New Dream Staff Picks: Books We Love

by Lisa Mastny

Father Children Reading Books

Looking for a good beach or airplane read? 

Here are New Dream's picks for our favorite books on topics of consumerism, parenting, sustainability, work-life balance, and more. 

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual (Michael Pollan, 2009)

Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings a welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with the clarity, concision, and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan’s trademark, this indispensable handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, “What should I eat?

"I read this book with my 10 year old son last summer and it made quite an impression on both of us. The book is simple and funny. My son remembered two rules very clearly: "Don't eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk" and "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." Pollan's prose is easy for young kids to understand and prompted lots of questions within our household.  We plan to re-read the book again this spring when we plan our vegetable garden." 

—Sieglinde Peterson, Operations Officer

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment (Tal Ben-Shahar, 2007)

Can you learn to be happy? Yes—according to the teacher of Harvard University’s most popular and life-changing course. One out of every five Harvard students has lined up to hear Tal Ben-Shahar’s insightful and inspiring lectures on that ever-elusive state: HAPPINESS. Grounded in the revolutionary “positive psychology” movement, Ben-Shahar ingeniously weaves together scientific studies, scholarly research, self-help advice, and spiritual enlightenment into a set of principles that you can apply to your daily life. Once you open your heart and mind to Happier ’s thoughts, you will feel more fulfilled, more connected—and, yes, HAPPIER.

"Happier is a terrific introduction to the field of positive psychology. This book presents the ideas that Dr. Ben-Shahar teaches at Harvard, and it’s easy to see why his class is one of the most popular courses the university has ever offered. Dr. Ben-Shahar balances scientific studies and scholarly research with self-help exercises in a manner that is inspiring and practical at the same time." 

—Edna Rienzi, New Dream Volunteer

Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture  (Shannon Hayes, 2010)

Radical Homemakers uncovers a hidden revolution quietly taking hold across the United States. It is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement, and family well-being. It explores the values, skills, motivations, accomplishments, power, challenges, joy, and creative fulfillment of Americans who are endeavoring to change the world by first reclaiming control of home and hearth.

"I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did, but Shannon Hayes does a wonderful job of recasting homemaking as a political, ecological, and post-feminist enterprise. She reviews what drives radical homemakers to change their lifestyle, and then explores these ideas with in-depth profiles of women and men who have traded in lives fueled by consumer culture for ones more attuned to family, community, and meeting basic needs." 

—Guinevere Higgins, Director of Development

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (Kim John Payne, 2010)

Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change.

"Of all the parenting books I have read over the years, this book has had the most influence on my parenting style than any other. This book has given me the tools to step back and protect my kids from the problems of too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time. It gives practical advice on how to streamline your home (my kids didn’t even notice that I got rid of 2/3 of their toys!), establish rhythms and rituals, schedule downtime, and scale back on media. No matter how old your children are, this book is a must-read for any parent." 

—Edna Rienzi, New Dream Volunteer

The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing (Lisa Gansky, 2010)

Most businesses follow the same basic formula: create a product or service, sell it, and collect money. What Lisa Gansky calls "Mesh" businesses throw this model out the window. Instead, these companies use social media, wireless networks, and data crunched from every available source to provide people with goods and services at the exact moment they need them, without the burden and expense of owning them outright. Already, hundreds of successful Mesh companies are redefining how we interact with the people, goods, and services in our lives. These businesses are spreading like wildfire, from bike sharing and home exchanges to peer-to-peer lending, energy cooperatives, and open source design.

"This book provides a paradigm shift in the way we think about consumptionmoving away from the idea of 'owning' a product to simply having 'access' to it when needed. While it is clearly a business book (albeit one that provides a very new business model), I liked it because it provides a new vision for what our economy can look like—one that is more sustainable in terms of our environment and use of resources, and also one that can foster a greater sense of community and sharing." 

—Kathy Hedge, Deputy Director

Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (Worldwatch Institute, 2010)

For society to thrive long into the future, we must move beyond our unsustainable consumer culture to one that respects environmental realities. In State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures , the Worldwatch Institute’s award-winning research team reveals not only how human societies can make this shift but also how people around the world have already started to nurture a new culture of sustainability. Chapters present innovative solutions to global environmental problems, focusing on institutions that are the principal engineers of culture, such as governments, the media, and religious organizations. Written in clear, concise language, Transforming Cultures presents a view of our changing world that we, and our leaders, cannot afford to ignore.

"This book may not be full of pretty pictures, but it's rich in the kind of information we need to make the shift to more sustainable cultures a reality. Transforming Cultures takes a big-picture look at the cultural, economic, and political changes that are needed not just in the United States, but around the world, to help ensure that humanity can have a sustainable, prosperous, future for many generations to come. A great read for someone hoping to tackle change at the institutional level."  

—Lisa Mastny, Senior Editor and Director of Pulbications

The Story of Stuff (Annie Leonard, 2010)

We have a problem with Stuff. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we’re consuming 30 percent of the world’s resources and creating 30 percent of the world’s waste. If everyone consumed at U.S. rates, we would need three to five planets! This alarming fact drove Annie Leonard to create the Internet film sensation "The Story of Stuff." In her sweeping, groundbreaking book of the same name, Leonard tracks the life of the Stuff we use every day—where our cotton T-shirts, laptop computers, and aluminum cans come from, how they are produced, distributed, and consumed, and where they go when we throw them out. Like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, The Story of Stuff is a landmark book that will change the way people think—and the way they live.

"Being a huge fan of the internet video sensation "The Story of Stuff" from 2007, I was very excited when the book version came out in 2010—and it did not disappoint. All the questions I had at the end of the 20-minute video—Just how did Americans become so obsessed with stuff? What did Leonard see when she tracked down garbage around the world? What can we do to fix the problems?—were answered in the book. From extraction to consumption to disposal, The Story of Stuff opens our eyes to the way hyper-consumerism is trashing the planet and our happiness. More importantly, it gives us visions of hope and solutions toward a better future." 

—Wen Lee, Director of Online Media and Engagement

Voluntary Simplicity Toward a Way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Duane Elgin, 2010 edition)

When Voluntary Simplicity was first published in 1981, it quickly became recognized as a powerful and visionary work in the emerging dialogue over sustainable ways of living. Nearly three decades later, as the planet’s environmental stresses become more urgent than ever, Duane Elgin has revised and updated his revolutionary book. Voluntary Simplicity is not about living in poverty; it is about living with balance. This book illuminates the pattern of changes that an increasing number of people around the world are making in their everyday lives—adjustments in day-to-day living that are an active, positive response to the complex dilemmas of our time. By embracing a lifeway of voluntary simplicity—characterized by ecological awareness, frugal consumption, and personal growth—people can change their lives. And in the process, they have the power to change the world.

"In this updated edition of what was once considered a cult book, it's clear that the concept of voluntary simplicity is no longer as 'radical' as it once seemed. In times of economic and ecological uncertainty, many Americans are consciously choosing to downshift their lifestyles to improve the quality of their spiritual and material lives. Elgin provides examples of steps that people are taking around the country and shows how getting in touch with both our deepest personal values and our shared community consciousness can help us create more rewarding lives."  

—Lisa Mastny, Senior Editor and Director of Publications

What the World Eats (Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel, 2009)

Every day, millions of families around the world gather—at the table or on the floor, in a house or outdoors—to eat together. Cultural geographers Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio visited 25 families in 21 countries to create this fascinating look at what people around the world eat in a week. Meet a family that spends long hours hunting for seal and fish together; a family that raises and eats guinea pigs; a family that drinks six gallons of Coca-Cola a week. In addition to profiles of each family, What the World Eats includes photo galleries and illustrated charts about fast food, safe water, life expectancy, literacy rates, and more! This enthralling glimpse into cultural similarities and differences is at once a striking photographic essay and an essential study in nutrition and the global marketplace.

"The authors profile urban and rural families, wealthy and not-so-wealthy folks from countries such as the Philippines, Kuwait, Poland, Bhutan, and Japan. The photos in the book, taken by Menzel, are lush. In them, families are depicted in their dining rooms with the food they eat in a week laid out in bold, striking patterns. The authors also include facts about the profiled countries such as access to water, meat consumption per capita, and prevalence of fast food. This book provided stark photo evidence of the reliance on processed foods in many cultures and countries is on the increase and that these foods of convenience are making us very unhealthy." 

—Sieglinde Peterson, Operations Officer

Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, 2008 edition)

In an age of great economic uncertainty when everyone is concerned about money and how they spend what they have, this new edition of the bestselling Your Money or Your Life is an essential read. With updated resources, an easy-to-use index, and anecdotes and examples particularly relevant today—it tells you how to: get out of debt and develop savings; reorder material priorities and live well for less; resolve inner conflicts between values and lifestyle; save the planet while saving money; and much more. In Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robin shows readers how to gain control of their money and finally begin to make a life, rather than just make a living.

"I made my husband read this book before we got married, it was that important to me. It was not a financial management book to me, it was a book that helped me reflect on my values and how I wanted to spend my time and my life. I am thankful that it made me realize at an early age that you can get trapped by money, rather than freed by it. And although I already knew I wanted to 'do good' in the world, this book made me question the entire expected path of 9-to-5 office work with a maxed-out mortgage. I think it should be required reading for every college student." 

—Wendy Philleo, Executive Director