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The Top 50 Sustainability Books

This unique title draws together in one volume some of the best thinking to date on the pressing social and environmental challenges we face as a society. These are the Top 50 Sustainability Books as voted for by the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership's alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. In addition to profiles of all 50 titles, many of the authors share their most recent reflections on the state of the world and the ongoing attempts by business, government and civil society to create a more sustainable future.

Many of these authors have become household names in the environmental, social and economic justice movements – from Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader and E.F. Schumacher to Vandana Shiva, Muhammad Yunus and Al Gore. Others, such as Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry and Manfred Max-Neef, are relatively undiscovered gems, whose work should be much more widely known.

By featuring these and other seminal thinkers, The Top 50 Sustainability Books distils a remarkable collective intelligence – one that provides devastating evidence of the problems we face as a global society, yet also inspiring examples of innovative solutions; it explores our deepest fears and our highest hopes for the future. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to tap into the wisdom of our age.

If you don't have time to read books ... 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 ... 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. A Worthwhile Book The Top 50 is overall a good read. Work your way through it from beginning to end, thereby capturing the growing awareness of 50+ leading thinkers about unfolding planetary ecosystem disasters in the making. Without doubt, the collective power of giant corporations just may be the key to resolving, or at least lessening, the most monstrous impacts and human tragedies envisioned by futurist thinkers. But remember, beyond these valuable perspectives, you should also seek out the plethora of newly-emerging research about what might be done by the major players to confront and grapple with the entire sustainability agenda.

William C. Frederick

This is not only an excellent idea but, more importantly, well executed. Taking the 50 best books on sustainability as compiled from a poll of 3000 experts around the world, Wayne Visser looks at them all through the same lens. Each entry – generally four pages long – lists the key ideas in each book, a synopsis of its contents, some of its notable sentences or thoughts, a potted biography of the author, and suggestions for further connected reading. This turns out to be a highly useful format, providing just about all you need to know about each volume without actually reading it. The book is also well illustrated, with photos of the authors and images of each book. Perhaps the only criticism might be that it provides no critique of the books or any sense of how the views in them have been received or fared over time. However, this is essentially a work of reference, and the decision to steer away from this polemical course is, on balance, the right one. For the corporate responsibility practitioner there are at least 23 books in here that directly relate to CSR, including tomes by John Elkington, Simon Zadek and Anita Roddick. The rest generally look towards ecological or sociological matters, and while the majority of the entries were written post-2000, some date back more than 30 years. It would be ideal if everyone read all these books in their original form, but this crash course is the next best thing.

Ethical Performance Peter Mason

The prestigious University of Cambridge Programme (translation: "Program") for Sustainability Leadership has released their list of the top 50 books on Sustainability, chosen by their alumni. This is a remarkable resource for anyone interested in catching up on their studies, or formalizing an opinion on today's environmental issues.

EARTHactually, 4 February 2010

The Top 50 Sustainability Books is a must for sustainability professionals and academics. It provides an excellent guidebook for those who are beginning their journey in "sustainability science", and as a reminder of origins and principles for those who have been relentlessly working towards sustainability. The collection of books shows that if we want to avoid a World catastrophe, from which we may not be able to recover, we need to address the issues currently ailing the World not in isolation, but through systemic and holistic approaches where the interconnections and synergies among issues are equally, or perhaps more, important than the issues themselves.

Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) Rodrigo Lozano, Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Le

Quirky and fun but also engrossing and unsettling in a good way. The list amounts to something far more than the sum of its 50 separate pieces.

Crosslands Bulletin

Not only an excellent idea but, more importantly, well executed ... It would be ideal if everyone read all these books in their original form, but this crash course is the next best thing.

Peter Mason, Ethical Performance


Polly Courtice, Director, Cambridge for Sustainability Leadership

1. A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold (1949)

2. Silent Spring Rachel Carson (1962)

3. Unsafe At Any Speed Ralph Nader (1965)

4. The Population Bomb Paul L. Ehrlich (1968)

5. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth R. Buckminster Fuller (1969)

6. The Limits to Growth Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W. Behrens III (1972)

7. Small Is Beautiful E.F. Schumacher (1973)

8. Gaia James Lovelock (1979)

9. The Turning Point Fritjof Capra (1982)

10. Our Common Future ('The Brundtland Report') World Commission onEnvironment and Development (1987)

11. The Dream of the Earth Thomas Berry (1988)

12. A Fate Worse Than Debt Susan George (1988)

13. Staying Alive Vandana Shiva (1989)

14. Blueprint for a Green Economy David Pearce, Anil Markandya and Edward B. Barbier (1989)

15. For the Common Good Herman Daly and John B. Cobb Jr (1989)

16. Human Scale Development Manfred Max-Neef (1989)

17. Changing Course Stephan Schmidheiny and Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) (1992)

18. The Ecology of Commerce Paul Hawken (1993)

19. Maverick Ricardo Semler (1993)

20. When Corporations Rule the World David C. Korten (1995)

21. Biomimicry Janine M. Benyus (1997)

22. Cannibals with Forks John Elkington (1997)

23. The Hungry Spirit Charles Handy (1997)

24. Banker to the Poor Muhammad Yunus (1998)

25. The Crisis of Global Capitalism George Soros (1998)

26. Factor Four Ernst von Weizsaecker, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins (1998)

27. False Dawn John Gray (1998)

28. Development as Freedom Amartya Sen (1999)

29. No Logo Naomi Klein (1999)

30. Natural Capitalism Paul Hawken, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins (1999)

31. Business as Unusual Anita Roddick (2000)

32. The Mystery of Capital Hernando de Soto (2000)

33. The Civil Corporation Simon Zadek (2001)

34. Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser (2001)

35. The Skeptical Environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg (2001)

36. Cradle to Cradle William McDonough and Michael Braungart (2002)

37. Globalization and its Discontents Joseph E. Stiglitz (2002)

38. The Corporation Joel Bakan (2004)

39. Presence Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers (2004)

40. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid C.K. Prahalad (2004)

41. The River Runs Black Elizabeth C. Economy (2004)

42. Capitalism as if the World Matters Jonathon Porritt (2005)

43. Capitalism at the Crossroads Stuart L. Hart (2005)

44. Collapse Jared Diamond (2005)

45. The End of Poverty Jeffrey D. Sachs (2005)

46. The Chaos Point Ervin Laszlo (2006)

47. Heat George Monbiot (2006)

48. An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore (2006)

49. When the Rivers Run Dry Fred Pearce (2006)

50. The Economics of Climate Change Nicholas Stern (2007)


Mike Peirce, Deputy Director, Cambridge for Sustainability Leadership

WAYNE VISSER is Founder and CEO of the thinktank CSR International, as well as Senior Associate of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

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