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Fungi, AI, degrowth and disruption: our summer reading list

Summer reading list

It’s hard to characterise this year’s reading list – there is probably more “nature” in this list than in previous years. But not the kind you might be expecting. We’ve also got a fair bit of naughtiness, disruption and, as you might expect, discussion of where people and planet intersect with tech.

If you like listening, we review three of the books on the list in our latest radio show.

Let us know what you are reading this summer in the comments, or in our online community Restarters.net.

 

Atlas of AI by Kate Crawford

We saw Crawford’s epic diagram of the impacts of a smart speaker at the V&A Museum last year. And we really appreciate that this volume starts with a chapter called “Earth”. So often ignored in tech circles, but really it is the starting point for all technology. We can’t wait to get our hands on this Atlas.

 

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

ICYMI, you will never look at fungi the same way again after reading this book. Mycelial networks are such dynamic lifeforms, it’s harder to characterise what they *are*, and easier to characterise what they *do*. And fungal remediation can clean up all kinds of man-made messes including electronic waste. You don’t need to take mushrooms to learn that fungi also hold the keys to our minds, our health and potentially self-healing buildings.

 

Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide to Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows by Rose Eveleth

We love comics and we love this podcast – this seems like a great idea. An anthology of comics by different authors approaching different aspects to our near futures, and alternative-universe futures. We believe it’s more useful to conceive of futures, not a predetermined, singular “future”.

 

Free, Fair, and Alive: The Insurgent Power of the Commons by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich

Steal this book. No wait, you don’t need to steal this book. The authors are sharing it for anyone to read. This book offers powerful insights into how “commoning” could improve our society, economy and world. It seeks to dispel myths surrounding the commons and opens up the concept to explore how it could be applied to all aspects of our lives for a more collective and open source existence. 

 

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World by Jason Hickel

We’re no stranger to the dangers of overconsumption but it can sometimes be difficult to see past the framework that we are currently living under. Hickel’s book helps build a vision of what our new reality could look like in a post-capitalist society. He shows us that our world did not always operate in this way and it could – and needs to – change once again.

 

Our Biggest Experiment: A History of the Climate Crisis by Alice Bell

We feel grateful that Bell left the academy to campaign and write readable books about her favourite topic, climate change. This story does not start with an observatory on a volcano in Hawaii, or with Exxon executives suppressing the truth fifty years ago, but instead starts in the Victorian era. It starts with the story of Eunice Newton Foote, an American scientist who warned of carbon dioxide causing climate change in 1856.

 

The Art of Disruption: A Manifesto For Real Change by Magid Magid

This is a splendid self-help book by Sheffield’s own ex-Lord Mayor, ex-MEP and all-around champion of outshining your enemies, Magid Magid. We love his anecdotes the best, about making friends on the bus, dodging serious bad vibes in politics, and living his best life. We’re firm believers in seeing and sharing the absurdity and joy in our lives, and Magid shows the way.

 

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert 

This is a book about humans trying to fix problems in the environment, and then making them worse, and then trying to fix them again. It’s about how we’re past conversation and preservation and now onto a stage of intervening to try and avert irreversible disasters. And how hard that is.

 

Undoing Optimization: Civic Action in Smart Cities by Alison Powell 

What are smart cities? Who creates them and who are they for? Powell explores these questions and more in Undoing Optimization. Her book delivers a thoughtful and comprehensive critique of the concept of smart cities, while also providing a broader look at the tension between corporate power, state power and citizen power. 

 

We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People by Eliot Higgins 

We’re here for any book that tells the story of a community of collaborative geeks, who look to solve problems and mysteries together. Bellingcat starts with Higgins at his laptop in Leicester, and tells the story about how he honed his skills together with others around the world, forming teams of “amateur” sleuths who solved the mystery behind the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in the Ukraine and exposed various war crimes in Syria.

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