeches and uncompromising attitude towards institutionalized racism. Regardless of what you think of his politics, this is one of the most inspirational books you will ever read.
Let the Trumpet Sound. A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
To understand American history in the second half of the 20th century, you must understand MLK and the impact he had. This biography covers his life in detail and covers the important aspects that are ignored or glossed over in history textbooks. Most Americans are unaware of what MLK was working on in 1968 and why he was so dangerous to the ruling elites.
Dumbing Us Down- The hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
John Taylor Gatto is an American treasure. He worked in the trenches in public education for over 20 years, so he writes from a background of experience. He’s not an academic preaching educational theories from the ivory tower, but a real teacher showing us what works, what doesn’t, and the real purpose behind ‘schooling’ in America.
John Zerzan lives in the Northwest and writes thought-provoking books which delve into the deepest questions of human existence. He goes back thousands of years into our past to see how we ended up here, in our present technocratic , globalist world and offers ideas on where exactly we went off course. He takes unpopular stances, but backs them up with hard historical and scientific evidence.
Understand Power- The Indispensable Chomsky
As I’ve written in previous blogs, Chomsky serves as a left gatekeeper and hasn’t been relevant for young activists for many years. Nevertheless, his studies of American foreign power and global hegemony are worth reading and this book is a nice compilation of his thoughts on a wide range of subjects.
The last time I checked, this book was out of print and copies on ebay were selling for well over $100. Clifford Harper is a talented writer and even more talented wood block printer. The political art between the covers is worth the price of the book. Anarchy is a compact, no-nonsense introduction to anarchism, focusing particularly on the last 300 years. If you are looking for a dry, academic, objective analysis of anarchism, look elsewhere. This is a book written by a committed anarchist who wears his passion on his sleeve.
How the Rich are Destroying the Earth
In America, it’s considered bad form in academic and political circles to bash the rich, at least openly. In Europe, the academic milieu allows a bit more free range of thought, and Herve Kempf, a Frenchman, takes aim in this book at the enormous ecological footprint left by the super-rich, as they cruise the world in their yachts, lear jets and the like. Kempf argues that not only are the rich extravagant and wasteful, but also set a horrifying example for the lower classes , who aspire to climb the social and economic ladder.
And the Truth Shall Set you Free
David Icke has written many more books since this book was published in the late 1990s. They are all good and exhaustively researched. And the Truth shall set you free is a good place to start though. If you are new to conspiracy, the information can get overwhelming. I was handed this book by a friend in late 1997 while living in Hawaii. Initially, I rejected much of it, believing that it was impossible to keep such information secret from the public for so long. However, everything Icke predicted and talked about has come true, and today many writers, activists and researchers use his research and Icke delivers lectures to audiences in the thousands all over the world.
The Chalice and The Blade
Today, patriarchy and male sky god religions are predominant around the world. It was not always thus. Riane Eisler documents how Europe was populated by matriarchal and matrilineal cultures for thousands of years before they were overrun by tribesmen who brought with them their new gods and way of life. Are we now transitioning back to a more balanced way of life, with the ‘return of the goddess’? Eisler’s argument is compelling.
The Alphabet versus the Goddess
This is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Weaving together history, brain science and media studies, Leonard Shlain offers a provocative thesis about how those goddess-worshipping cultures died. The alphabet itself was the culprit. We’ve been dominated by our right hemispheres for thousands of years, but now, with the advent of television and computers, we are again rebalancing our brains. How will this turn out for humanity? Surprisingly, Shlain offers an optimistic view.
Food of the Gods
Terence Mckenna wrote a handful of books. One was incomprehensible (The Invisible Landscape), one was disorganized and new agey (The Archaic Revival), and another was sloppy and drug addled (True Hallucinations.) With Food of the Gods, Mckenna finally got it right. The book is an examination into the origins of humanity, particularly the origins of speech. McKenna’s hypothesis is that the mushroom was the trigger for the advent of consciousness and speech. Using a blend of science, imagination, and speculation, he gives his readers a provocative theory.
Jack Weatherford here takes on a fascinating study- how the flow of Native American foods, political theories, medicines, and crops to Europe and the far corners of the world in the centuries following Columbus changed the world. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on crops and cuisines. A follow up book to this one, Native Roots, goes more deeply into the subject matter.
Worldwide Secrets for Staying Young
A couple of decades before the word ‘superfood’ was being widely used in nutritional circles, Paavo Airola was traveling the world and learning the secrets of healthy people, from Okinawa to Mexico to the Himalayas. This is a well-organized, easy to read health book on the foods which can bring you maximum health.
Fit for Life
This is the first health book I ever read and I still consider it one of the best. Fit for Life gives an excellent introduction to the physiology of the human body, and gives a convincing argument for the benefit of a fruit and vegetable based diet. Building on the work of Norman Walker and others, this book is a great introduction to a vegan diet, written in an upbeat and inspirational tone.
The Miracle of Mindfulness- A Manual on Meditation
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. A tireless worker for peace , he has written numerous books on Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness and toured the world. This little gem of a book contains some core teachings of Buddhism and wonderful, simple exercises on how to approach life with an attitude of mindfulness. I’m fortunate that I read this book when I was young, as his teachings have been invaluable to me over the years. Know someone who is a fanatical ‘mulit-tasker’ and can’t ever put down their phone? Give him this book.
The Way of Zen
Alan Watts was one of the few Westerners who undertook a deep study of Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, and really got it. And we are better for it. Effortlessly taking the sometimes subtle and complex teaching of Zen and presenting it to an uninitiated Western audience, Watts gives his readers a thorough overview of Zen philosophy. Watts never lapses into overly obtuse or mystical language, and yet never talks down to his audience either. This book will stretch your mind in unexpected directions. A masterpiece.
Does it Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality
In this book, Watts turns the subject of materialism inside out. Whereas most modern thinkers and philosophizers take the stance that Westerners are ‘too materialistic’, Watts argues that in many ways, we are not materialistic enough. He argues that people are so caught up in their heads with ideas of money, worry, getting ahead and so on that they are not truly appreciating the things of value in their lives. The chapter on money is worth is particularly enlightening.
The Book- On the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are
In The Book Alan Watts shows us how our typical notion of what it is to be a human being is ridiculously limited and even absurd. Utilizing simple, plain language and close-at-hand metaphors, he demonstrates with brilliant clarity that we need not look into religious texts to learn that we are immortal souls, but simply look at life and ourselves with a fresh outlook and clear thinking.
Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice
Mark Plotkin met many shamans during his travels through the Amazon rainforest. Most of them shared freely the medicinal plant knowledge they had accumulated over a lifetime. If the words ‘Amazon’, ‘medicinal plants’ , ‘shamanism’, ‘adventure’, and ‘ethnobotany’ get your heart racing, then grab this book. As the Amazon, and the tribes who live in it, slowly dies away, the knowledge contained there needs to be preserved.
The Road Back to Nature
Masanobu Fukuoka was rice farmer from Japan. He was also a philosopher, a naturalist, and the founder of a simple and poetic style of farming called “No till.” Fukuoka believed that not only machines, but also human interference itself was mostly unnecessary when growing crops. He advocated a style and approach that allowed nature to do the ‘work’ of producing food. His influence was profound and far-reaching and many permaculture teachers today cite him as one of their earliest influences.
Autobiography of A Spiritually Incorrect Mystic
Osho never sat down to write books. However, his thousands of informal talks and lectures have been organized by his students into books whose topics span the entire spectrum of human experience. In this book, his recollections of his childhood are organized into a coherent narrative which gives a fascinating insight into the formative years and mind of one of history’s greatest thinkers.
Autobiography of a Yogi
Paramahansa Yogananda’s life story is inspirational and entertaining. I still chuckle when I think of the ‘Tiger Swami.’ He traveled throughout India in his youth and met many of the spiritual masters of his time. Recalling his meetings with them and the effect that their examples had on his development, Yogananda takes the reader into an exploration of human consciousness and our relationship with the divine source of the universe. While I was reading this book, some of Yogananda’s teachers visited me in my dreams.
The Chronicles of Tao
This is a book I have re-read numerous times. There is always something new to learn, some little nugget or tidbit of wisdom that I missed on previous readings. As major religions go, Taoism is probably the least understood one in the world today. Most Westerners know nothing of it, except perhaps for the name of Lao Tzu. Most Asians know it only by its outer, superficial form, the religion ‘for the masses.’ The deepest levels of Taoism, studied by adepts in mountain monasteries, aim at the complete transformation of the human being himself, bringing him into alignment with the Tao and hence into immortality, through a complete and rigorous set of methods including meditation, herbalism, martial arts, diet, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi Ch’uan.
What makes this book so compelling is that some of Taoism’s greatest teachings are given to us through a story. The story follows a young student through his early years in the monastery, his time as a guerrilla soldier fighting the Japanese , his descent into a wandering fighter and urban hoodlum and finally his eventual trip to America. Through the protagonist’s eyes, we learn that the spiritual life is fraught with perils and obstacles and that, above all, perseverance and determination win out.
The Teachings of Don Juan- A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
I read Don Juan when I was 18 and struggled to understand parts of it. It was so far outside my paradigm and my background that I mostly just absorbed the feeling of it and got the sense that what Don Juan was imparting was important and profound, even if I didn’t totally get it. This is a book you can come back to repeatedly. Castaneda wrote a number of sequels which continue Don Juan’s teachings.
The Spiral Dance- A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess
Starhawk has always been at the forefront of the revival of interest in ancient pagan religions. The publication of The Spiral Dance was both a reflection of that increased interest and an impetus to its furtherance. It has become a classic. If you are new to paganism, wicca, and goddess-worship, this is a great book to start with.
Drawing Down the Moon- Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and other Pagans in America
Margot Adler covers the full spectrum of paganism practiced in America today. Neither too broad nor too detailed, this book is a great introduction to the surprising and fascinating variety of disciplines practiced under the general rubric of ‘paganism.’
Wheels of Life- A User’s Guide to the Chakra System
I always keep this book close by. Whenever I pick it up, my pulse quickens just a bit, as I know that I am going to learn something new, something profound, and something eminently useful. This is maybe the best book that I know which combines the esoteric and the practical. Learning the chakra system is not merely an academic or spiritual exercise, but a way to help you become a more whole, healthy, and happy human being. I also love the way this book feels in my hands. It’s the perfect size and shape and the cover is absolutely beautiful.
The Four Agreements
Don Miguel Ruiz gives his readers four spiritual teachings from the ancient Toltecs. The four agreements can be applied immediately and to great effect in one’s life. More a self-help book than a collection of spiritual teachings, The Four Agreements is a unique blending of psychology and spirituality, presented in a concise and understandable form.
Ritual – Power, Healing and Community
Malidoma Patrice Some is a writer from Burkina Faso, West Africa. Ritual is a beautifully written book on the power of ritual and the deep psychological wounds present in modern day Western societies whose people have lost touch with the teachings of their ancestors.
The Illustrated I Ching
The I Ching is one of the oldest forms of divination and one of the oldest Chinese classic texts. Its origins date back to the 3rd millennia BCE. To fully grasp and master the I Ching would take a lifetime of study. Luckily, its basic structure and function are well within the grasp of the student who is willing to spend some hours reading and practicing. The more one practices the I Ching, the more it reveals its almost infinite layers of complexity and meaning. The I Ching is a powerful ally to have in life where we are constantly faced with difficult choices.
Tantra- The Yoga of Sex
Don’t let the title fool you. This is not a sex manual, nor does it even address the issue of sex very much. It is a basic introduction to the philosophy of Tantra, which is the art and science of being fully alive. Filled with practical tips on how to adjust one’s surroundings, work, and relationships to heighten the experience of living, Tantra is a valuable tool to have in your life.
Zen in the Martial Arts
Any student of the martial arts who wants to delve more deeply into the spiritual aspects of the martial way ought to read this book. Joe Hyams is a serious martial arts student and fine writer and he condenses valuable teachings from a wide variety of disciplines and teachers into this fun read.
When I finally sat down to read The Republic, I was a bit apprehensive. I didn’t know how difficult Plato was going to be since my experience of him was so limited. Thus, I was shocked at how approachable and engaging this text really is. Presented in the form of a dialogue, The Republic can be enjoyed and appreciated by people of any age or educational background, if they have the willingness and open-mindedness to learn. What is justice? Read here and see if they were able to answer the question.
The Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle’s writing soars with clarity, insight, and rationality. This book delves deeply into ethics and the nature of friendship. Fortunately for me, I was forced to read this for a college ethics course; otherwise I probably would have never found it.
Serpent in the Sky- The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt
Having no background in either Egyptian studies or numerology, I struggled with this book initially. John Anthony West dives right in with his exploration of ancient Egypt and holds nothing back. This is an exciting, at times thrilling, book. There are undoubtedly easier books to read which delve into similar subject matter, but Serpent in the Sky rewards those who stick with it all the way through.
Fingerprints of the Gods
Graham Hancock has been a prolific writer over the last twenty years. His books explore the enduring mysteries of the ancient world, and offer provocative and alternative theories about everything from the Great Pyramid to the Nazca Lines. Existing and writing outside the staid boundaries of academia, Hancock goes where his studies and intuition take him and is unafraid to draw controversial conclusions. His books have reached a wide audience and he has done a number of documentaries for the BBC and other channels. Reading this book will undoubtedly whet your appetite for more: The Message of the Sphinx, The Mars Mystery, The Orion Mystery, and other books by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert are excellent supplements to Fingerprints.
The 12th Planet
The origin of humanity has always been a subject of heated debate. If you feel that both the old testament and Darwin’s theory of evolution are unsatisfactory, Zecharia Sitchin’s theory of where we come from is a refreshing new addition to the debate. Sitchin interpreted the ancient Sumerian clay tablets to piece together a coherent and believable narrative of our beginnings. He had a tremendous impact on other ‘alternative’ researchers and writers in the fields of archaeology, history, astronomy, religion, and comparative mythology. The 12th Planet is only Book One in what he called his Earth Chronicles. The narrative continues in many subsequent books. Essential reading for those who seek to answer the first question; Where do we come from?
The Saddest Pleasure- A Journey on Two Rivers
A friend gave me this book for a birthday gift. I politely said, ‘thank you’ even though I had never heard of it and was very skeptical that I would enjoy a long travel memoir written by an old man. However, The Saddest Pleasure turned out to be a compelling book. Moritz Thomsen was a great writer and his memoir of his travels through South America contains sharp observations of a keen mind. But what makes this book really great is Thomsen’s brutal honesty and his frank reflections of his own life- a life filled with few successes and many failures.
Into the Wild
Jon Krakauer’s book about a young man, fresh out of college, who ventures into the Alaskan wilderness in a Thoureau-esque exploration of the meaning of life is poignant and timely. I think Krakauer asks the right questions here about the whether Thoreau’s teachings still have relevance in the modern, urbanized world and I also like that he leaves it mostly to the readers to draw their own conclusions around this story.
Bruce Lee- the Biography
This biography of Bruce Lee, written by Robert Clouse, who directed ‘Enter the Dragon’, is well-written and focuses on Bruce’s last years. Along with Linda Lee’s biography of her late husband, it gives an excellent overview of Bruce Lee’s short but complex and fascinating life. For more a more in-depth exploration of Bruce’s teachings, read The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.
Catch a Fire- the Life of Bob Marley
Whether you consider Bob Marley to be ‘just’ a great musician or a prophet, there’s no denying the impact this man had on Reggae, Jamaica, Rastafarianism, left wing politics, and his fans all over the world. As popular as he was during his lifetime, he seemingly grows even more popular with each passing year after his untimely death in 1981. This biography strikes a nice balance in covering all aspects of his life, from his impoverished boyhood in Kingston to his final years as worldwide Reggae ambassador and musical superstar.
Secrets of the Soil
There are ways we can can fix much of the damage we have caused to Mother Earth over the last few millennia, and many of those methods deal with soil regeneration, worms, compost, mushrooms and mycelia. This beautiful book takes the reader on a fascinating journey into the microscopic world of soil bacteria and shows how we can utilize our humble friends right under our feet to heal the planet.
The Secret Life of Plants
Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, the authors of Secrets of the Soil, take a scientific look at some age-old questions: Are plants conscious? Do they have feelings? Do they feel pain? Do they respond to music, thoughts, and prayers? Not just for botanists and plant lovers, this book is fascinating reading for everyone who wants to understand the interconnectivity of all life on Earth.
A Pattern Language- Towns, Building, Construction
A book like this, with such a boring cover, and even more boring name, will never reach a mass audience. It’s also quite thick and a bit intimidating looking. Unless you are in a construction trade, or have an interest in community or urban planning, you most likely will never come across this gem. It was only after I began studying permaculture that a friend put this book in my hands and I’m so thankful for it. Full of wisdom, warmth, imagination, creativity and insight, this book will appeal to anyone who wonders how we can design a better world, with buildings and architecture suited to our deepest needs. We need an architecture and style of building to promote peace and connectivity, not loneliness and alienation.
Atlantis – The Antediluvian World
Published in 1882 by Ignatius Donnelly, this was the first real scholarly attempt to explore the myth of Atlantis and many still consider it the best all-around book on the lost continent. Donnelly had a keen mind, was well-read in the classics, and gathered facts and data from a wide range of disciplines to support his argument. If you could only give your friends one book on Atlantis, give them this one. Search online as there are still some fine old hardcopies available.
The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon
Andrew Weil has written quite a few excellent book including one of the best drug reference books around, From Chocolate to Morphine. One of his lesser known books, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon looks at consciousness from a variety of perspectives, many of them unique. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the mind-altering aspects of foods such as mangos and chilies and the scientific brainwashing surrounding the viewing of total eclipses.
The Findhorn Garden
I first heard about the Findhorn community from the wonderful movie My Dinner with Andre. When I came across this book with its fantastic photos and inspiring message of communion with nature, I snatched it up quickly. Over the years, it has continually inspired me and its message is as timely as ever. The community itself is still going strong.