A Baker’s Top Ten
Books I’d Call ART
Inspiration for this compilation
A while back I read a superb blog post from web goddess Sarah J Bray about investing in things with longevity.
In the advent of information overload and sidebar gluttony she writes,
“We are tired of sifting through information.
We want carefully edited direction…we want hand-picked.”
This past spring I finished what may have been one of the best books I’ve read between the years of 02001
and 02010* and it got me thinking about a few things.
Things like TIME and KNOWLEDGE and what it takes to craft and polish something so well that others would
consider it more than just useful reading, but a True Work of Art.
I took Ms Bray’s advice to heart and with tens of thousands of words and ten years of time later; here you have
it, my hand-picked top ten books.
What I sense artwork is in the word form.
“Words are signs of natural facts”
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay Nature:
Language is a third use which Nature sub serves to man.
Nature is the vehicle of thought, and in a simple, double, and three-fold degree:
1. Words are signs of natural facts
2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts.
3. Nature is the symbol of spirit
Why these books?
These books have influenced me beyond their words.
Even though I’ve made my way through countless other books since 02001, these ones have stuck to my
psyche and I find myself referencing them and recommending them over and over.
A few authors do make my list more than once (Gladwell and Maté) and it isn’t to play favourites. I even tried
to scrap the repeat authors and replace with other ones, but I kept coming back to these books.
These ten books have been a source of mentorship for me and they will continue to undoubtedly have an
impact how I see and make sense of my world.
If I may, I will play one favourite, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring
Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World, by Paul Hawken.
I am smitten with it.
It excites me.
A synthesis embedded with promise.
This was it.
Who are the authors?
Theodore Roszak brings in what seems to be non-related pieces of knowledge, history, literature and science and
makes you say to yourself, “Oh, I get it”. It makes you think about interconnectedness in a very different way (at
least that’s what I got thinking about).
The poetic justice of Mary Shelley’s innocent art is shockingly accurate.
The honesty, love and truth of Jane Goodall’s journey is humbling to say the least, not to mention deeply important
as we forge on as a species.
The exquisite mode in which Malcolm Gladwell intertwines his stories is a literary equivalent to the grand finale
bang often seen in Scorsese and Tarantino films.
Gabor Maté’s life experiences as a physician working in the domains of palliative care and drug addiction, not to
mention his own admittance of personal struggle with attention deficit disorder and addiction are stories that all
individuals should know exists. His truths may even help some cope and accept some of their own foibles.
Seth Godin’s desire to see movements takes shape such that big differences in our world can be made is refreshing
and is simply impossible to not pay attention to.
The conviction in which Paul Hawken uncovers social movements going on in our world, making them known on
paper and showing us that there are differences being made in our world today, big differences that we can be
proud of amongst all the toxic news we encounter daily, is promising and timely.
New Age Alchemy
Put together, these authors life experiences and knowledge is spellbinding and capacious.
If you were to perform some new age alchemy with their:
All human phenomena in its sick, twisted and beautiful glory
Then, perhaps some new set of instructions for our planet might begin to take shape, the kind of instructions
that could propel us in a very good direction.
Perhaps these new world instructions are waiting and begging to be crafted.
Here they are
I list the ten chronologically from 02001 to this past spring of 02010 and include some of my own words to go
with each piece.
The Gendered Atom: Reflections on the Sexual Psychology of Science, Theodore Roszak
(1999) I came across this book while procrastinating in a University bookstore in a far away land called
Australia. Roszak tells the tale of the power struggle for science to be what it historically has been (dualistic,
exploitative, with a masculine drive to control, as Roszak puts it) and the desperate need to do it a different
way (integrated and gender-free which brings a respect to nature). He uses the story of Frankenstein as a key
piece in his writing and brings to light places such as CERN (the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche
Nucléaire) located on the French-Swiss border where scientific folk smash atoms to pieces in attempts to
understand the laws of the universe. For science folk and those who work with humans this is an important
read. We need some nurturing to go along with that Gendered Atom.
“Science, though it champions reason, can degenerate into mad rationality. For all its idealism, it does not
dependably elevate us above sin; in the wrong hands, it may only enhance our power to do evil.”
Frankenstein, or the Modern Day Prometheus, Mary Shelley
(1818) This book is a metaphor for humanity’s desire to invent, create and then the consequence of such
creations coming back to kill all that we love and cherish. The writing is poetic and the history behind the
writing equally fascinating. The time point in history when the novel’s basic idea was conceived was the
summer of 1816 deemed the Year Without a Summer due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815. Due to
abnormally cool weather, Mary and her lover, soon to be husband Percy Shelley, were indoors with the likes
of Lord Byron on Lake Geneva. Lord Byron suggested they each compose a supernatural tale. She awoke from
a dream shortly after this and the young Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster were born,
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.”
She was only going to write a short story, but with Percy’s encouragement it turned into a full-fledged novel.
She was only 18.
A Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, Jane Goodall
(1999) This autobiography of Dr. Goodall’s life experience from being a young inexperienced girl in the
strange lands of Africa, to making groundbreaking discoveries in human evolution as a result of her research
in Gombe with the chimpanzees, to traveling 300 days out of the year advocating for the planet is remarkable.
For me, the most telling aspects weren’t so much the groundbreaking aspects of the familial and social bonds
that the chimpanzee display as well as their ability for tool use, but the wars and mutilations that they would
administer to each other – even within their own families. Makes you wonder about our origins and how
naturally engrained war is?
“I had come to accept that the dark and evil side of human nature was deeply rooted in our ancient past. We
had strong predispositions to act aggressively in certain kinds of contexts; and they were the same contexts-
jealously, competition for food or sex or territory, fear, revenge, and so on- that triggered aggression in
chimpanzees…In some respects, however, human aggressive behaviour was, indeed, unique….Only we
humans inflict physical or mental pain on living creatures deliberately despite-even because of-our
knowledge of the suffering involved.”
Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell
(2000) Bottom line for this one: Word of mouth is still the best transportation mode for ideas to become
known and mainstream (aka, to Tip). Social connections are equally important, be it weak ties or strong ties.
Just like epidemics as Gladwell uses for comparison, once something potent gets rolling it is hard to stop it. It
seems time to pick and choose the battles worthy of such tipping.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
(2005) You know when you just KNOW? Instinct, gut feeling, it just feels right - we all experience such
teasers, but how often do we follow such intuitive nudging? Whether it is related to business, buying
something expensive, a new friend or future spouse, we’ve all encountered these instances and they should
not be taken lightly. Some decisions are best made with thought and reason, others not so much. These latter
decisions, which are made in a ‘Blink’ of an eye, are the focus of this book.
Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell
(2008) What creates success? Often we never know the stories that go on behind the scenes prior to an
individual becoming successful. In his search for the Holy Grail of success, Gladwell discovers that a myriad of
factors contribute: the hours put in, who has helped them, sprinkles of coincidence, perfect timing and a dash
of synchronicity. He sets the stage for those who have found themselves being revered and indispensable in
their fields and those who had almost all the same characteristics, but never quite made it and why. Luck does
play a part, but it certainly is not the only factor. In the end hard work and dedication prevail.
Scattered Minds: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates And What You Can Do About It, Gabor Maté
(1999) Dr. Maté has been shunned by his medical peers for his writings in and around the role of nurture as
being a prime piece to attention deficit disorder, ADD, in kids (and as well the importance of “negative
thinking” in the next book I cite). This book is a must read for anyone who is about to become a parent, is a
parent or once had a parent, and/or anyone who finds challenge in staying focused and on track. He writes
about familial stress on kids and how this affects their entire brain physiology and therefore their future. He
uses his own experience living with ADD as an adult and the stresses imparted on his early development as a
result of living in Hungary during the Nazi genocide.
When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Gabor Mate
(2003) Being always positive isn’t necessarily good for the human system and when stress is dealt with poorly
(i.e., putting on a happy face and trudging through it all) it can create illness in the body. Maté was the head
physician in palliative care at Vancouver General Hospital and saw strikingly similar traits amongst many who
were dying of certain diseases, namely breast cancer, ALS, MS and other autoimmune-related illnesses.
Unfortunately it seems that women carry these more than men and is in many ways linked to their “I can do
everything” mentality. If you have trouble saying “NO” and hold back your emotions for fear of looking “weak”
or “not in control”, then this will be a hard, but essential read. Bottom line: The body will say no, especially if
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin
(2008) This past year I dove into non health-related reading and went a bit sideways into the world of
business and marketing. I came across Seth Godin. I’ve read many of his books and highly recommend them
(his blog too). This book and the ideas and stories contained within are far reaching from the marketing
domain. In 160 pages he brings together true human spirit, the notions of status quo, why going against it is
important, how groundbreaking movements take shape, what is required for really good work to happen -
essentially why, and how tribes thrive. Godin’s brevity and simplistic style is not to be taken as light reading.
This book is thought-provoking and poses some very important questions that apply to many, if not all,
disciplines and fields of study that exist in the world today.
“Great leaders create movements by empowering the tribe to communicate.
They establish the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow
“Organizations that destroy the status quo win. Individuals who push their organizations to inspire others to
change the rules, thrive.”
“Tribes are waiting to turn into movements.”
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming,
(2008) Hawken crafts subject matter, historical interludes and real-life occurrences that range from the
abolitionist movement to current day social activism, Gandhi, Google Foundation, literary folk such as
Emerson and Thoreau, the human immune system and everything environmental, ecological and all the in
between’s in a timely and remarkably stitched together piece of art that wears clarity and conviction. What
Hawken writes about is real and IS happening; thousands of non-profits, NGO’s, organizations and “tribes” of
people as well as individuals who are dedicated to our planet and to you. There were too many great
sentences and paragraphs in Blessed Unrest. I can’t choose one. So here is what someone else says about it:
“For the first time since life evolved, one species is now altering the physical, chemical, and
biological features of the planet on a geological scale. Scientists tell us of a litany of
ecological disasters—climate change, toxic pollution, species extinction, marine depletion,
deforestation—the depressing list can paralyze one with hopelessness and despair. Fear
can motivate immediate action in the short-run, but hope can be sustained. Paul Hawken's
writings are always at the cutting edge of environmental thought, original, surprising and
shot through with optimism. Blessed Unrest is an uplifting perspective, engendering
wonder and hope. For all of us that are squirreling away in our individual small ways, it is
inspiring to realize that millions of us can add up to an irresistible force. Read this book
and shout "Hallelujah!"” David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance
A Bonus Book
I am sitting beside a whole stack of new books.
Because I already know that one of them will make my next top ten, this top ten has morphed into a top
eleven. This explains the very odd title, a “Bakers Top Ten” at the top.
(2009) Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto. Stewart Brand
Brand calls himself an “Ecologist by training, a futurist by profession, and a hacker (lazy engineer) at heart”.
This new book is the continuation of something he founded in 1968 called Whole Earth Catalog, which was a
“…environmentalist tools, and skills (along with much else) and explicitly purveyed a biological way of
I highly encourage you to check out the original catalog online which can be downloaded for five bucks (the
original price in 1968). When you peer into this 1968 treasure trove you’ll see that what was once deemed a
little “out there” is now being drunk up by many (yoga, solar energy, consciousness etc).
What does this mean? I’d say, pay attention to what Brand predicts and writes about in his current book.
Whole Earth Discipline is geared towards many topics, but climate change, the energy crisis and the changing
world as we see it today is of primary focus.
“When roles shift, ideologies have to shift, and ideologies hate the shift. The workaround is pragmatism-‘a
practical way of thinking concerned with results rather than with theories and principles.’ The shift is deeper
than moving from one ideology to another; the shift is to discard ideology entirely……Talk of ‘saving the
planet’ is overstated however. Earth will be fine, no matter what; so will life. It is humans who are in trouble.
But since we got ourselves into this fix, we should be able to get ourselves out of it.”
“Forty years ago, I started the Whole Earth Catalog with the words, ‘We are as gods, and we might as well get
good at it.’ Those were innocent times. New situation, new motto: We are as gods and have to get good at it.
The Whole Earth Catalog encouraged individual power; Whole Earth Discipline is more about aggregate
power. The scale of the climate challenge is so vast that it cannot be met solely by grassroots groups and
corporations, no matter how Green. The situation requires government fiat to set rules and enforce them.”
Postscript: I finished Whole Earth Discipline in August while traveling back to the West coast of California. I
wrote this on the inner cover of the book many thousands of feet high in the sky:
“Completed reading on August 7, 2010 while flying from New York City to Salt Lake City looking over the Midwest, the sun
setting, the clouds in slight haze, remnants of orange, and roads that stretch forever -connecting the people of planet earth.”
Just like Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest, I find myself smitten with this one too.
About one week later I found myself at the Sausalito Film Festival. That evening I knew this Vancouver gal
would be a stranger amongst the folk of Marin, but it never even occurred to me that I’d be in a room with the
two authors whose writings have mentored me and ideas left me smitten and sparked with deep curiosity and
an incessant question burning in my being – ‘How might human care and planetary care blend’ – how might I
begin to write about it? Serendipity was kind to me that evening:
Paul Hawken opened up the film, Climate Refugees, and Stewart Brand sat on the Q & A panel at the end of the
night. I smiled all night long. I am still smiling. A great way to wrap up ten years of reading and perhaps nudge
me into the embryonic stages of answering my question above.
Hawken ducked out before I could say “hello”, but I was able to talk to Brand, shake his hand and tell him how
smitten I was with his newest book. Judging by his look of surprise when I used the “S” word, I’m not so sure
he has ever had such a word used to describe how his writing affected someone.
Chance meetings, albeit brief and from afar, make for some remarkable beginnings.
Thanks for reading, Irene.
Email is best: firstname.lastname@example.org
A new home called:
The Human Groove - Curate You
will soon be at a web address near you.
For now you can check out this SITE.
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* The placement of the ‘zero’ before the year will be explained if you check out The Long Now Foundation
(Kind of goes with the whole idea of “longevity and time” – the original catalyst for this book compilation.)