Looking for some thoughtful, solutions-oriented reading material right about now? We've rounded up 20 of our favorite new books on cities, social change, food systems, platform cooperatives, design, and more.
1. Ours to Hack and to Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet, Edited by Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholz (OR Books): "Ours to Hack and to Own" is a collection of articles written by some of the "most cogent thinkers and doers on the subject of the cooptation of the Internet, and how we can resist and reverse the process" — Michel Bauwens, Yochai Benkler, Janelle Orsi, Arun Sundararajan, and other experts. Edited by platform co-op thought-leaders Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholz, the book argues for a new kind of online economy: platform cooperativism, which combines the ethos of cooperatives with the "promise of 21st-century technologies, free from monopoly, exploitation, and surveillance."
2. Uberworked and Underpaid: How workers are disrupting the digital economy, by Trebor Scholz (Polity): In "Uberworked and Underpaid," Trebor Scholz, associate professor of culture and media at the New School for Liberal Arts, and thought-leader in the platform cooperativism movement, looks at the rise of digital labor. Specifically, he deconstructs the myths about workers in the sharing economy such as Uber drivers and Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, to expose the "uncaring reality of contingent digital work, which is thriving at the expense of employment and worker rights."
3. Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got it Right—and How We Can Too, by George Lakey (Melville House Books): In "Viking Economics," George Lakey tackles some of the myths surrounding Scandinavia, including that its "land of equality" status can't be replicated elsewhere, especially in large countries. Described as the most fun economics book you'll ever read, "Viking Economics" explores the "inner workings of the Nordic economies that boast the world’s happiest, most productive workers," and explains how — if we can enact some of the changes the Scandinavians fought for — we too can embrace equality in our economic policies.
4. Empower: How to Co-Create the Future, by David Passiak (Amazon Digital Services): "Empower" is described as a “call to action for humanity to work together and co-create the future, demonstrating that collaboration and sharing, community-building and value creation, are not only the right thing to do, but best practices for business, society, and culture.” Written by former religion scholar turned social entrepreneur and author of "Disruption Revolution" and "Red Bull to Buddha," David Passiak, the book features a collection of interviews with thoughtleaders from around the world, including Shareable’s Neal Gorenflo, Chelsea Rustrum, OuiShare’s Antonin Léonard, Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase, Prince EA, Douglas Rushkoff, and more.
5. Other Avenues Are Possible: Legacy of the People’s Food System of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff (PM Press): "Other Avenues Are Possible" is an overview of the San Francisco People's Food System of the 1970s, which included supporting cooperatives, challenging agribusinesses and supermarkets, and connecting advocates, activists, and participants on both the local and national level. Written from a personal perspective, the book weaves historical research, interviews, and stories about what proved to be a groundbreaking movement that laid the foundation for today's thriving Bay Area co-op ecosystem.
6. Goodbye iSlave: A Manifesto for Digital Abolition, by Jack Linchuan Qiu (University of Illinois Press): "Goodbye iSlave" is an exposé of the "brave new world of capitalism propelled by high tech, guarded by enterprising authority, and carried forward by millions of laborers being robbed of their souls." In it, Jack Linchuan Qiu, professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, shines a light on factory workers — iSlaves — who are "terrified into obedience" as they feed the world's addiction to iPhones and other tech gadgets. At the heart of the book is a passionate plea to unite and liberate these forgotten workers.
7. The Age of Sharing, by Nicholas A. John (Polity): "The Age of Sharing" is a deep dive into the word sharing, and how it is used across society today. While the word “sharing” is a central part of humanity, it has also become a description of what we do online, a model of economic behavior, and a way to describe therapeutic talk. As author Nicholas A. John points out, it “embodies positive values such as empathy, communication, fairness, openness and equality” but it also “camouflages commercial or even exploitative relations.” Drawing from literature Alcoholics Anonymous, the American counterculture, reality TV, hackers, Airbnb, Facebook and more, The Age of Sharing offers a “rich account of a complex contemporary keyword.”
8. City Power: Urban Governance in a Global Age, by Richard Schragger (Oxford University Press): When the city of Detroit filed for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2013, it marked the end of a long period of slashing municipal costs and courting private investment. At the same time, New York City was seeing an economic resurgence and moving towards reduced income inequality and more equitable economic development. These two examples raised a fundamental question of whether American cities can self-govern or whether they're at the whim of global capital. In "City Power," author Richard Schragger argues that cities can govern, but only if we let them.
9. Anarchist Accounting: Accounting Principles for a Participatory Economy, by Anders Sandström (self-published): In "Anarchist Accounting," Anders Sandström, a trained accountant and co-founder of Parecon Sverige, a participatory economics advocacy group in Sweden, poses these questions: How would an economic system based on libertarian socialist principles actually work in practice? What kind of information would need to be recorded in order to enable democratic participation, efficient decision-making, and equitable outcomes? Using the economic model of "Participatory Economics" as a framework, he proposes a set of accounting principles for an economy comprised of common ownership of productive resources, federations of worker and consumer councils, and democratic planning.
10. Aleister & Adolf, by Douglas Rushkoff (Author), Michael Avon Oeming (Illustrator) (Dark Horse Originals): In "Aleister & Adolf," media theorist and documentarian Douglas Rushkoff weaves what’s been dubbed a “mind-bending tale of iconography and mysticism against the backdrop of a battle-torn Europe.” Spanning generations and featuring some of the “most notable and notorious idealists of the 20th century, the book tells a tale of occultist Aleister Crowley and a weapon he creates, using symbols and ideas, to defend the world against Adolf Hitler’s war machine. But the weapon may prove to be more dangerous that its creators imagine.
11. Modern Tribe: Coliving and Personal Growth in the 21st Century, by Al Jeffery (Publishizer): "Modern Tribe" proposes a "renewed approach to our personal growth and wellbeing, through returning to community and coliving." Written by Al Jeffery, an international speaker, facilitator, impact-entrepreneur, and founder of Base Coliving, the book illuminates the fact that by 2050, 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities — but cities, as they are, may contribute to loneliness, isolation, and depression. Jeffrey argues for a new way of living and organizing ourselves to create healthier cities and people.
12. Miles Ahead: A 16,468 kilometre odyssey of businesses working towards a better world, by Max Wohlgemuth Kitslaar (CreateSpace Independent Publishing): In "Miles Ahead," Max Wohlgemuth Kitslaar sets out on his classic Moto Guzzi motorbike for a six-month trek from Chile to New York. Along the way, Kitslaar speaks with 32 entrepreneurs working on social businesses in six countries who have "accepted the moral responsibility of making the world a better place." The book is a look at the emergence of a new way of doing business.
13. No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality, by Jordan Flaherty (AK Press): In "No More Heroes," Jordan Flaherty explores why so many people with privilege end up making things worse when they try to help. Over the course of researching the book, Flaherty finds this "savior mentality" in FBI informants, anti-sex-work crusaders, Teach for America corps members and "out-of-touch" journalists. The book is a celebration of grassroots movements focused on real, systemic change and an instructive book for communities seeking to chart a new path forward.
14. The End of Protest, by Micah White (Knopf Canada): In "The End of Protest," Micah White, co-organizer of Occupy Wall Street, poses the question: Is protesting broken? He thinks so, and offers the perspective that activism is at a crossroads between innovation and irrelevance. White points to a future of activism through the lens of his unified theory of revolution. Ultimately optimistic, the book presents a new era of social change with increasingly sophisticated movements around the world.
15. Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy, by Dave Elder-Vass (Cambridge University Press): In "Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy," Dave Elder-Vass argues that our economy is not overwhelmingly capitalist nor overwhelmingly a market economy. Both of these approaches, he argues, "ignore vast swathes of the economy, including the gift, collaborative, and hybrid forms that coexist with more conventional capitalism in the new digital economy." The book presents a framework for analyzing diverse economic systems that show how different practices bring about radically different economic outcomes.
16. The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, by Yuval Levin (Basic Books): Pointing to the frustrations and challenges of Americans, including an insecure workforce, cultural division and political polarization, Yuval Levin, who is editor of National Affairs and the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argues that both the left and the right of the political spectrum are "overwhelmingly nostalgic for a better time," with each side thinking that a return to its golden age could "solve America's problems." In "The Fractured Republic," however, he explores whether a politics of nostalgia is failing 21st century Americans and calls for a “modernizing politics that avoids both radical individualism and a centralizing statism and instead revives the middle layers of society—families and communities, schools and churches, charities and associations, local governments and markets.”
17. Heralding Article 25: A People's Strategy for World Transformation, by Mohammed Mesbahi (Troubador Publishing): Described as a pioneering analysis of world problems, "Heralding Article 25" is an argument that Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — for adequate food, housing, healthcare, and social security for all — is "imperative for the survival of humanity in the 21st century." As Mesbahi points out, after years of political inaction, "only the massed goodwill of ordinary people can bring about an end to poverty in a world of plenty through enormous, peaceful and continuous protests across all countries." Mesbahi calls for a united public voice that has the potential to reorder government priorities and "empower the United Nations to truly represent the people of the world."
18. Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing Our Cities, by Peter Hirshberg, Dale Dougherty and Marcia Kadanoff (Maker City Project ebook): "Maker City" is a playbook for those interested in leveraging the maker movement to build community, create economic opportunity, revitalize manufacturing and supply chains, reshape education and workforce development, and redefine civic engagement. The ebook is a call to action for makers, community organizers, business leaders, policymakers, and anyone interested in learning about the maker movement. It provides everything from detailed case studies to an overview of the first ten steps cities need to take to become a "Maker City."
19. Designing for the Common Good, by Kees Dorst (BIS Publishers): "Designing for the Common Good" is a collection of 21 case studies spanning different sectors that demonstrate how design approaches can be used for social change. It also offers hands-on tools for implementing design solutions. The goal of the book, which is written for public sector workers, designers, and "anybody who is ready to take on the challenge of designing the future of our society," is to enable readers to become innovation leaders in creating for the common good.
20. The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, by Jonathan F. P. Rose (Harper Wave): In "The Well-Tempered City," Jonathan F. P. Rose, who is described as a visionary in urban development and renewal, champions the role of cities in addressing the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the twenty-first century. Garnering comparisons to Jane Jacobs's "The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City", the book offers a five-pronged model for "how to design and reshape our cities with the goal of equalizing their landscape of opportunity."
Many of the above books include an Amazon affiliate link. Resulting purchases will support Shareable, a nonprofit. The books may be available at your local library or independent bookstore, choices we strongly support. Top photo: João Silas (CC-0).