Undertow Recommended Reads

Beckmann Temptation detail

Max Beckmann ‘Temptation of St. Anthony’ (Detail).


This is a list of recommended reading material for those looking for more background on this site: This list will be upgraded frequently so check often.





WALTER BAGEHOT: Lombard Street (1873) Everything you need to know about central banking and the management of hard currencies can be found here. (e-book)

JING CHEN and JAMES K. GALBRAITH Institutional Structures and Policies in an Environment of Increasingly Scarce and Expensive Resources: A Fixed Cost Perspective (2011) Effect of resource scarcity on industrial economies. ALSO:

JING CHEN and JAMES K. GALBRAITH A Biophysical Approach to Production Theory, Working paper (2009).

CHARLES EISENSTEIN: Sacred Economics: Money Gift & Community in the Age of Transition (2011) This is a book is the counterpoint to David Graeber’s ‘Debt, The First 5000 Years’. “He proposes demurrage currency and prefers Silvio Gesell’s leasing of the commons approach to George’s land tax (Eisenstein calls Gesell’s 1906 book ‘The Natural Economic Order’ a “masterwork”). (Sandor)

IRVING FISHER The Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions (1933) Debt repayment = extinguished currency = deflation. Seminal paper written after Fisher lost all his money in the Depression. (Online economic paper)

HENRY GEORGE: Progress and Poverty, An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy (1879) A parallel critique of industrial capitalism to Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’. (e-book) George’s suggestion of a land tax high enough to remove incentive to land rents is central to much of current economic thinking by Michael Hudson and others.

SILVIO GESELL: The Natural Economic Order (1918) Gesell’s attempt to undo the system of rents, unearned income and thereby liberate labor from bondage (e-book, highly recommended.)

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES: The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920) Arguably Keynes’ most accessible writing; his critique of European policy after Versailles. (e-book) ALSO:

JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1935) Arguably Keynes’ response to equilibrium economic theory, his (incomplete) masterwork: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. (e-book and PDF)

AXEL LEIJONHFVUD: The Unstable Web of Contracts (2012) From Institute for New Economic Thinking, paper describing 2008 crisis: string economy, overcomplexity, the absence of good choices. Everything by Leijonhufvud is a) brilliant, b) worth reading, he makes the most complex ideas simple!

FRIEDRICH LIST: The National System of Political Economy(1841) List is economic father of modern Germany as well as intellectual force behind the EU. (e-book)

THOMAS MALTHUS: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) Increased population cause an increase in poverty due to increased competition for jobs. (e-book)

KARL MARX – FRIEDRICH ENGELS Capital (or ‘Das Kapital’ 3 volumes last two from Marx’s notes by Engels) (1867 and later) Vilified in the West and referenced repeatedly but almost never read; an insightful critique of industrial capitalism (e-book).

KARL MARX – FRIEDRICH ENGELS The Communist Manifesto — or — Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) Oft cited but rarely read, offers the state monopoly on credit creation (e-book)

HYMAN MINSKY The Financial Instability Hypothesis (1992) Periods of economic stability by themselves tend to undermine stability (Downloadable economic paper)

WARREN MOSLER: 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds (2009) An alternate view of contemporary economic theory from a finance company insider (Download).

E. F. SCHUMACHER Small Is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered (1973) Sadly forgotten but highly influential and timely MUST READ in the rotting phase of industrialization. (Download)

JOSEPH SCHUMPETER Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) Intended as a critique of Marx and his business cycles: analysis extends to include degrading of capitalism into corporatism. (e-book)

ADAM SMITH: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) Influential description of division of labor within industrial economies (e-book)

THE ECOLOGIST Vol. 2 No. 1 Goldsmith et. al. A Blueprint For Survival (1970) One of the seminal works of modern environmentalism. (Online economic paper).

KNUT WICKSELL: The Influence of the Rate of Interest on Prices (1907) From Economic Journal 17: 213–220 One of the seminal economists of the late- 19th and early 20th centuries. The radical Wicksell developed a more fully-formed quantity of money theory of prices, the first step down the road toward Keynes’ theories. (Online economic paper)


Hard-core economics work-books are noted with term ‘MATH’


BENJAMIN BERNANKE: Essays on the Great Depression (2000) A series of more-or-less conventional observations about the Great Depression.

WILLIAM BLACK: The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry (2005) Description of savings and loan crisis and banking crimes in general.

WILLIAM BOBBITT: The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History (2007) Corporations and globalization have created the nation-transcending ‘market state’ (Kevin Cunneen).

RON CHERNOW: The House of Morgan, An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance (1990) Everything you wanted to know about the banking business of Morgan and Co. (This might also be available as a free audiobook.)

JAMES S. DONNELLY, JR. Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821-1824 (2009) History of Irish rebellion in early 19th century (K. Cunneen).

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: The Great Crash 1929 (1954) Arguably the best of the stock market crash narratives.

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH: The New Industrial State (1967) Influential observation that industrial states all become very much the same regardless of politics.

STEVE KEEN: Debunking Economics, The Naked Emperor Dethroned (2011) Illuminates where conventional ‘rational actors’ go wrong. (MATH)

NAOMI KLEIN: The Shock Doctrine, the Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) The establishment uses crises for its own ends, both inadvertent and self-created crises. Highly Recommended.

CHARLES A. S. HALL and KENT A. KITGAARD: Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Understanding the Biophysical Economy (2012) Textbook description of the relationship between our fabulous economy and its energy cost. Expensive but worth it. (SOME MATH)

ANNA SCHWARTZ – MILTON FRIEDMAN: A Monetary History of the United States (1960) Reduces economics to the proper or otherwise management of the money supply: incorrect but ambitious and political: the monetarists’ bible.

PHILLIP SLATER: The Pursuit of Loneliness: America’s Discontent and the Search for a New Democratic Ideal (1990) Examines social tendencies in the US toward individualism, violence and addiction to technology. (Josh)

L. RANDALL WRAY: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems (2012) An overview of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).




CHARLES DARWIN: The Origin of Species (1859) Oft referred to be rarely read study of natural selection. (e-book)

THOMAS HAGER The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World But Fueled the Rise of Hitler (2009) The story of the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process to produce nitrates, useful for both fertilizer and explosives. Ellen Anderson

E. O. WILSON Success and Dominance in Ecosystems: The Case of the Social Insects (1987) General observations about social insects primarily ants (e-book)

E. O. WILSON: On Human Nature (1978) Explanation of biology and human behavior by an evolutionary biologist.




MIKE AND NANCY BUBEL: Root Cellaring: the simple no-processing way for store fruits and vegetables (1979) Another Rodale product. (J. B.)



BRIAN HALWEIL: Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient Levels in U.S. Food Supply Eroded by Pursuit of High Yields (2007) High-yield strains and industrial inputs have increased gross farm output at a cost: diminished nutrition from the food that is produced (download).

F. H. KING: Farmers of Forty Centuries, Or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea, and Japan (1911) Examination of traditional (pre-industrial) agriculture. (e-book)

RODALE PUBLISHING: Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening Multiple reprints and updates with variations on the title: all kinds of information on growing plants.

STEVE SOLOMON: The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food (2012) How to add missing nutrient base to your soil to grow nutrient dense food.

CAROLE B. TURNER: Seed Sowing and Saving: Step-by-Step Techniques for Collecting and Growing More Than 100 Vegetables, Flowers, and Herbs (1998) Avoiding the Home Depot tomato plant by growing your own. (J. B.)

JOHN VIVIAN: Wood Heat (1976) In depth look at heating and cooking with wood. A Rodale Press product. (J. B.)




JOE BAGEANT: Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (2008) Observations of American working class.

JARED DIAMOND ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ (1997) History of modernity and its methods is surprisingly available online at no cost (.pdf document) No mention of Keynes in this work (Sandor)

OTTO FRIEDRICH: Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet (1993) A look a 19th century France during the period of Napoleon III and the Franco-Prussian War.

EDWARD GIBBON: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) Immense examination of Romans from the Antonines to the capture of Constantinople in the 16th century. (both e-book and download) There are other studies including Toynbee but this is the best and most entertaining.

DAVID GRAEBER: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) Another skewering of conventional economic thinking that does not accurately account for debt.

CHALMERS JOHNSON: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2001) Seminal critique of US post-WWII overseas policies and consequences.

CHARLES P. KINDLEBERGER: Manias, Panics and Crashes; a History of Financial Crises (1989) Classic and insightful look at historical finance crises including overviews of competing theories.

WILLIAM KLINGAMAN: 1929, The Year of the Great Crash (1989), a look at the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

WILLIAM MANCHESTER: The Glory and the Dream, A Narrative History of America, 1932 – 1972 (1992) An epic overview of late-twentieth century US history, useful as a reference. Susan Grigsby @ Daily Kos: “Books That Changed My Life”.
C. WRIGHT MILLS: The Power Elite (1956) Scathing criticism of the US power structure made up of corporate, military and political bosses.

MEADOWS, RANDERS AND MEADOWS: Limits to Growth (1972) Computer analysis of trends in output, pollution and resource depletion under basic scenarios. Their prognostications are turning out to have been quite prescient.

LEWIS MUMFORD: Myth of the Machine (1970, in two volumes: ‘Technics and Human Development’ and ‘The Pentagon of Power’) Mumford dissects this ‘thing’ we have created in order to enslave ourselves.

JACK LONDON: People of the Abyss (1903) Lives in East London slums at the turn of the 20th century (e-book).

GEORGE ORWELL: Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) Another perspective on live in the slums.

VANCE PACKARD: The Waste Makers (1960) Along with The Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers: critiques of planned obsolescence, advertising and US consumer economy.

JACOB RIIS: How the Other Half Lives, Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890) Lives of the poorest in 19th century urban New York City (e-book).
OSWALD SPENGLER Decline of the West (in 2 volumes) (1922) Historical comparative analysis of international conflict.

OSWALD SPENGLER: Man and Technics (1932) Discussion of the (Available as a download) Critique of industrial civilization (Christian Gustaffson)

JOSEPH TAINTER: The Collapse of Complex Societies (1990) Observes diminished returns to administrative and social complexity.

BARBARA W. TUCHMAN: A Distant Mirror, The Calamitous 14th Century (1978) A classic study of the period that in many ways parallels our own distressed 20th century.

BARBARA W. TUCHMAN: The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (1996) A look at primarily Europe during the decades before the First World War.

VACLAV HAVEL: The Power of the Powerless (1978) Essay regarding totalitarian states and how citizens can respond to them. (J.B. Sties) (Online document)

VACLAV HAVEL: Open Letters, Selected Writings, 1965 – 1990 (1991) More from Havel can be found @ Havel Czech Republic website. (J. B. Sties)




MIKE DAVIS City of Quartz (1990- updated in 2006) A look at Los Angeles and its metamorphosis into dystopian megalopolis.

MIKE DAVIS Planet of Slums (2006) Hard look @ ad-hoc urbanization around the world.

JANE JACOBS Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) Analysis of American cities: what works and what hasn’t.

JAMES HOWARD KUNSTLER Geography of Nowhere, The Rise And Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (1994) Critique of US suburbia and auto-centric development.

MIKE REISNER Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, Revised Edition (1993) Water flows uphill toward money …

Dingbat 1

Here’s the format for booklist entries. It’s easier for me, I can simply cut and paste your suggestion:

NAME OF THE AUTHOR: don’t forget the colon <a href=”link”>Complete Title of the Book in Title Case</a> (the date of first publication in parentheses) short description (note if item is downloadable or available on-line in parentheses)

The book author’s name is ALL CAPS, the format is conventional: given name first then family name.

The Complete title includes more than the well-known hash. For instance ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ is the hash, the complete title is ‘The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby’. A lot of titles don’t make sense without the entire word salad. At the same time, the author wrote the title a certain way, which is the way the title should be.

The link is to a site that gives a short description or review of the book. Most general interest books can be found on Google Books, as can e-books. Economic papers and other technical material can be linked to the publisher generally, most of which are non-commercial such as universities, central banks websites and think tanks.

No Amazon links or other bookstore links other than links to e-books and other free distributions.

Description in 25 words or less.

There is a lot more to come on the booklist as it does take some time to hunt down information and edit it. Please check back frequently.

There is really not much in the way of limits to the booklist: the connecting thread is economics which itself incorporates almost everything that humans do while they are awake. ‘The Communist Manifesto’ belongs and perhaps, ‘War and Peace’ but not Anna Karenina’ (although it does have some great lines in it.)

Advertising not permitted: Michael Lewis and Matt Taibbi are in, Jack Welsh is not in, although his, ‘Jack: Straight from the Gut’ falls into the ‘knowing your adversary’ category.


16 thoughts on “Undertow Recommended Reads

  1. Ellen Anderson

    What a good idea! Of course I would love to do a mind dump on your blog but I will restrain myself. In the gardening department I would recommend ‘Gardening When it Counts’ and ‘The Intelligent Gardener’ by Steve Solomon. He has maintained a database of books on soil and gardening for years and, in his youth, started a successful seed business. When he ran out of money he ate the trials and noticed that his teeth were getting loose. I won’t spoil the story for you, but Steve S. is committed to giving people access to information so they can improve their own soils. He moderates a Yahoo users group and will correspond with anyone who has a question. I have been working in my town, through my Grange, to get soils tested and then to run the results through Steve’s system. Results are varied and interesting but most people’s soils are severely depleted and if they insist upon eating local without testing both soils and veggies they had better hang onto their teeth!

    1. steve from virginia Post author


      I’m convinced the primary reason for westward expansion during the 19th century and the Civil War was poor agriculture techniques, depleting crops — particularly tobacco and cotton — and soil nutrient exhaustion and decline of tilth. Some soils — particularly in the American South — have never recovered.

      After the war came industrial agriculture and development which accelerated depletion in areas outside the South. Many of these areas are fit only to grow weeds.

      1. Ellen Anderson

        Right about current soils:
        Read the Steve Solomon book ‘The Intelligent Gardener.’ Also ‘Farmers of Forty Centuries.’ It is possible to produce nourishing food without industrial ag but it isn’t easy and, if climate change makes weather patterns unpredictable, it will be all the harder. The farmers in the far east had excellent soils washed down by rivers (now, presumably polluted) and lots of human labor plus a mild climate and predictable rain patterns.
        One thing that was essential was preserving every bit of manure and composting it – whether human or animal. No flushing toilets sending prozac laden water out into the ocean.
        The USDA and the FDA are just horrible and totally co-opted by Monsanto and Bayer Crop Sciences. But another of Thomas Hagen’s books ‘The Demon Under the Microscope’ does give you an idea of what abuses were perpetrated on the consuming public in the early 20th century. The FDA and the USDA were seen as heros back then and they probably were. Now they are villans. I imagine there are a lot of well meaning public employees there who wish it were otherwise.

  2. Ken Barrows

    I’ll specifically recommend Graeber. When you read it, the lightbulb keeps going off.

  3. christiangustafson

    I have wanted to take up Lewis Mumford for a while now. We’re at this point of reassessment, where our assumptions have changed so much, that we can take up certain thinkers again and read them in a whole new light. Mumford is this presence across the whole of the 20th Century and late modernity, and I want to read him carefully.

    Probably a good idea to re-read Henri Bergson as well, and to track down more of Joseph Schumpeter.

    That, and I have a copy of the classic treatment of the Irish potato famine, The Great Hunger, by Cecil Woodham-Smith to read. I stumbled across a really clean 1962 hardcover copy of it at the thrift store around the corner.

    Malthus warned about Ireland in his famous essay on population; he saw the danger of depending on a single crop. Of course, the Irish still had America as an outlet. What we’re looking at may be much more severe, even than that.

    1. Ellen Anderson

      I have heard (and I don’t know whether or not it is true) that there were many other crops growing in Ireland during the famine but that they were grown for export to England and not made available to the starving people who relied upon potatoes.
      I myself love potatoes and find them somewhat easy to grow. But it is really important to preserve many different varieties and hope that some will survive in years where diseases are prevalent. ‘The Resilient Gardener’ by Carol Deppe, is another good gardening book for hard times. She prefers potatoes. And they are easy to grow compared to small grains.

  4. eeyores enigma

    Regarding ag and food ….The name of the game is nutritional density.

    We are currently unable to nourish the population of the planet. We can FEED them possibly but no way we can nourish them.

    Along with the increase in agricultural production came a concomitant decrease in nutritional values of the foods produced.

    This is the underlying issue to many of mans ills. I have read that up to 80% of all disease is caused by malnutrition.

    Modern nutrition measures a dozen or so elements when there are hundreds of other factors involved in bioavailability of what we need to thrive.

    Not a conversation anyone is willing to have…just like so many others these days.

    1. p01

      Not a conversation anyone is willing to have, because it explains everything, puts the blame right where it belongs, and renders all other major “conversations” useless, because they don’t address the cause, but the various effects.
      It also means the collapse of the structure on which everything has been built from the beginning of our culture until now (http://www.oilcrash.com/articles/frog.htm)

      What do you say to that, especially if all your life you have never experienced anything BUT this culture?

      Then there’s also the fact that civilization is the only construct where the old have (literally, via the property/finance/war trio) power of life and death over the young.
      Some optimists would say the reversal of this anomaly would save the species:
      “If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all.”
      –Daniel Quinn

      Good luck with that, especially at this point in time!

  5. jb

    In his recent address to the Green Party, Chris Hedges mentioned Vaclav Havel’s ‘The Power of the Powerless.’ Yesterday I visited a local used bookstore and found ‘Open Letters – Selected Writings 1965-1990 Vaclav Havel’ – selected and edited by Paul Wilson. This is not my usual cup of tea, but Hedges was so passionate in his talk that I decided to give it a try. Here’s a quote from his essay ‘On Evasive Thinking’:

    “And so, in the end, the only thing that fails to conform to our wishes, is reality. Not surprisingly: we don’t have time for it.”

  6. jb

    Beckmann’s painting was of interest, so I did a little digging:


    That he went from being a German national hero to a shunned degenerate in such a short time frame is a message for our time.

    Steve, you’ve placed significant works of art as your lead-in several times, but I can’t seem to recall us ever having much of a conversation about the role of art during turning points in modern history. Perhaps a post for another time? Some of your favorites, perhaps? A piece of your own?

  7. Sandor

    Two more books:

    CHARLES EISENSTEIN ‘Sacred Economics: Money Gift & Community in the Age of Transition’ (2011)
    http://sacred-economics.com/ (the site has a 12-minute video overview)

    He proposes demurrage currency and prefers Silvio Gesell’s leasing of the commons approach to George’s land tax (Eisenstein calls Gesell’s 1906 book ‘The Natural Economic Order’ a “masterwork”). The book seems tailor-made for this site’s readers. Curious if Steve or others have read it and what you think? Surprised it hasn’t been mentioned before…

    JARED DIAMOND ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’ (1997)

    The history of civilization over the past 13,000 years, reasoning how we got to where we are today through the prisms of agriculture, domesticated animals, geography, biological diseases, language, and technology. I assume everyone on EU has already read this, but just in case. Also, his book ‘Why Is Sex Fun?’ explores animals’ sexual reproductive strategies, explaining the basis for man-woman dynamics and the curious aspects of human sexual behaviour, which is important to understanding the ‘overpopulation’ problem.

Comments are closed.