What we’ve been reading this summer…

This summer’s roundup of eight of our favourite books, covering a diversity of topics including food security, nutrition, economics and climate change. Is your favourite missing? We welcome your suggestions and thoughts in the comments, below.


borlaugThe Man who Fed the world, Leon Hesser (here)

In this 2010 biography of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Norman Borlaug, Hesser depicts a remarkable scientist and humanitarian who continues to have influence today.

According to a review by one of Borlaug’s biggest fans, Bill Gates, “Although a lot of people have never heard of Borlaug, he probably saved more lives than anyone else in history.”

This book is an insightful introduction to a fascinating man with a message that continues to be relevant.


getting betterGetting Better, Charles Kenny (here)

If you need some good news this book is for you. The book highlights cost effective technologies and powerful ideas that are truly transforming the world for the better. Argued with optimism as well as realism, this is a chance to step back and appreciate some examples of ‘what went well’.

“Elegant and deeply researched- a powerful antidote to overly gloomy assessments of development aid-Charles Kenny shines a light on the real successes of aid, and he shows us the benefits that additional smart investment can bring.” – Bill Gates, Wall Street Journal

should we eat meatShould we eat meat? Vaclav Smil (here)

This book explores the often controversial role of meat in the human diet with open-eyed clarity. With the health risks, environmental impacts, and ethical questions that surround meat, should we be eating it at all?

Smil uses statistics to query conventional wisdom and offer new insight into this question. It is not an ideological argument for or against, but rather approaches the question as a scientist. It is an evaluation of the role, consequences and impacts of meat production and consumption.


hanburgers in paradiseHamburgers in Paradise, Louise O. Fresco (here)

How did your food get onto your plate? According to Fresco, behind every meal is a story. Using the metaphor of hamburgers in the Garden of Eden, this book covers an almost encyclopaedic range of issues facing the modern food system, including supermarket supply chains, plummeting biodiversity, the demand for organic food and the fear of GMOs.

Balanced, informative and erudite, this book encourages the reader to think a bit more carefully about what they eat, and why.


1000 daysThe First 1,000 days, Roger Thurow (here)

Nutrition, or lack of proper nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life – from conception to the age of two – can have a profound and lasting influence on a child’s ability to grow, learn, develop and work. A stunted child is more likely to fall behind in school, and fail to achieve a decent income in adulthood thus potentially perpetuating the cycle of poverty for the next generation.

This book examines the impact of nutrition in the first 1,000 days, where everyone starts equal but inequality begins. Through the inspiring and touching stories of four mothers and their children from Uganda, India, Guatemala and the USA, Thurow scrutinises the challenges to achieving food and nutrition security for all.


idealistThe Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, Nina Munk (here)

A sobering reminder that even though a solution can seem obvious and simple, the messy reality of life can prove at odds with the theory. This book tracks Munk’s first-hand experience of the doomed Millennium Village Project, originally a daring and optimistic experiment launched by Sachs in 2006. The aim was to test theories and scale up any successes across the continent – but it didn’t quite work out. An informative and interesting read for anyone working in development, and a reminder to always listen to a diversity of voices.


land grabbersThe Land Grabbers, Fred Pearce (here)

In the context of global population growth and increasing pressure on natural resources, Pearce argues that an unprecedented land grab is underway. Both afraid of food shortages and keen to profit from them, the world’s wealthiest countries, corporations and individuals are buying or renting vast amounts of land around the world.

This book examines who is doing the grabbing, who they are buying or taking land from, and the scale of the associated human and environmental costs. From the polar positions of wealthy tycoons, oligarchs, sheikhs and barons on one side to the farmers and pastoralists who rely on the supposedly ‘empty’ land on the other, Pearce introduces the real stakeholders in this global, complex and urgent issue.


how bad are bananasHow bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything, Mike Berners-Lee (here)

Funny, intelligent and thought provoking, this ‘page turner for the climate conscious’ forces the reader to re-evaluate their everyday choices. For example, is it better to buy a hybrid car or keep your old, pollution-spewing banger going for a little while longer? Should you send a text message or pick up the phone? How about the way you choose your food? And does any of it even make a difference?

From birth (the carbon footprint of having a child) to death (will you choose cremation or burial?) this book won’t tell you what to do, but it will encourage you to be aware, engaged, and make informed decisions based on your personal priorities. It really can change your perspective while making you laugh along the way.


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