This section of the website describes books which have significantly influenced my thinking.


Many books have been written about possible futures of society and concerns for what humankind is doing to the environment. The four trailblazer books described in Part 1 were ones which had a profound effect on thinking around the world in the 1970s and 80s. They led me to a personal synthesis of ideas based on the idea of conviviality. That they were all published in the two years 1972-73 may be an artefact of my choice but I think more likely is a reflection of the fact that, a quarter of a century after the end of World War II, when industrial reconstruction had repaired much of the ravages of war, people were beginning to ask the philosophical question ‘Where is this taking us?’

BLUEPRINT FOR SURVIVAL (1972) carried the devastating message that ‘the principal defect of the industrial way of life with its ethos of expansion is that it is not sustainable’. It focused on industrial societies and provided, as its title implied, a plan for making developed societies sustainable.

THE LIMITS TO GROWTH (1972) had a similar message that ‘the most probable result [of current growth trends] will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity’. Unlike the above book it was based on computer analyses of complex world systems.

They both were concerned with population growth, economic growth, disruption of ecological systems and exhaustion of natural resources. The latter was widely read and certainly was the more criticised because its computer-based scenarios were more easily challenged than the qualitative descriptions of ‘Blueprint’.

There was a tendency for scientists to support the doom-laden predictions without challenge, for economists to oppose them without recognising their significance, and for policy-makers to treat them as a seven-day wonder and then forgot. Today industrial decline is seen in terms of economic problems rather than physical limits, there is less focus on population growth, similar concerns about disruption of ecological systems, and grave concern about something which was known about but hadn't surfaced significantly then - climate change and global warming.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL (1973) soon became a catch-phrase on the lips of many who had neither read the book nor reflected on the issues which Schumacher tackled. Yet thousands did read it and welcomed the introduction of moral arguments into debate about the economics of the future.

TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY (1973) starkly demonstrated the way in which people are losing their autonomy as an inevitable consequence of the way we allow technology to develop. It could provide a sharp challenge to those who implement managerialist approaches in the public services, but sadly few of today's leaders have even heard of Illich.

In developing the concept of conviviality as presented on this website, I took Illich’s word and extended its meaning to embrace the moral concepts of Schumacher and, placing it in the global context of both Blueprint for Survival and, The Limits to Growth, expressed it as a joyful consequence of seeking harmony with others, with the environment and with self. MB


NO NONSENSE GUIDE TO GLOBALIZATION (2001) by Wayne Ellwood opened my eyes to the notion that economic poverty around the world is as big a problem facing the world as ecological degradation. He wrote Corporate-led globalization is a juggernaut, driven by greed and notions of economic efficiency, which is radically altering social relationships, impoverishing millions of fellow humans, stripping age-old cultures of their self-identity and threatening the environmental health of the Earth.

But he remains an optimist by noting that this is not inevitable for global systems are human-made. He says that there is a world-wide movement to rethink globalization and that day by day it grows stronger. And he sees this movement as premised on a central truth: The only way to convince states to act in the interests of their people is to construct a system that will put humans back in control at the center of economic activity.

THE FOURTH PILLAR OF SUSTAINABILITY (2001) by Jon Hawkes links culture with ecological, social and economic sustainability and argues that any planning process of government should pass through a framework of questions arising from all four of these 'pillars'. He believes that it is local government in direct interaction with its communities that should take the lead in striving for a sustainable society.

SUSTAINABLE EDUCATION: RE-VISIONING LEARNING AND CHANGE (2001) by Stephen Sterling. His argument is that the difference between a sustainable future (which he seeks) and a chaotic future (which he considers we are fast heading for) is transformative learning based on an ecological, participative worldview in which change in education and change in society interact and support each other.

GLOBALIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS (2002) by Joseph Stiglitz - who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2001. He says that globalization today is not working for many of the world’s poor, for much of the environment nor for the stability of the global economy. He argues for globalisation with a human face, but, in my reading, pays scant attention to environmental issues and global warming and sees economic growth as essential.

THE SPIRIT LEVEL: WHY MORE EQUAL SOCIETIES ALMOST ALWAYS DO BETTER (2009) by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. This is the most significant political book of this century so far. It explores the contradiction between the material success of many industrial countries and their social failings – and shows how inequalities between rich and poor exacerbate social problems. It is discussed on this website in the section Inequality Matters: Narrow the Gap Between Rich and Poor in the UK

ALL CONSUMING (2009) by Neal Lawson. 'Turbo-consumption' is the name that he gives to current day household and family expenditure. He describes how and why our consumption of goods and services has accelerated and sees this as the human cause of global warming and climate change. He argues for a steady state economy based on a minimum wage, a maximum wage, and citizen's income which should lead to a society in which children are free to be children, devoid of commercial pressures, where education is about the wonder of learning and opening doors in our minds, where work is creative and fulfilling but there is ample time for family and friends, where the guilt of planetary destruction is lifted from the pit of our stomach, where we can live in spaces and places that we are free to enjoy and share with others, where we know each other as equal citizens, and all our lives are valued for the incredible people we are and can be. A good life of caring, playing, dreaming, thinking, creating and feeling – not just consuming.

For my descriptions of these trailblazers, click on the following:

Blueprint for Survival

The Limits to Growth

Small is Beautiful

Tools for Conviviality

No Nonsense Guide to Sustainability

The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability

Sustainable Education: Revisioning Learning and Change

Globalization and its Discontents

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

All Consuming: How Shopping Got Us into This Mess

This page was last amended on 27 January 2010