sense of the beautiful is greatly influenced by knowledge".
William Coperthwaite, A Handmade Life
There are numerous books on the subjects
of simple living, organic gardening, health (physical, spiritual,
etc), alternative/natural building, and related topics. Some,
however, stand out from the crowd and a small sampling of
those, along with short descriptions/reviews, can be found
on this page.
Many of these
books are worth owning for reference. Before purchasing any
book though, consider previewing at your local library. If
they don't have what you want, they can get them through an
"interlibrary loan" at no cost. Also, ask you local
library if they have an annual used book sale. Good books
can often times be found at second hand stores as well. Either
way, it is rare to pay more than $2.00 per book. $.50 - $1.00
is the norm.
your subject of choice to the right or scroll down and browse.
reading a vanishing pasttime? According to
the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans
of virtually all education levels are reading less and
less well... including college graduates whose reading
proficiencies declined at an alarming rate of 20%–23%
from 1992 to 2003. These declines have demonstrable
economic, social, civic and cultural implications.
For the NEA study announcement
and full report in downloadable PDF form, click here.
time per day spent reading in 2006, via NEA:
15 to 24
years :7 minutes
25 to 34 years :9 minutes
35 to 44 years :12 minutes
45 to 54 years :17 minutes
55 to 64 years :30 minutes
65 years and over :50 minutes
of the Pacific Coast, Home
Work: Handbuilt Shelter, and Tiny
Homes: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn
I know of no other set
of books so universally loved. All three are artfully packed with
photos and stories of some of the most cleverly crafted homes ever
published. Llyod Kahn is arguably the most inspirational author
in the home genre. Please see more about these books below in Alternative
Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum
of Compulsory Schooling
by John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto was
named, for his second time, "New York City Teacher of the Year"
in 1990. During his acceptance speech, he spoke out against the
public education system. Rather than getting railroaded, he was
again named "New York City Teacher of the Year" the following
year then "New York State Teacher of the Year".
Climaxing with that, he stopped teaching, believing he was harming
children. This lead to being the subject of a show at Carnegie Hall
which launched his award winning career of writing and public speaking
in the area of school reform. Many who speak against such models
of conformity experience alienation. Not Gatto...and his success
says a lot about his message.... and way of conveying it. Dumbing
Us Down is a superb read for anyone with an interest in public ed
.....or those who have ever questioned, even if slightly, the very
system that is America. Highly recommended!
The Humanure Handbook:
A Guide to Composting Human Manure 3rd edition by
With “human manure”
in the title and chapters such as “Crap Happens”
and “A Day in the Life of a Turd”, you might
wonder what kind of crackpot this Jenkins guy is. However, upon
closer inspection, one will realize this book is not only an award
winner but also an Amazon.com bestseller and three-time award finalist.
Additionally, the US Dept of Health and Human Services praised it
and asked for more information and the US Environmental Protection
Agency ordered copies and nominated it for an environmental award.
There is a reason for all this: This book is brilliant!
Jenkins blends humor with considerable research and 30 years real-life
experience into a fun to read book that goes well beyond that of
human excrement. Whether or not one has any intention of safely
recycling their poo, this book should be considered a must read
for anyone with an interest in the environment and or sustainable
lifestyles. Actually, some feel this book should be a mandatory
read for every high school student. The message is poignant and
it would certainly put the "fun" back in to learning.
Additional information can be found
on Jenkin’s website.
Our Stolen Future
by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers
Many assume products containing chemicals
would not be on store shelves if they were not proven “safe”.
This book shatters those assumptions by bringing to light scientific
discoveries that expose the enormity of the ramifications common
and everyday products have on embryogenesis, children and ultimately,
our future. Though unnerving, this is undoubtedly
one of the most important to read books of our time. Put together
by the all-star cast of the late Dr. Theo Colborn, whom was an award
winning senior scientist with the World Wildlife Fund and one of
the world's leading authorities on endocrine disrupting chemicals
whose work is largely credited for the paradigm shift in how scientists
are viewing toxins; Dianne Dumanoski, a recipient of the prestigious
Knight Fellowship in Science Journalism; and Dr. John Peterson Myers,
CEO and Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences.
A synopsis and excerpts, along with
updated scientific findings, can be found at Our
Stolen Future’s website. An excellent PBS interview with
Theo Colborn, can be found here.
Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by William
A uniquely beautiful
book, both in appearance and content, A Handmade Life is philosophical
in nature yet practical in many ways. Mixed amongst the easy-to-read
writings are unobtrusive instructions for simple handmade items
from Eskimo-inspired knifes to bread and children’s toys.
Philosophically, the content covers areas such as the beauty of
quality and practicality; the importance of manual work; what William
refers to as a “forced” education system which fails
to nurture individual creativity; and the value of simplicity. The
Nautilus Book Award the late Mr. Coperthwaite received for this
book was well deserved.
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's
Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Please see this book's
description/review below in Personal Health.
The Good House Book:
A Common-Sense Guide to Alternative Homebuilding by
This is a super good
primer for those wanting to familiarize themselves with the differences
between conventional and alternative building concepts, materials
and approaches. The Good House Book has an easily understood
writing style and one to eight color pictures and or illustrations
on nearly every one if its 240 pages, clearly comparing alternative
to conventional in practically every facet of the building process.
To top it off, there are six sizable accounts from people who have
built their own alternative homes, sharing their experiences good
The Art of Natural
Building, Second Edition by Joseph F. Kennedy, Michael
Smith, and Catherine Wanek
The expanded second edition
is a superb anthology of articles from leaders in the natural building
movement covering everything from the philosophical side to the
practical application of design and materials using varying methods.
While similar in idea to The Good House Book above, this
introductory book focuses entirely on natural materials and contains
heaps of resources and some very helpful articles with architectural
Building Green: A Complete
How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods by Clarke
Snell & Tim Callahan
Clarke and Tim build
a small building using an array of alternative methods/materials
and document the entire process from concept to completion. Easy
to read and lavishly loaded with color pictures and illustrations,
this step by step how-to guide is for those wanting to build an
alternative home yet aren’t sure where to start and how. Strawbale,
cob, living roofs, earthen plaster, cordwood, solar orientation
and more, this book is both inspiring and confidence boosting. Supplement
it with specialty books, i.e., if you want to build a strawbale
home, complement it with those books for additional detail info.
The Hand-Sculpted House:
A Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage by
Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith & Linda Smiley
Though some might consider
cob the fringe of alternative building materials, it is dirt-cheap
(nearly free) and as shown in this book, one can build a beautifully
unique cottage with it. But there's more to this book than building
with cob. Learning to use the sun for heating is greatly simplified
and the philosophical section excellent, driving home the value
of not having a mortgage.
Design of Straw Bale
Buildings: The State of the Art by Bruce King
in Any Climate by Michael
Long time pioneer in
"sustainable" home design and construction, Michael Reynolds
presents, in a very easy to understand manner, basic design principles
for utilizing the sun and earth for natural home heating and cooling....
in any climate. It contains many quality hand-drawn illustrations
and a few color photographs. A good book for the laymen who has
wondered about using the sun and earth to their advantage.
Earthship Volumes I,
II and III by Michael Reynolds
The Tools, Tricks and Techniques by Kaki Hunter &
Donald Kiffmeyer and Building
with Earth: A Guide to Flexible-Form Earthbag Construction
by Paulina Wojciechowska
These are both very good
books on a unique building technique. The former is more comprehensive
but the latter does have a few differing and excellent illustrations
on varying details.
Plaster Book: Earth, Lime and Gypsum Plasters for Natural Homes
by Cedar Rose
Guelberth & Dan Chiras
While all of the above
books have good information on natural finishes, this book goes
into much more detail and especially so with, you guessed it, natural
plasters. A good reference for anyone building a home with natural
Using Natural Finishes:
A Step-by-Step Guide by Adam Weismann & Katy Bryce
This is the most up to
date book on the subject of natural plasters. Thorough with an abundance
of quality color photos and descriptions of traditional techniques
used around the world. Easy to reference from and a joy to thumb
through, this is a five star book!
The Natural Paint Book
by Lynn Edwards & Julia
Natural Solar Architecture:
A Passive Primer by David Wright
Though much has been
learned about solar since 1978 (published date), this book's information
is still relevant and the excellent hand drawn illustrations and
simple writing make it easy to understand. It also contains some
clever ideas and is unique due to being entirely hand written, architectural
style. It’s a useful read but perhaps of particular interest
to book collectors for its novelty. (If possible,
get the "revised edition".)
Rocket Mass Heaters:
Superefficient Woodstoves You Can Build by Ianto Evans
and Leslie Jackson
For the habitual tinkerer
interested in building a novel yet inexpensive and environmentally
friendly wood heater few have heard of and fewer have seen, this
is the book. Though small, it has just enough illustrations and
pictures to make the instructions easy to follow and will arm you
with the information needed to design in varying contexts. A warning
though. Although Ianto has decades of experience designing stoves,
and has used this style since the late 80's, he makes it clear these
heaters are still in the experimental stage. If that stokes your
fire, grab this book and get started.
Real Goods Solar Living
Source Book: Your Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Technologies
and Sustainable Living by John Schaeffer
Reference manual and
catalog in one, this book is huge in content and a must have for
anyone interested in alternative building and renewable energy.
Design concepts, products, diagrams, charts and much more, this
book, quite literally, has it all. A tremendous resource! (Make
sure you get the latest edition.)
Build Your Own Earth
Oven, 3rd Edition by Kiko Denzer & Hannah Field
Your Hands in the Dirt: A Manual For Making Art Out of Earth
by Kiko Denzer
A simple book on a medium
rarely used. Great ideas for all age groups and school projects.
The New Natural House
Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home
by David Pearson
The Barefoot Architect,
A Handbook for Green Building by Johan van Lengen
A unique book for anyone
interested in eco-conscious dwellings, including small community
designers. The content is basic but thorough including all facets
of design and construction for tropic and termperate climates alike.
Setting it apart from other books on the subject is the instructions
it contains for making various low tech construction tools in addition
to many other necessities that make a home complete. This includes
a variety of water heaters, windmills, solar food dryers, stoves,
water pumps, filters, cisterns, distillers, refrigerators, a grain
mill, irrigation and sanitation methods and much more. This breadth
of information, which is primarily graphic with simple illustrations
and instructions, serves not only those uninitiated to low-impact
design and construction, but is a goldmine of idea sparkers for
the deft handyman. There is little wonder that more than 200,000
copies of this book have been sold in Latin America. With the recently
released English translated version, it is sure to sell many more.
Earthen Floors: A Modern
Approach to an Ancient Practice by Sukita Reay Crimmel
& James Thomson
Imagine a stunningly
beautiful floor that is ecologically sound, inexpensive, and makes
bare feet think they're walking on thick leather. That is a sealed
and waxed "earthen floor". "Earthen Floors: A Modern
Approach to an Ancient Practice" is the
only book available on the subject and a good one at that!
Small Strawbale: Natural
Homes, Projects & Designs by Bill Steen, Athena
Steen, and Wayne Bingham; The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes
by Athena Swentzell Steen & Bill Steen; and Strawbale
Home Plans by Wayne J. Bingham and Colleen F. Smith
All of these books are
loaded with beautiful photos and ideas to inspire. The first two,
however, contain various chunks of useful information from sawdust
toilets to natural finish recipes. The latter doesn’t contain
“plans” in the technical sense but does have conceptual
floor plans, general specs and the owner/builders story with each
by Michael Reynolds
Little House on a Small
Planet by Shay Salomon
Home Work: Handbuilt
Shelter by Lloyd Kahn
This is a super fun book
containing around 1500 photos of some seriously funky and whimsical
homes and various other owner-built shelters from the U.S. and abroad.
It’s artfully put together, informative and a compendium of
creativity and handcraftsmanship at its finest. With a scrap-book
type layout and interesting stories throughout, this book is good
enough to hold the interest of most anyone. Further words cannot
do this one justice.
Builders of the Pacific
Coast by Lloyd Kahn
Every bit as good as
Lloyd's Home Work above, this book is nearly identical in size,
layout and quantity of photos. The homes are all new though with
a jaw-dropping display of ingenuity and craftsmanship from various
builders on the Pacific coast. No one puts together a book like
Homes: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn
Lloyd does it again!
Same size, layout, artfulness, and general feel as above two books
but with a subject matter of tiny homes. Another winner!
Water Storage: Tanks,
Cisterns, Aquifers, and Ponds for Domestic Supply, Fire and Emergency
Use by Art Ludwig
A no frills book with
tons of to-the-point information.
The New Create an Oasis
With Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systms
by Art Ludwig
In typical Ludwig fashion,
this is a no-frills book brimming with valuble information. Radically
different than the fluffy, maintenance ridden, and expensive systems
seen advertised in glossy magazines, here you'll find simple, practical,
inexpensive and proven greywater systems. This is the consummate
Guide: Installation of Greywater Systems in New Construction &
Remodeling by Art Ludwig
Useful for those building
in areas with heavily enforced codes.
for Drylands and Beyond Vol 1 & 2 by Brad Lancaster
With a combined 570+
pages, these books go far beyond the notion of collecting water
from the roofs of buildings and storing it in barrels. These books
take the reader from understanding the principals and benefits of
rainwater to the hydrologic cycles and watersheds to ways of utilization
and conceptulizing a design using the simplest of methods. There's
good amounts of information on the use of drains, basins, mulching,
planting and plant care, small earthworks and greywater. Brad also
clearly explains the integrative design approach and how one can
make their house and landscape work together for greatest benefits.
In summary, whether you have a low output well or just like the
idea of using less municipal or well water while having a landscape
that not only provides food but acts as a living air conditioner
for your house, put both these books in your reference library.
Solar Water Heating:
A Comprehensive Guide to Solar Water And Space Heating Systems
by Bob Ramlow & Benjamin Nusz
Water From The Sky
by Michael Reynolds
With more than 30 years
of experimentations under his belt, Michael Reynolds has come up
with some unique and effective ways to capture, store and use rainwater
within the home. For those in the design stages of building a new
home, this book contains ideas on the points of roof configuration
and materials, cisterns and distribution as well as greywater reuse.
While these principles can be utilized in any context, they were
intended for those who have no municiple or well water.
The Homeowner's Guide
to Renewable Energy: Achieving Energy Independence Through Solar,
Wind, Biomass And Hydropower by
Daniel D. Chiras
A good primer for those
wanting to familiarize themselves with renewable energy sources.
Lots of good basic energy saving tips as well.
Microhydro: Clean Power
from Water by Scott Davis
My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
by Yvon Chouinard
Patagonia owner, Yvon
Chouinard, has presented a great
benchmark for the business owner wishing to thrive with the least
amount of social and environmental impact. This book is also thought
provoking on the level of personal values. Fitting for a wide audience
but perhaps most appropriate for MBA programs. Every MBA hopeful
should read it.
Small Footprints on a Finite Earth by Jim Merkel
The Newman's Own Organics
Guide to a Good Life: Simple Measures That Benefit You and the Place
You Live by Nell Newman
Organic Living in 10
Simple Lessons by Karen Sullivan
Complete Idiot's Guide
to Simple Living by Georgene Lockwood & Carol
Blue Zone by Dan Buettner
With the plethora of
nutrition and lifestyle books inundating today's book store shelves,
"health" can seem overwhelmingly complicated. This is
especially true when many are contradictory yet written by experts,
many of which claim to hold "the" secret for a long and
healthy life. Buettner does't cite a few recent studies or offer
many theories. Instead, he provides living proof...from people that
not only lived a century, but did so with none of the diseases so
prevalent today....and lived high quality lives to their last days.
The Blue Zone is about these people's time tested diets and lifestyles...a
book originating from a National Geographic assignment where Buettner
and a team of longevity experts searched the planet for pockets
of concentrated centenarians to study. While some of what they found
was of little surprise, there are common threads these varying people
shared that would open the eyes of many, relieving them of the notion
that complicated diets and gym memberships are needed for health.
The best news is that these common threads can easily be emulated
by us adding not only years to our lives, but life to our years.
Pain by David Butler
and Dr. Lorimer Moseley
an injury that seems to linger, or not heal as expected/hoped? If
you can find a copy, "Explain Pain" is well worth the
read! Evidence based, this book is designed for students,
therapists, and patients
alike. Easy to read. Easy to understand.
Healing with Whole
Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul
How to Eat
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Written by a revered
zen master, this is a great little book on mindful eating. A collection
of mostly one page paragraphs, it's as easy and pleasant to read
as any book could be, benefitting anyone interested in health.
Fast Food Nation
by Eric Schlosser
Though written in 2001,
this book continues to be a "best seller" as its content
is every bit as relevant now as it was then. Eric Schlosser could
have taken the obvious easy shots with fast food. Instead, he peeled
the layers back to the core pointing out the interconnectedness
of everything, reminding us that the food choices we make, fast
food or not, shapes the big picture more than any other single thing.
Well written and painstakingly researched, this book is fascinating,
enlightening, and some times shocking. Consider it a must read.
A New Earth: Awakening
to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Despite knowing there
are devout followers of Christianity who have been able to look
beyond that of which Tolle takes a contrarian view, I mention this
book after some hesitation. There are areas that will offend some,
particularly those of strong religous beliefs. However, I believe
the overwhelming majority of this book is of a certain quality that
can be of benefit to most any open minded person willing to read
it, regardless of religion or belief... and it will resonate with
many on levels that may otherwise never be realized. That said,
there are some who can not get past the first chapter or two, whether
it seems too "out there" or for other reasons. There are
many more though who have found this book to be a profoundly enlightening
and life changing spiritual manifesto. So, it is here, for as one
can not realize total health on proper diet and sufficient movement
alone. There must be an equal part of mental and spiritual clarity,
and that is where A New Earth comes in.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching
by Ursula K. Le Guin
At the heart of Taoism,
this is a beautiful rendition of an ancient text, conveyed through
a lifetime of study. The short poetic verses make for easy reading
yet its paradoxical essence is elusive while being deeply intuitive
(catch that?). Not simply a book to read but rather one to live
with, contemplating one verse at a time. Perfect in a distraction
free and dimly lit area with a cup of hot tea and crackling fire.
Edible & Medicinal
Plants of the Rockies by Linda Kershaw and Plants
of the Rocky Mountains by Linda Kershaw, Andy MacKinnon
& Jim Pojar
There is no better way
to build a closer understanding and relationship with your surroundings
than learning to identify wild plants. And for the Rocky Mountains,
you will not find two more user-friendly field guides than these.
Botany in a Day: The
Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas
Redesigning the American
Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony, Second Edition
by F. Herbert Bormann, Diana Balmori, Gordon T. Geballe and Lisa
The Lawn: A History
of an American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins
American Green: The
Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn by Ted Steinberg
Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long
by Eliot Coleman
In temperate zones, it
is practically universal in acceptance that gardening is over by
summer’s end without a heated greenhouse. Eliot Coleman defies
this logic by harvesting vegetables throughout the cold winter months
of Maine using seldom heard of winter-hardy plants, succession planting
and cold-frames. Inspired by traditional French gardeners, Coleman
shows what can be done for both personal and planetary well being
by detaching oneself from conventional thinking. And like icing
on the cake, Eliot’s methods are economical and can be simply
implemented by anyone desiring to grow their own food. At 42°
North latitude in South Central Idaho, I can attest to Coleman's
techniques: Freshly picked salad greens all winter long, grown in
frames that can be made for $50.
The One-Straw Revolution:
An Introduction to Natural Farming by Masanobu Fukuoka
This classic is a neat
little book...and one of the originals of the food movement. Practical
yet philosophical...of particular interest for those interested
in natural gardening/farming and eastern philosophy.
Permaculture: A Designers'
Manual by Bill Mollison
Some times called the
"Permaculturist's bible", this book (written by the late
co-creator of permaculture) is the most comprehensive on the subject.
It is also the book most permaculture institutions base their curriculum
from. Consequently, some find its size and sheer volume of information
overwhelming and prefer Mollison’s other book,
Introduction to Permaculture…or, The
Basics Of Permaculture Design by Ross Mars or, The
Permaculture Way: Practical Steps To Create A Self-Sustaining World
by Graham Bell.
and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by
David Holmgren, the other
co-creator of the term permaculture, has put out a markedly contrasting
book to that of Mollisons. Rather than a get’er done nuts
and bolts style with how-to illustrations, Holmgren chose a philosophical
route. Holmgren articulately talks about the problems with modern
business tactics, the rote education system and the looming energy
crisis, or what he calls an “energy descent”. Though
different in approach, this is a great compliment to the other books
currently available on permaculture and just as important for all
its valuable wisdom. For a feel on Holmgren, click here
for a video.
Gaia's Garden: A Guide
to Home-Scale Permaculture, Second Edition by
There is no doubt this
world would be a cleaner and healthier place if more people better
understood the ecosystem and its link to their wellbeing and that
of future generations. Sure, while the ecosystem as a whole is hugely
complex, the basics, with a good book, are easy to learn and serve
as a platform to a greater understanding of all things living. Gaia’s
Garden teaches these basics then ties them to the home garden and
landscape combining Permaculture principals. Delving deeper into
those Permaculture principals, this Second Edition is a nice improvement
and proves to be an informative and valuable book that a person
can reference from long after they learn the basics. Gaia’s
Garden is an excellent fit on anyone’s shelf interested in
gardening, landscaping and health, both personal and planetary.
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