Prosperity Without Growth, by Tim Jackson

This is the TED talk I wish I could give. Alas, it’s already been done, and done well. His talk will be up online any day now, and his book is already available.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, by Matt Ridley

I saw Matt Ridley speak this summer, and his book is now available in the US. Why is he an optimist? Because he is a huge believer in the power of innovation, of cross-disciplinary “ideas having sex” (yes, I think he used that phrase mainly to get quoted, and look, it worked!). Ridley makes a good case for markets being intertwined with this power of innovation, not just now, but over the course of history. He also argues that prosperity is a good thing, and not inherently synonymous with greed or destruction. Some might find this book too optimistic, but I found it a good balance for much of the current sky-is-falling commentary – positive, but not Pollyannish.

Zero Sum Future, by Gideon Rachman

I heard this book referenced last year and have been eagerly awaiting its publication ever since – here it is, hot off the presses!  This is why it is on top of my reading pile: Rachman (of the FT) makes a case here against a zero-sum, protectionist, you win/I lose sort of mindset when it comes to world affairs. When I think of some of the newer things the State Department is doing – more grass-roots outreach, more community investing, more citizen engagement instead of only official-to-official, it fits right into this premise, and yet this is still clearly a contested idea. It is one of those meta-notions that seems to be deeply seated in our minds (and not just regarding world affairs) – the idea of a fixed pie that we need to fight for, as opposed to a cherry tree that we can nourish together to produce many more pies for all.  (Don’t worry, I suspect Rachman does not use corny gardening analogies like that in the book).

The New Grand Strategy, by Mark Mykleby, Patrick Doherty, and Joel Makower

Oddly enough, the most encouraging thinking on systemic change that I have found in recent years has come from (drumroll please)…. The Federal government. This is the single most interesting, thought-provoking, coherent, and hopeful commentary I’ve read in years. The fact that it was delivered by two guys with stripes and medals and epaulets all over the place is all the more encouraging. They are not painting a rosy, conflict-free view of the future, but they are reframing the storyline for the United States, from one of fear and defense to one of opportunity and prosperity. You will be glad you read this document.

The Gardens of Democracy, by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer

What a quirky, awesome little book! Liu and Hanauer reframe democracy as a garden, not a machine (parallel to much of our Honeybee work, trying to reframe investing as a natural system, not an engineered one). “True self interest is mutual interest”! And their list of inspiring books is, well, inspiring.

Good Morning, Beautiful Business, by Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks was local before local was cool. Her book is part memoir of her, part memoir of her business, The White Dog Café. I especially love her thoughts on how a business (or a person) can grow by doing different, related things, rather than just replicating the same thing over and over, bigger and bigger. Both charming and insightful –a great combination.

Conscious Capitalism, by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia

Hot off the presses, we have an expanded view of capital(ism), the book version of ideas John Mackey has been discussing for many years. Mackey has his detractors, and he certainly is an independent mind – what I admire is his unwillingness to think in “either/or” terms. He embraces the infinite potential of “and”. He wants to un-box capitalism – three cheers! You can also see evidence of Mackey’s views throughout Whole Foods (obviously), including in their “Declaration of Interdependence”:

The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist

This book reminds us that money, in isolation, is not nearly as interesting - nor rewarding – as money tied to other, higher-level forms of capital.

Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

I have to admit, I held off reading this book for a long time – for one thing, I really like school, and hearing so many people adopt Thiel’s anti-college arguments was bugging me. (Yes, this is a petty reason to reject a person’s other thoughtful ideas – no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.) This book illuminates the key differences between zero-sum, incremental business thinking and additionality, grow-the-pie, or better yet, invent-a-new- dessert thinking. If you’re a west coast entrepreneur, please be aware that these are not the only essential questions for business. If you’re an east coast big-company person, this is a great summary of the current Bay Area mindset. I make both of these sweeping statements with great respect & affection!

Priceless, by Frank Ackerman and Lisa Heinzerling

Last fall I was fortunate to be part of Michael Sandel’s small seminar course on ethics and markets (see our prior commentary on his book, Justice).  This volume touches upon the central question of the class:  are there things that have no price – or that have one, but shouldn’t?  I have long been fascinated by attempts to measure things that are not so easily quantifiable – quality of life, health, environment, social benefits and harms – and there have been some great advances in analytical techniques over the years, with increased nuance, usefulness, and thoughtfulness.  But there are dangers to this measurement too - the dangers of false precision, of measuring the measurable instead of the important, and, most of all, as highlighted by Ackerman and Heinzerling, of de-valuing the very essence of the thing that is so precious to begin with.

Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins

This book is almost 15 years old, and paints a picture of an aligned system of natural and financial capital. Not just theory – lots of detail and case studies (and lived experience of the 3 authors – another sort of capital!).

Slow Money, by Woody Tasch

The book that reminds us that faster and more global are not the only directions – we can choose, at least some of the time, slower and more local.

Mid-Course Correction, by Ray Anderson

Ray has a new book coming out this fall, “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist”. His earlier book, “Mid-Course Correction” is one of the first calls to action by an industrial executive (Interface, IFSIA), and the evolution of his thinking seems to parallel that of many leaders in the sustainable business community. his very short video clip summarizes his views quickly and effectively:

Uncharitable, by Dan Pallotta

What I like best about this book is that it challenges those notions of boxes we talked about above – why is there such a vast gap between for-profit and non-profit enterprises in the US?  Are the structures we’ve designed for each really helping to further our goals, or are they creating barriers that make effectiveness more elusive?  (Pallotta’s for-profit company put together some of the biggest nonprofit fundraising events ever).  Reactions to Pallotta’s arguments are often quite emotional, which perhaps indicates that the dysfunction he describes is real.

Impact Investing: Transforming How We Make Money While Making a Difference, by Antony Bugg-Levine and Jed Emerson

This is the first official book on impact investing, hot off the presses. I’m only halfway through but want to highlight it to anyone interested in the field, as the authors have a clear understanding of the evolution of impact investing (and all of its cousins), and they provide a helpful sketch of the landscape, including its challenges.

Companies that Mimic Life, by Joseph Bragdon

A growing group of investors and business leaders consider companies to be living systems, not machines. Lucky for us, Jay Bragdon illustrates this shifting set of paradigms with specific case studies of large companies like Novo Nordisk, Nike, and ACE. This book is the Built to Last for living systems business, well worth exploring.

Inhabiting Interdependence, by John Bloom

John is a scholar of Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, an accomplished artist, and head of organizational culture at the amazing RSF Social Finance group. If you have longed for deeper, more creative thinking about the role of economy in society, or the connections between money and spirit, there is no better place to dive in than the pages of this book.

Doughnut Economics, by Kate Raworth

Ignore the dorky title – though the book is indeed reader-friendly, as the cover implies, Raworth’s content is important and serious and terrific and revolutionary. Even if you disagree with some of her arguments, it is healthy to question our assumptions once in a while, and the tenets of neoclassical economics run deep in our current economic and political systems. Raworth helps us to pull them into the light, so they can be properly seen and assessed.

Adaptive Markets, by Andrew Lo

“The financial system is more like an ecosystem of living organisms than a mechanical system of inanimate parts, and we need to manage the system accordingly.” So, yeah, I really like this book.

GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History, by Diane Coyle

It is a wonderful thing to find a small focused book that addresses a single important topic in a thoughtful, well-researched way. It’s interesting that the main critiques of this book are that it is not wonky enough nor radical enough – but Coyle’s purpose is to examine the history and use of this measure, and in that she succeeds. Given how often we reference GDP, we should all know a bit more about how it came to be.

The Clean Money Revolution, by Joel Salomon

Joel has a wonderful way of weaving together the deeply personal with the urgently global, and this book is a perfect example of that ability. Part memoir, part how-to book, part manifesto, it is both inspiring and informative.

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