The following 5 books are not meant to fit into everyone’s world-view. They are meant to challenge you and trigger thoughts that you haven’t had before. The recommendations are particularly aimed at sustainability scientists and practitioners and that is precisely why, except maybe the first recommendation, they are not classical sustainability-related literature. However, what all the 5 books have in common is outlining general and observable trends in society as well as explaining the forces that set these trends. All of them are written by quality-scientists who know what they are talking about and all of them are respected experts in their respective fields. The books allow you to understand where humanity is heading to. Then it is up to you to use that knowledge and apply it for good…

The books allow you to understand where humanity is heading to. Then it is up to you to use that knowledge and apply it for good…

The Age of Sustainable Development – Jeffrey Sachs

Benchmark. As mentioned, this one here is the most classic sustainability book on the list. As I am approaching the end of my M.Sc. in Sustainable Development I re-read it and have to say it is top-notch. It is exactly how I envision a good and holistic book on Sustainable Development. It goes nowhere into depth too much, but it clearly and accurately outlines much of what really matters. I feel like this book is a good role-model on how-to-write a popular-science book. Nice graphics, important message and I think, despite critics who accuse Sachs of being too one-dimensional in focusing on aid-policies, this book demonstrates that he understands his field.

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies – Geoffrey West

Ground-breaking. Scale can be interpreted as a first coherent attempt to unify science across many levels of analysis, from biology to social-science and economics. And it does so successfully. The real science behind is of mathematical nature and found in rather technical papers but West manages to reproduce the key elements here without any overdone math. I do think it is important because it can open the eye for researchers to think wider and bolder than they did before and at the same time delivers some first-hand analytical framework to do so. Especially people concerned with sustainability should, in my view, be aware of the scaling-relationships described here because they allow you a quick understanding of large development processes in countries, cities and companies.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies – Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson

Inspiring. The real genius in this book does not lie in telling us that the robots are coming to take our jobs, no it actually lies in outlining a predictive quantifiable theory of social organization. What that means is, for example, the authors show how the distribution of skills in a society and the demand for those, determines the wages, the wages the economic capability of people, the economic capability their education and so forth. Distributions in one field “transmit” through the society and create the familiar patterns around us. More generally speaking, the authors illustrate how technological evolution shapes social evolution.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari

Prophetic. One issue with the book is that much of its first 80% feels repetitive because of parallels with Harari’s previous best seller “Homo Sapiens-A Brief History of Mankind”. If you have not read that, then this book would maybe seem nearly genius-like to you. However, despite the similarities, again he demonstrates that he has a gift of synthesizing knowledge like few others do. And on top of that, the last 20% are a true revelation of reading because you have one “aha moment” after the other. A kind of irony though, Harari prophesizes the rise of the new world religion “Dataism” while seeing the world absolutely through the eyes of that religion. However, the irony does not diminish this author’s class.

Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 – Michio Kaku

Visionary. And techno-optimistic. I admit the book has its flaws. Kaku sometimes argues one-dimensionally and likely a lot of what is written here will not come true. However, I found it very interesting to see the potential possibilities of technology contributing to sustainability and the future evolution of mankind generally spoken. Especially the last two chapters are worth it from an economist point of view. Moreover, even in his chapter on “The Future of Energy” I learned quite a few things, and I studied energy from several angles already. If you have no problem with reading a book from an obvious “technology-enthusiast” and have interest in somewhat spacy visions, then this is the book for you.