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Big Business | Ancient Words | New From Sierra Club Books

Taking Life Back From Big Business

By Jennifer Hattam

To most Americans, Nikes and McDonald's burgers are just products to buy, not institutions that influence everything from their daily routine to the global environment. Yet who hasn't bemoaned the Starbucking of a once-unique neighborhood, the lack of substance in politics, or the hectic pace of modern life? As the following authors explain, these seemingly disparate complaints and the growth of multinational corporations are very much interconnected. We can change the status quo by becoming citizens again, not simply consumers.

  • Taking Back Our Lives in the Age of Corporate Dominance by Ellen Schwartz and Suzanne Stoddard (Berrett-Koehler, $14.95) ably links "personal" problems like overwork, debt, and family alienation to increased corporate control of our time and resources. With the can-do attitude of a self-help book, this primer on corporate evils takes the reader on a journey from "get mad" to "get active." The authors' critiques and solutions can sometimes seem strident or facile, but their book is worth reading for its wealth of practical hints.
  • Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Rogat Loeb (St. Martin's, $15.95) delves deeper into the psychology and philosophy of social involvement. As he tells the stories of ordinary people who became activists, Loeb examines the stumbling blocks-perceived powerlessness, cynicism, burnout-that keep most Americans from participating in the public sphere, as well as the rewards of following a different path.
  • Reclaiming America: Nike, Clean Air, and the New National Activism by Randy Shaw (University of California Press, $16.95 paper; $45 cloth) takes a broader, historical approach, focusing not on personal transformations, but on the growth of social movements in the 1990s. Shaw's nuts-and-bolts accounts of the fights to shut down sweatshops and strengthen environmental laws show how grassroots battles can become nationwide campaigns. His tips on enlisting nonprofits, the media, and the Internet should help activists take their local struggles to the next level.
  • Culture Jam: The Uncooling of America by Kalle Lasn (William Morrow, $25) debunks the American dream with humor and verve. Like Adbusters, the magazine that Lasn founded and publishes, Culture Jam both mocks consumer capitalism and reveals how powerfully it influences our lives. In the same way that antismoking activists changed the public perception of cigarettes from debonair to deadly, Lasn's "culture jammers" hope to make corporate culture "uncool." Want to join them? In this era of overconsumption and infoglut, simply turning off your TV or buying nothing are revolutionary acts.
  • Ancient Words

    By John C. Stauber

    A Language Older Than Words by Derrick Jensen (Context Books, New York, $16) Derrick Jensen wakes each day and asks himself whether he should "write or blow up a dam." He also communes with other species and beings-trees and coyotes and ducks and mice-and shares his animist conversations in this powerful book.

    The author of Railroads and Clearcuts, Jensen bravely shares lessons about violence learned as a child terrorized by his well-to-do father's beatings and rapes and shows how his recovery turned him into an uncompromising activist and gifted writer. Though the links between domestic, economic, and environmental violence are largely denied by our society, "make no mistake," Jensen warns, "our economic system can do no other than destroy everything it encounters. That's what happens when you convert living beings to cash." His indignation is fired by the widespread complicity in this destruction. Regarding those dams, Jensen says, "Anyone who lives in this region and who knows anything about salmon knows the dams must go. And anyone who knows anything about politics knows the dams will probably stay. Scientists study, politicians and businesspeople lie and delay, bureaucrats hold sham public hearings, activists write letters and press releases, I write books and articles, and still the salmon die. It's a cozy relationship for all of us but the salmon."

    This beautiful, disturbing memoir is a welcome relief from books that suggest painlessly shopping our way to ecological sanity and survival while sidestepping the enormous personal, cultural, and political changes we each must confront-books that list a hundred ways to save the earth but fail to remove a single dam.

    New from Sierra Club Books

  • Kangaroo Dreaming: An Australian Wildlife Odyssey, by Edward Kanze, is an epic journey through the landscape down under, with an introduction to its unique creatures.
  • Made Not Born: The Brave New World of Biotechnology, edited by Casey Walker, raises serious questions about biotechnology's safety by eminent scientists and authors, including Wendell Berry.
  • The Spirit of the Valley: Where the Light of Science Meets the Shadow of Myth, by Baxter Trautman, is a biologist-poet's illuminating exploration of the natural world and its deep connection to myth and spiritual life.

  • Order these titles from the Sierra Club Store by phone, (800) 935-1056, through our Web site,, or by writing the store at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.

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