These dreary, rainy days of midwinter might not be ideal for any outdoor activities, but they’re perfect for curling up with a good book. If you want to read something that will challenge your preconceptions, light a fire in your imagination, and keep you turning the pages with rabid interest, we recommend any of the following four Alchemy Goods favorites.
- Cradle to Cradle, by Michael Braungart and William McDonough
This amazing 2002 collaboration between Braungart, a German chemist, and McDonough, and American architect, asks people to take nature as their model for industry. As you might deduce from its title, Cradle to Cradle urges the construction and manufacturing industry to consider the afterlife of the things they’re building, most of which are not usable for anything after their finite lifespan is over. From bridges to carpeting to automobiles, 90 percent of manufactured materials become waste, but what if there was a plan for creating new life. Fun fact: the book itself is made from a special up-cycled material.
- The Art of the Common-Place, by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry is one of America’s most cherished voices of the agrarian community. A novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, and farmer, Berry has been bringing national attention to the local and personal for decades with a voice full of wisdom, art, and insight. The Art of the Common-Place is a collection of 21 essays on agrarianism, agriculture, and community, but also a meditation on how to live. If you’re wondering if it’s for you, check out his thoughtful, heartbreaking essay for The Atlantic, Farmland Without Farmers, regarding the American loss of a way of life and the land that made it possible.
- Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth L. Cline
If you’ve ever wondered how it is you can buy a T-shirt for $5, when you imagine the process of harvesting cotton, which is then made into fabric, then sewn into a garment, then shipped from overseas and then shipped again to your store, with a price mark-up at each point along the way—then this book is for you. (And so is the infographic from Adbusters below!) Cline examines the industry of cheap clothing, sold ubiquitously in America at places like Forever 21, H&M, and Target, and the human and economical cost of clothing that is, in so many senses, worthless.
- Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, by Barry Estabrook
This New York Times best-seller tells the story of a vegetable—or, if we’re being technical, a fruit. The year-round appearance of those bright red, globe-like tomatoes on the shelves of every grocery store in America are taking a horrible toll on the environment, from the dozens of herbicides and pesticides they require to the yields the land cannot naturally support. You’ll also learn things that will probably make you just want to grow your own, like the fact that most tomatoes are picked hard and green and then gassed until they turn red enough to sell.
Keep up-cycling, rethinking, and reading, Alchemists! Awareness is the only way we’re going to make a dent or a difference. And please, if you’re going to buy a book, buy it from a local bookstore!