I actively made time to read this year, which allowed me to finish about a book a week. Here is my top 5 of the year.
If you are looking for more recommendations, I would highly recommend perusing Steward Brand’s list and Brian Eno’s list of books most essential for sustaining humanity; Patrick Collison’s bookshelf; and some of the books recommended by Charlie Munger.
The Weather Machine, by Andrew Blum
In this short, riveting book, Blum sheds light on the history of weather forecasting. He opens the book with an anecdote on how the first leaps in weather forecasting were made with the advent of steam-powered trains and later the telegraph, enabling information about the weather to travel faster than the weather itself. In the book, Blum details the history of weather satellites; the weather models run on supercomputers; and the strategic alliances between most global nations to freely exchange data from weather satellites—a practice now coming under pressure. This New Yorker article provides a helpful review.
The Power Brokers, by Jeremiah Lambert
Similar to The Weather Machine, I picked up The Power Brokers because it is connected to our business. The Power Brokers tells the roughly 150-year long history of the U.S. electricity system through the lens of seven historic characters—Sam Insull, David Lilienthal, Don Hodel, Paul Joskow, Ken Lay, Amory Lovins, Jim Rogers. Although I was familiar with most of this history before reading the book, the author did a stellar job at providing an engrossing, fact-packed narrative. I especially enjoyed the chapter on Paul Joskow, which details the shift from vertically integrated utilities to wholesale power markets with competitive generation and retail and the corresponding rise of ISOs and RTOs. Another great book on energy I read this year was Russell Gold’s “Superpower”, a biography of Michael Skelly, the co-founder of Clean Line Energy Partners. I found Skelly’s story inspiring yet disturbing, illuminating the challenges of building high-voltage power transmission across state borders.
The Secret Network of Nature, by Peter Wohlleben
This book is part of a trilogy that was made famous by the New York Times. In it, the German forester Wohlleben describes in vivid detail the astonishing connections that are bountiful in nature. Drawing his examples primarily from German forests, an ecosystem I am familiar with, Wohlleben fills page after page with jaw-dropping anecdotes about the complex relationships in forests. For example, did you know that some types of ants derive the majority of their nutrition from aphids, small sap-sucking insects that produce honeydew from deciduous trees? This is a wonderful book to bring along for a weekend in nature and can easily be read one chapter at a time. In the same spirit of this book, I would recommend Patagonia’s documentary Treeline, which tells the story of trees on our planet.
The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Related to Peter Wohlleben’s book, this is the only fiction entry on this list. The story is set on the planet of New Tahiti, many centuries into the future. The story centers around a human race with interstellar presence using other planets to harvest resources, since Earth itself has been plundered. On New Tahiti, a planet covered entirely by forest, humans encounter a seemingly weak race of animals roughly half the size of humans, so-called Athseans. Humans force the Athseans into indentured servitude to help log the forests. Events take a turn after humans destroy most of the forest on this planet and the Athseans start a violent resistance. This story is a cautionary tale for how things can go awfully wrong when a species operates from a destructive, self-centered, disconnected perspective.
The New Paradigm Handbook, by Dani Katz
This short book—you can read the entire thing in two hours—was one of the books with the most immediate impact on me this year. Gifted to me by a dear friend, this book makes the case for the use of very direct language. Katz convincingly demonstrates how simple changes in how we speak, write, and think can drastically influence what we manifest.