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Our Readers Recommend

Here are more books and movies that might spur a spirited Let's Talk discussion. If you'd like to add your recommendations, send them to


Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

Alternatives to Economic Globalization

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Beyond Civilization

Beyond Growth

Bowling Alone

The Control of Nature

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future


Easy Ways to Save Gas and Money

The Everglades, River of Grass

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

The Food Revolution

Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders

The Geography of Nowhere

Globalization and Its Discontents

Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

The Hydrogen Economy

The Legacy of Luna

Mexifornia: A State of Becoming

Missing the Train: How the Bush Administration's Transportation Proposal Threatens Jobs, Commutes, and Public Transit Ridership

Monsters of God

Natural Capitalism

On Dialogue

The Pine Barrens

Small Wonder

Socrates Cafè

Soul of a Citizen

The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape

Turning Point

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 - How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security

What Liberal Media?

When Corporations Rule the World

An Ancient Race of Giants


Bowling for Columbine

The Insider

Journeys With George

Manufacturing Consent

Rivers and Tides

Soylent Green

Three Kings


Trade Secrets

Wag the Dog

The War Crimes of Henry Kissinger

Winged Migration


"Negotiations Project Researchers..." (from the Harvard University Gazette)


"Urinetown" the musical

"Will Frankenfood save the Planet?" (from the Atlantic)


Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club, Madison, Wisconsin: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor The definition of "affluenza," according to de Graaf, Wann, and Naylor, is something akin to "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." It's a powerful virus running rampant in our society, infecting our souls, affecting our wallets and financial well-being, and threatening to destroy not only the environment but also our families and communities. Having begun life as two PBS programs coproduced by de Graaf, this book takes a hard look at the symptoms of affluenza, the history of its development into an epidemic, and the options for treatment. It's cleverly written and helps you step back to take a look at your own consumption habits, the culture that formed them, and the methods that are spreading the disease around the planet. NOTE: This also has two great videos produced with PBS that are available through the library.

Caroline Lin: Alternatives to Economic Globalization, ed. Jon Cavanagh. Excellent must-read for those who believe in local, rather than global, markets of production and consumption and nation-state self-determination.

Charlie Fredrick: A book idea that I had is an older one, but still really good in my opinion, and that is Beyond Civilization.

Ray King: Beyond Growth by Herman Daly, 1996 challenges the rationality of continued economic growth as ecologically unsustainable. Economic activity drives our assault on the environment and until we acknowledge this, have a dialog, and find alternatives to ever expanding economic activity we will be unable to stem the tide of ecological degradation.

Mark Riva: It's no coincidence that I bought Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone just before the new issue of Sierra arrived! As someone working in the community cultural development field, I am excited to begin applying Putnam's Agenda for Social Capitalists and look forward to Let's Talk as an ideal vehicle for getting environmental activists into dialogue around important issues of public consequence. [Mr. Riva sent a list of 20 books from an organization called Culturescape, available by clicking on "Media" at]

Carolyn J. Strange: Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most,
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, 1999.
The authors are from the Harvard Negotiation Project (known for the best-seller Getting to Yes,) which emphasizes the importance of easy two-way communication. This book examines how and why our conversations derail, and provides numerous helpful examples of ways to avoid and correct problems in the future.

Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club (Madison, Wisconsin): Earth Odyssey: Around the World in Search of Our Environmental Future, by Mark Hertsgaard.
This book was considered good enough two years ago by Sierra Club for it to purchase and mail a copy to all its leaders nationwide. It is a profound read, especially when consumed right after State of the World 2000. If you have never read those books, they come highly recommended as a one-stop snapshot of the condition of our planet. For Earth Odyssey, paying his own way, Mark Hertsgaard set out on a world tour wondering what people thought of environmental problems. This book is his result, a sweeping and provocative work of travel and serious reporting that covers 19 countries and reveals, with often stark reality and vision, the legacy and prospects for our global environment. In many ways, it's a journalistic work with an anthropological bent. His angle is to go to these countries, view the degradation, and talk directly to the people about their opinions on pollution, urbanization, and industrialization. What they tell him is chilling. In many parts of the world, people are willing to tolerate the filth and the disease because they see it as rungs in the ladder they must climb to have a Western lifestyle.

Barret O'Brien: My personal high recommendation for a reading would be Lester R. Brown's 2001 book, Eco-Economy. A must-read for every environmentalist/social activist.

Mel Leiding: The exorbitant amount of gas we consume in our gas-guzzling cars, trucks, and SUVs contributes to air pollution, war, and an unbalanced trade deficit, among other problems. Learn how to use less gas with my book Easy Ways to Save Gas and Money.

Glen Day: Geeks and Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders by Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas

Amy Zehring: There is much talk about producing more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative fuels, but we must consider not only what we drive, but also how much we drive. Even if we all drove zero-emission vehicles, the roads would remain congested, open land would continue to be gobbled up by sprawl, and the mobility of people living in communities that rely on public transit would continue to limited by our car-centric society. For these and many other reasons, please add How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish and Divorce Your Car: Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile by Katie Alvord to the recommended reading list. Balish emphasizes the great financial savings that are to be had by driving less, while Alvord delves into the history of how we became a society dominated by cars. Neither author expects people to give up driving altogether overnight, but both offer practical methods for people to become car-lite and maybe someday car-free.

Glen Dey: Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Hanson

Eric Olson: The Challenge to Sprawl Campaign recently released a report called Missing the Train: How the Bush Administration's Transportation Proposal Threatens Jobs, Commutes, and Public Transit Ridership. Public transit fuels economic revitalization and jobs, without the smog and other drawbacks of single mode transportation. Read the report here.

Ray King: For books to discuss, I suggest Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins, 1999. Natural Capitalism provides insights, and practical advice on turning the economy more green.

Carolyn J. Strange: On Dialogue, by David Bohm (edited by Lee Nichol), 1996.
This book is short, and also sweet, but it can't be called easy. It begs to be explored in dialogue and won't appeal to everybody. Bohm, a physicist, saw dialogue as something much more than mere conversational exchange. His lifelong inquiry "calls into question deeply held assumptions about culture, meaning, and identity."

Leigh O'Brien: I'm not sure it wouldn't be "preaching to the choir" to suggest Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Small Wonder, but I'm going to recommend it anyway because it's so fabulous! Kingsolver weaves stories of biology, war, family, governance, and gardening into a stunning collection of essays that encouraged me to think more deeply about our role and purpose on Earth. Her writing is, as always, eloquent and moving, and the topics she takes on are compelling. Apparently she has received a fair amount of hate mail for taking a stand on these interconnected issues, but she makes a great argument for having no choice, for using her pen to draw our attention to small wonders, so that we too might feel like we can—and must—make a difference.

Caroline Lin: Soul of a Citizen, by Paul Rogat Loeb. I haven't read this yet, but have read some other writing by the same author, and it is very inspiring with regard to remaining active in civic/social participation.

Merlyn B. Rock: Every one of us interested in conservation should read The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast. It is extremely well documented, covers a variety of environmental issues (and other items), and gives the real workings of our government, politicians, and big money (industry, mining, etc.). He covers enough ground and subject matter to keep the discussion going for a long, long, time.

Carolyn Lee: John McPhee's wonderful essays in The Control of Nature

Ken Grothe: The Everglades, River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a documented history of the Everglades by a lifelong resident. It's of great importance to all of us, whether we live in Florida or not.

Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club (Madison, Wisconsin): Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser.
On any given day, one out of four Americans opts for a quick and cheap meal at a fast-food restaurant, without giving either its speed or its thriftiness a second thought. Fast food is so ubiquitous that it now seems as American, and harmless, as apple pie. But the industry's drive for consolidation, homogenization, and speed has radically transformed America's diet, landscape, economy, and workforce. The book explores the beginnings and the effects on sprawl of the big fast-food chain, and goes behind the counter with the overworked and underpaid teenage workers, onto the factory farms where the potatoes and beef are grown, and into the slaughterhouses run by giant meatpacking corporations. Schlosser wants you to know why those French fries taste so good (with a visit to the world's largest flavor company) and "what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns." Almost as disturbing is his description of how the industry "both feeds and feeds off the young," accessing all aspects of children's lives, even the pages of their school books, while leaving them prone to obesity and disease. It's a very good read if you want to think twice about pulling into that drive-thru next time you're in a hurry.

Davy Davidson: I recommend The Food Revolution by John Robbins! It's a well-researched book that discusses why environmentalists should adopt a vegetarian diet. It's not strident. The book is very approachable.

Patti Breitman: I recommend John Robbins's book The Food Revolution. This book looks at the impact of our food choices—including genetically modified foods, pesticides, intense farming of animals, water use in cattle grazing, etc.—on our planet's ecosystems. It is well written, controversial, insightful, and a great book to get conversations going. It's in paperback, too, so it's affordable.

Ken Grothe: The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler gives examples and discusses how communities have changed, the underlying reasons why people don't communicate in a neighborly way as much as we used to.

Susan Handa: Here are a couple of books I would love to discuss: Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz, and When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten. Both books are by well-credentialed, authoritative authors who point out flaws in the current "neocon" economic-social theory. They explain that the good of corporations does not necessarily result in maximum good for our larger society. They argue that there remains an essential role for government in protecting the well-being of society. Very thought provoking.


Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club, Madison, Wisconsin: Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé.
Thirty years ago Frances Lappé wrote Diet for a Small Planet, which was an original force in the vegetarian movement. Now she and her daughter Anna bring us a new book revisiting the topic of food, its relationship to the planet, and the economy that delivers it. Hope's Edge presents many of the same issues of the original title, but it also provides a wealth of new discoveries and possibilities in this era of genetically engineered foods, worldwide famine, and growing rates of obesity-related health issues. The authors introduce the reader to a number of movements or individuals that give us hope: Bob, the maker of organic Wisconsin cheese; Jean-Yves, the farmer from Brittany who created the Sustainable Agriculture Network; and Muhammad Yunas, who has changed the lives of countless living in poverty with his remarkable microcredit programs. It is a fascinating look at what real people are doing to counter real problems in our food economy. And it comes with excellent recipes at the end of each chapter. So you can educate and FEED yourself at the same time.

Caroline Lin: The Hydrogen Economy, by Jeremy Rifkin. This book looks at the trends of our economy, and need for fossil fuels, from pre- to post-industrial revolution America, and the pre- and post-WWs. It covers the debate about our remaining stores of both oil and natural gas. Then it introduces idea of hydrogen as the inexhaustible fuel source for the future, while also providing a more democratized, decentralized distribution of fuel sources. (My question, though, is: Hydrogen only works if there is water for electrolysis, and we are running into water scarcity throughout the world.)

Ken Grothe: The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent two years perched in a huge redwood tree in California. Her story is a spiritual guide for environmentalism.

Carolyn Lee: John McPhee's The Pine Barrens

Phil Woods: Here's a book title and two essays from it that lend themselves to discussion.
The distinguished poet Ray Gonzalez, who teaches at the University of Minnesota, has a wonderful book of essays called The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape. This book was published in 2002 by the University of Arizona Press. It is a deep meditation about the U.S.-Mexico border region.

The essay "Hazardous Cargo" should be reprinted in Sierra and widely discussed. The essay that gives the book its title, "The Underground Heart," is about visiting Carlsbad Caverns and lends itself to a lively discussion.

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Ken Grothe: Turning Point by Jimmy Carter is the story of our former president, his rise to politics, great insights, and corruption that has existed within the political world.

Carolyn J. Strange: Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, by Margaret J. Wheatley, 2002.
This book is short and sweet, and could make a good foundation for a book or discussion group. It offers both general guidance and some provocative questions to explore in conversation. She reminds us that talking, by itself, isn't enough: "We can change the world if we start listening to one another again."

Four Lakes Group of the Sierra Club (Madison, Wisconsin): A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.
Bill Bryson has made a living out of traveling and then writing about it. In The Lost Continent he re-created the road trips of his childhood; in Neither Here nor There he retraced the route he followed as a young backpacker traversing Europe. When this American transplant to Britain decided to return home, he made a farewell walking tour of the British countryside and produced Notes from a Small Island. In A Walk in the Woods, accompanied only by his old college buddy Stephen Katz, Bryson starts out one March morning in north Georgia, intending to walk to trail's end atop Maine's Mt. Katahdin. This book is part travelogue, part mid-life crisis exposé, and part treatise on aspects of the ever-changing American woods and its flora and fauna. Bill Bryson describes well the often spectacular parts of America's foremost trail. It traverses most of the eastern states, through mountain ranges and several different kinds of arboreal landscapes. The thought of two middle-aged guys who are not exactly specimens of the trim and fit male embarking on a months-long journey involving outdoor sleeping, portage of their supplies and comforts, and a self-reliance most only encounter in history books is oddly appealing.

Norm Rodewald: I recently read Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 - How the Secret War Between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security by Mark Riebling. It gives a wonderful backdrop to our history of the past half century. Many events of international import are framed in the conflicts between the CIA and the FBI. That these conflicts have relevance is found most notably in the epilogue: The September 11, 2001, Washington Post had an article on page A-5 indicating a seven-year FBI hunt for a mole in the CIA had not been justified. The entire time from 1994 to 2001 when the CIA should have been focusing and working with the FBI on threats to the United States, the FBI was hunting for a spy in the CIA.

History is often filled with events that seem inexplicable or unexpected at the time. But when the full evidence is made available, the events seem both richer and part of a complete cloth. This book does not side with the conspiracy theorists of either the right or left. Instead, it presents men acting in accord with their principles, producing a very counterproductive outcome.

Koris Beth Brown, Ph.D.: I'd recommend What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, by Eric Alterman. My husband is reading it and it keeps sparking discussion between us. I'd also recommend the book Socrates Cafè: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy by Chris Phillips. A meditation on the importance of philosophy to the common man, it gives pointers on Socratic discussion and how to use it.

Susan Handa: Here are a couple of books I would love to discuss: Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz, and When Corporations Rule the World by David C. Korten. Both books are by well-credentialed, authoritative authors who point out flaws in the current "neocon" economic-social theory. They explain that the good of corporations does not necessarily result in maximum good for our larger society. They argue that there remains an essential role for government in protecting the well-being of society. Very thought provoking.


Harold Wood: I suggest the film An Ancient Race of Giants by The Sierra Club Foundation, starring former Sierra Club President Joe Fontaine and young citizens of our future.

Ryan Campbell: The most moving and monumental film I can think of suggesting is Baraka. If you've seen it then you know why. And if not...hey, now it's up to you.

Ken Grothe: Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore searches for the reasons for violence in America, why events like the Columbine shootings occurred, and why the USA is more violent than other countries. The answers are surprising and the interviews intriguing.

Downing Lu: Bowling for Columbine, for humor after watching the above depressing documentaries.

Christopher O'Malley: My suggestion is the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine—a surprisingly fresh look at guns and gun ownership in America. The movie not only addresses the question of whether the Second Amendment guarantees the right of citizens to own semi-automatic weapons, but also points out the perpetuation of a state of fear by the government and mainstream media. Michael Moore delivers his message in a way that is both comedic and thought-provoking. I have already passed this film around my circle of friends and have enjoyed the conversations that followed.

Jennifer Hattam: Al Pacino (as real-life 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman) takes on the cigarette industry in the fine docudrama The Insider. Great evil-corporation intrigue.

Jennifer Hattam: Alexandra Pelosi's HBO documentary Journeys With George is an amusing inside look at the 2000 presidential campaign that also yields some insight into the sorry state of our country's political reporting.

Downing Lu: Here are my ideas (tried and true and guaranteed to spawn discussion, from our co-op winter movie series,

Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky, the democratic process and what you can do.

Carolyn Lee: The documentary Rivers and Tides (about the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy)

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Kitty Beer: The best pro-environment movie I ever saw was Soylent Green, made in the '70s. Although the scenes with women are humorously outdated, the story shows starkly what the future could look like if we continue our destructive ways.

Jennifer Hattam: Part war movie, part absurdist comedy, and part political statement, Three Kings is the fictional tale of three soldiers torn between conscience and cash in the aftermath of Gulf War I.

Elisa Freeling: Thunderheart, with Val Kilmer, Graham Greene, and Sam Shepard; directed by Michael Apted. A 1992 film loosely based on the conflicts on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s. Lakota Sioux struggle against their corrupt tribal leaders and the FBI, who are trying to suppress opposition to uranium mining on the rez. The movie was released just weeks after a related film by the same director, Incident at Oglala, a Robert Redford–produced documentary about the Leonard Peltier story.

Downing Lu: Trade Secrets, Bill Moyers on the chemical industry and their cover-ups.

Jennifer Hattam: Wag the Dog. This 1997 satire of the unholy alliance between Hollywood and Washington seems more plausible every day.

Downing Lu: The War Crimes of Henry Kissinger, an uplifting (sarcasm intended) documentary about the unknown backroom deals Kissinger orchestrated and the lives they cost.

Carolyn Lee: The documentary Winged Migration


Carolyn J. Strange: The article "Negotiation Project Researchers Ease Difficult Everyday Conversations" includes some tips:

Cecile Andrews: My husband and I hold something we call "Newsnite." Everyone is instructed to bring a newspaper article that moves them. Then, people talk about their article. There is no attempt to convince anyone of anything and people have a chance to rant and rave without someone jumping down their throats. People say that they learn from each other, that they become more articulate in expressing their views, and that they get more excited about staying informed and getting involved. During the summer we do it every Thursday night, and in the winter every third Sunday. Even though we only invite people who are friends and who are liberals, it's surprising the differences we discover. I think that once we learn to talk with each other, we can learn to talk with people who disagree with us. (I'm the author of The Circle of Simplicity, and I've worked with the Los Angeles chapter on simplicity study circles.) The Simplicity Circles Project,

Carolyn J. Strange: The musical "Urinetown" has begun its national tour, and I recommend that as well, for those so inclined. It's creative and funny and even uses the "s" word—sustainable—to point out that our way of life isn't.

Pat Carstensen: The October 2003 issue of the Atlantic has an article ("Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?") about how genetically modified food could be good for the environment. I think the author's contention is that commercial genetic modification is unlikely to have a net positive effect, but environmentalists have to at least talk about what the requirements would be for making it fit with sustainable agriculture.

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