Books to help heal the world: our best non-fiction reads of 2019

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Books to help heal the world: our best non-fiction reads of 2019

As we draw the decade to a close, here are the books we read and loved in 2019.

A cornerstone to our mission here at this site is that we really like the planet Earth. We like living here, we think it's a place to enjoy, cherish, treasure, and protect. A lot of our favorite reads this year helped to educate and enlighten us.

Here are our favorite non-fiction reads from 2019.

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth

by Rachel Maddow

In 2010, the words “earthquake swarm” entered the lexicon in Oklahoma. That same year, a trove of Michael Jackson memorabilia—including his iconic crystal-encrusted white glove—was sold at auction for over $1 million to a guy who was, officially, just the lowly forestry minister of the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea. And in 2014, Ukrainian revolutionaries raided the palace of their ousted president and found a zoo of peacocks, gilded toilets, and a floating restaurant modeled after a Spanish galleon. Unlikely as it might seem, there is a thread connecting these events, and Rachel Maddow follows it to its crooked source: the unimaginably lucrative and equally corrupting oil and gas industry.

With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe, revealing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing a surprising conclusion about why the Russian government hacked the 2016 U.S. election. She deftly shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia’s rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the West’s most important alliances, and the United States. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, most notably ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, “like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can’t really blame the lion. It’s in her nature.”

Blowout is a call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest businesses on earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of the world’s most destructive industry and its enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman 

by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Harriet Tubman is best known as one of the most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad. As a leading abolitionist, her bravery and selflessness has inspired generations in the continuing struggle for civil rights. Now, National Book Award nominee Erica Armstrong Dunbar presents a fresh take on this American icon blending traditional biography, illustrations, photos, and engaging sidebars that illuminate the life of Tubman as never before.

Not only did Tubman help liberate hundreds of slaves, she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the Civil War, worked as a spy for the Union Army, was a fierce suffragist, and was an advocate for the aged. She Came to Slay reveals the many complexities and varied accomplishments of one of our nation’s true heroes and offers an accessible and modern interpretation of Tubman’s life that is both informative and engaging.

Filled with rare outtakes of commentary, an expansive timeline of Tubman’s life, photos (both new and those in public domain), commissioned illustrations, and sections including “Harriet By the Numbers” (number of times she went back down south, approximately how many people she rescued, the bounty on her head) and “Harriet’s Homies” (those who supported her over the years), She Came to Slay is a stunning and powerful mix of pop culture and scholarship and proves that Harriet Tubman is well deserving of her permanent place in our nation’s history.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World 

by Anand Giridharadas

Former New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can--except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. We see how they rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; how they lavishly reward "thought leaders" who redefine "change" in winner-friendly ways; and how they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm. We hear the limousine confessions of a celebrated foundation boss; witness an American president hem and haw about his plutocratic benefactors; and attend a cruise-ship conference where entrepreneurs celebrate their own self-interested magnanimity.

Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? He also points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world. A call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.

The Green New Deal: Why the Fossil Fuel Civilization Will Collapse by 2028, and the Bold Economic Plan to Save Life on Earth

by Jeremy Rifkin

A new vision for America’s future is quickly gaining momentum. Facing a global emergency, a younger generation is spearheading a national conversation around a Green New Deal and setting the agenda for a bold political movement with the potential to revolutionize society. Millennials, the largest voting bloc in the country, are now leading on the issue of climate change.

While the Green New Deal has become a lightning rod in the political sphere, there is a parallel movement emerging within the business community that will shake the very foundation of the global economy in coming years. Key sectors of the economy are fast-decoupling from fossil fuels in favor of ever cheaper solar and wind energies and the new business opportunities and employment that accompany them. New studies are sounding the alarm that trillions of dollars in stranded fossil fuel assets could create a carbon bubble likely to burst by 2028, causing the collapse of the fossil fuel civilization. The marketplace is speaking, and governments will need to adapt if they are to survive and prosper.

In The Green New Deal, New York Times bestselling author and renowned economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin delivers the political narrative and economic plan for the Green New Deal that we need at this critical moment in history. The concurrence of a stranded fossil fuel assets bubble and a green political vision opens up the possibility of a massive shift to a post-carbon ecological era, in time to prevent a temperature rise that will tip us over the edge into runaway climate change. With twenty-five years of experience implementing Green New Deal–style transitions for both the European Union and the People’s Republic of China, Rifkin offers his vision for how to transform the global economy and save life on Earth.

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference

by Greta Thunberg

In August 2018 a fifteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, decided not to go to school one day in order to protest the climate crisis. Her actions sparked a global movement, inspiring millions of students to go on strike for our planet, forcing governments to listen, and earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

No One Is Too Small to Make A Difference brings you Greta in her own words, for the first time. Collecting her speeches that have made history across the globe, from the United Nations to Capitol Hill and mass street protests, her book is a rallying cry for why we must all wake up and fight to protect the living planet, no matter how powerless we feel. Our future depends upon it.

This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto Audible 

by Suketu Mehta

There are few subjects in American life that prompt more discussion and controversy than immigration. But do we really understand it? In This Land Is Our Land, the renowned author Suketu Mehta attacks the issue head-on. Drawing on his own experience as an Indian-born teenager growing up in New York City and on years of reporting around the world, Mehta subjects the worldwide anti-immigrant backlash to withering scrutiny. As he explains, the West is being destroyed not by immigrants, but by the fear of immigrants.

Mehta juxtaposes the phony narratives of populist ideologues with the ordinary heroism of laborers, nannies, and others, from Dubai to Queens, and explains why more people are on the move today than ever before. As civil strife and climate change reshape large parts of the planet, it is little surprise that borders have become so porous. But Mehta also stresses the destructive legacies of colonialism and global inequality on large swaths of the world: When today's immigrants are asked, "Why are you here?" they can justly respond, "We are here because you were there." And now that they are here, as Mehta demonstrates, immigrants bring great benefits, enabling countries and communities to flourish.

Impassioned, rigorous, and richly stocked with memorable stories and characters, This Land Is Our Land is a timely and necessary intervention and a literary polemic of the highest order.

Stay Sexy & Don't Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide

by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

The instant #1 New York Times and USA Today best seller by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators

by Ronan Farrow

In this instant New York Times bestselling account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost.

In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood's most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain -- until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it's the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook our culture.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present 

by David Treuer

A sweeping history--and counter-narrative--of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present.

The received idea of Native American history--as promulgated by books like Dee Brown's mega-bestselling 1970 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee--has been that American Indian history essentially ended with the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Not only did one hundred fifty Sioux die at the hands of the U. S. Cavalry, the sense was, but Native civilization did as well.

Growing up Ojibwe on a reservation in Minnesota, training as an anthropologist, and researching Native life past and present for his nonfiction and novels, David Treuer has uncovered a different narrative. Because they did not disappear--and not despite but rather because of their intense struggles to preserve their language, their traditions, their families, and their very existence--the story of American Indians since the end of the nineteenth century to the present is one of unprecedented resourcefulness and reinvention.

In The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Treuer melds history with reportage and memoir. Tracing the tribes' distinctive cultures from first contact, he explores how the depredations of each era spawned new modes of survival. The devastating seizures of land gave rise to increasingly sophisticated legal and political maneuvering that put the lie to the myth that Indians don't know or care about property. The forced assimilation of their children at government-run boarding schools incubated a unifying Native identity. Conscription in the US military and the pull of urban life brought Indians into the mainstream and modern times, even as it steered the emerging shape of self-rule and spawned a new generation of resistance. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee is the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era

Nobody's Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls

by Carrie Goldberg

Nobody's Victim is an unflinching look at a hidden world most people don’t know exists—one of stalking, blackmail, and sexual violence, online and off—and the incredible story of how one lawyer, determined to fight back, turned her own hell into a revolution.

“We are all a moment away from having our life overtaken by somebody hell-bent on our destruction.” That grim reality—gleaned from personal experience and twenty years of trauma work—is a fundamental principle of Carrie Goldberg’s cutting-edge victims’ rights law firm.

Riveting and an essential timely conversation-starter, Nobody's Victim invites readers to join Carrie on the front lines of the war against sexual violence and privacy violations as she fights for revenge porn and sextortion laws, uncovers major Title IX violations, and sues the hell out of tech companies, schools, and powerful sexual predators. Her battleground is the courtroom; her crusade is to transform clients from victims into warriors.

In gripping detail, Carrie shares the diabolical ways her clients are attacked and how she, through her unique combination of advocacy, badass relentlessness, risk-taking, and client-empowerment, pursues justice for them all. There are stories about a woman whose ex-boyfriend made fake bomb threats in her name and caused a national panic; a fifteen-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on school grounds and then suspended when she reported the attack; and a man whose ex-boyfriend used a dating app to send more than 1,200 men to ex's home and work for sex. With breathtaking honesty, Carrie also shares her own shattering story about why she began her work and the uphill battle of building a business.

While her clients are a diverse group—from every gender, sexual orientation, age, class, race, religion, occupation, and background—the offenders are not. They are highly predictable. In this book, Carrie offers a taxonomy of the four types of offenders she encounters most often at her firm: assholes, psychos, pervs, and trolls. “If we recognize the patterns of these perpetrators,” she explains, “we know how to fight back.”

Deeply personal yet achingly universal, Nobody's Victim is a bold and much-needed analysis of victim protection in the era of the Internet. This book is an urgent warning of a coming crisis, a predictor of imminent danger, and a weapon to take back control and protect ourselves—both online and off.

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