Essential Books

Over the years I’ve collected and categorized the best of the best books on related subjects.

The books are divided into two categories: Economy and Peak Oil. The Economy titles are arranged into two subcategories: Books for the Layman and (for those who like details and a deeper understanding of financial machinery) Econowonk Corner.

Note: These titles are arranged in order of priority. If I were new to this topic, and hadn’t read any of them, this is the order in which I would recommend reading them.


Economy Essential Books

Books for the Layman

The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve
by G. Edward Griffin

Where does money come from? Where does it go? Who makes it? In many ways, this is the book that started it all for me. Herein you will find out how money is created from thin air and the anything-but-boring history of how the Federal Reserve came into being. Meticulously researched and well-written, this book should be right at the top of your list, if your goal is to peel back the layers and truly understand the nature of the system in which you live. This book changed the way I view the world, which places it in a very rare category.


The New Empire of Debt
by Bill Bonner & Addison Wiggin

Engaging, quick to read, and well worth it. I would read it, if I were you, just for the historical parallels and history lessons. Fascinating stuff. The basic premise is that the US is an empire, but the first empire in world history that has funded its operations by exporting its debt rather than taxing the outposts. Quite an odd strategy, when you think of it this way. Also raises enormous questions about the sustainability of the model.


Financial Reckoning Day
by William Bonner and Addison Wiggin

An extremely well-written and engaging romp through all the current debt and excessive borrowing data, with great awareness of historical and foreign analogies to make it all come alive. One of the first books I read on economics that got me started.


Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead
by Tamara Draut

This is a great book for anybody who is 20 to 30 years old, or who has children and wants to understand how and why it is that the financial deck is stacked so steeply against society’s newest adults. In a nutshell, boomers have written a set of laws that assure all of the current economic surplus flows to them, leaving very little for the next generation.

Econowonk Corner

The Coming Generational Storm
by Kotlikoff and Burns

This book shows how underfunded entitlement programs alone represent the complete insolvency of the US government. A great book with plenty of data that will leave you fully aware of the demographic and financial issues surrounding our collective promises to ourselves. The authors raise the moral issues involved, and lay out a set of (unpalatable) policy solutions that no living politician would ever publicly consider. Probably no dead ones, either.


The Dollar Crisis
by Richard Duncan

An excellent, informative, and readable explanation of the whole international dollar-recycling game. Duncan convincingly shows that it will all work until it doesn’t. But, when it breaks…oh boy…you had better have your non-dollar bets already laid on the table.


Perfectly Legal
by David Cay Johnston (New York Times Pulitzer prize winning reporter)

An aggravating look at how the US tax system is deeply rigged in favor of the wealthy and the well-connected. Truly maddening. Also frightening because such institutionalized theft by the rich is a recipe for social disaster. As far back as Pliny the Elder (~AD50), it was understood that the greatest threat to a republic was an unstable gap between the wealthy and the poor, and also that greed and avarice were boundless. The US, without much public discussion, is now on a course for the most massive rich-poor gap ever seen, and this poses risks to our social harmony. Shouldn’t we at least be talking about it? This book exposes the systematic concentration of wealth in all its glory.


Peak Oil Essential Books

Note: These are all essential books, but the top two are utterly crucial; the first for the basic science that is essential to understanding the true scope of our oil dependence (which is essential to refute the biofuels fantasy), and the second for the importance of changing our stories.


The Party’s Over
by Richard Heinberg

This is the gold standard of Peak Oil writing. Its most significant contribution for me was helping me finally understand that what is important is not the total amount of energy, but the total amount of free energy (i.e., Energy Returned on Energy Invested or EROEI). For example, the tar sands of Canada are usually described as having “reserves larger than Saudi Arabia,” but rarely is it mentioned that getting those reserves out of the ground would either require us to build over 1,000 nuclear plants (to heat the ground) or to use up every last molecule of natural gas on the entire continent. So, yes, there’s a bunch of hydrocarbon tar up there in Canada, but it is in no way comparable to the Saudi treasure, which flowed out of the ground while offering vast amounts of surplus energy as part of the deal. No such deal exists for the Canadian tar sands, and that’s worth understanding.


The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight
by Thom Hartmann

This is the book to read if you want to understand the extremely critical work that lays before us, in terms of understanding both what true security really is and the importance of changing our stories. This book also does a very credible job of explaining the basics of Peak Oil, and the science and geology that underlies the notion that we WILL someday run out (no ifs, ands, or buts).

The Long Emergency
by James Howard Kunstler

This is an excellent book that crisply describes a future without oil. (Hint: it isn’t pretty). I liked it because Mr. Kunstler does such a good job of leaving no refuge for those who would want to hope that somehow we’ll be able to “preserve our easy motoring utopia.” We won’t. Rather, we’ll just have to figure out how to get around with less oil, and that’s a situation for which vast swaths of our country are thoroughly unprepared. The ‘vast swath’ being the whole thing, pretty much. A bit of a dystopian view of the future, but one that the architectural critic Kunstler views positively, since it will unwind the dreaded strip malls and failed exurb experiment.


Twilight in the Desert
by Matthew Simmons

Saudi Arabia is a lot closer to Peak Oil than they publicly claim. I really enjoyed this book, but then again, I enjoy diving deep. This book was most responsible for the development of my understanding of how oil reservoirs actually work and the deep technical challenges that accompany oil extraction.


Power Down
by Richard Heinberg
An extension of The Party’s Over, this book lays out in some detail what the future will look like once the oil party is over. Dark stuff (no pun intended) best read in the light of day.


Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak
by Kenneth S. Deffeyes

A good book by a longtime petroleum engineer that is especially valuable for those who want to understand how oil is formed and the precarious geological coincidences that are required for oil to stick around in underground reservoirs for hundreds of millions of years waiting for a sub-strain of primates to find it. For instance, in this book he asks the question,

Suppose we had an underground oil reservoir containing 1 billion barrels of oil that was escaping at the rate of 1 drop per second; how long would it take before all of that oil is gone? Answer: 100 million years.

…which goes a long way toward explaining the typical age of the typical reservoir and why geologists concentrate on some rock formations and not others. At any rate, this book is essential if you find yourself being swayed by such anti-Peak-Oil arguments as. “We’ve hardly explored huge swaths of the globe and are sure to find more.”

Deffeyes explains that we’ve pretty thoroughly scoured every relevant geological structure on the entire face of the planet twice over, which helps explain why the discovery of oil peaked in the 1960’s, despite all of our modern technological prowess.