Plenitude – Juliet Schor

• Plenitude is now over ten years old and this review, added to the blog in January 2021, was first published in 2010. Ten years is a long time in terms of our understanding of climate change but Schor’s analysis and conclusions are as relevant as ever.

Juliet Schor
Scribe, $35.00

Global warming, Peak Oil and the instability of our financial system mean that Business As Usual will doom us and the next generation to miserable lives in a degraded environment.

Yes, you have heard it all before (and may or may not believe it) but Juliet Schor has an answer: ‘Plenitude’, her term for an alternative to BAU which avoids any eco-miserly austerities but will give us happier, richer lives while avoiding eco-disaster and another financial melt-down.

How can we do it? We must simply move gently out of the mainstream economy by reducing hours in traditional employment and making up for lost income by moving towards self-sufficiency in food, reducing our use of fossil-fuelled energy by installing our own renewable power supplies, reducing our narrow dependence on our employer and our nuclear family by strengthening ties within our broader local community.

Yes, you have heard it all before (and may or may not believe it) but Juliet Schor (Wikipedia) is an economist and she argues for the ‘alternative’ ‘green’ agenda from economic necessities and benefits, not shamanist mysticism, and supports her thesis with an impressive array of references. Cutting back on our ‘day’ jobs, she says, will help re-balance an economy which has grown over-dependent on debt-fuelled over-consumption, and reduce the environmental pressures which are a direct result of that excessive consumption.

Writing as an economist, Schor provides a valuable new rationale for the greenie programme.

Gemmell: The Book of Rapture

Book of Rapture coverNikki Gemmell tackles big themes in her new novel – science, religion and the evils of tyranny, no less. She universalises her subject by disguising ethnic groups, religions, cities and languages and the supposed origin of her text, while simultaneously individualising it by focusing on a mother’s love for her children.

The political situation is all too familiar to us, an authoritarian regime attempting genocide against a minority within its own population. (No, I won’t call it ‘ethnic cleansing’, because that disgustingly cynical phrase attempts to give state-sanctioned racism, persecution, brutality and murder a semblance of virtue, and using the term legitimises it.) The minority is defined by both ethnic and religious affiliation — again, an all-too-familiar scenario.

One minority family is caught in the middle. Continue reading “Gemmell: The Book of Rapture”

Gleitzman: Grace

book coverGrace tells the story of her family’s escape from a fundamentalist Christian cult in this powerful Young Adult novel from one of Australia’s best writers in the field. She is a teenager who has never known anyone outside her church community, because its members are forbidden to speak to the ‘unsaved’ except with special exemptions. They go to church schools, marry within the church and work in church-owned businesses. They accept the Bible, as interpreted by their Elders, as the ultimate authority on every aspect of their daily lives, and they accept cruel and bizarre punishments meted out by the Elders for any questioning or infringement of the doctrine.

Grace’s father has quietly questioned this peculiar way of life and brought up his children to do the same but he has not been quiet enough and, as the book opens, is expelled from the community. Continue reading “Gleitzman: Grace”

Gaiman: Coraline

[This is my 2008 review of the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell, with some afterthoughts.]

book coverNeil Gaiman has been having a very good year, for about the tenth year in a row, writing fantasy for all ages and adapting it for other media. Coraline was his big success in 2003-04 as a short children’s novel, winning the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and other awards.

It is already available as an audiobook, it is in production as an animated film and here it is as a graphic novel (a classy comic book, to those who think ‘graphic novel’ is pretentious).

Does Coraline deserve this much attention?

Continue reading “Gaiman: Coraline”

Big Questions reading list

This short list recommends a few books that may be of value to those interested in religion (particularly Buddhism) and philosophy. It’s just a personal list, not a systematic set of references, so use it for what it’s worth.

1. Nonfiction

Books which are primarily about people and society but throw light on Buddhism as practised in Tibet and China.

Bones of the Master by George Crane (1996)
George Crane, American poet, meets Tsung Tsai, a Chinese Ch’an (Zen) monk who escaped from the disastrous Great Leap Forward in 1959-60. The two of them travel to Inner Mongolia to re-establish the monastery.

Namma by Kate Karko (2001)
An English girl marries a Tibetan and goes to Tibet to live with his still-nomadic family for a year.

2. Fiction

…with a religious and/or environmentalist slant and a sense of humour. A fun way of exploring serious ideas.

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
The President of the USA doesn’t want to know about global warming but an odd coalition of American scientists and Tibetan diplomats is about to do something about that. It is the first book of a trilogy but can stand alone.
The other two books are very good as well but don’t really make sense without their partners. In Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting we get disastrous climate changes, a presidential election which puts an activist in the White House, and the beginnings of wholesale changes to the way the USA operates; also a bunch of sub-plots which any other author would spin off into a whole new book. More:

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson (2007)
Science fiction about ecological collapse and much more. My review is here.

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Gods really do exist on Discworld, but only so long as people believe in them. Their power is proportional to the number of worshippers they have, which makes for some fairly desperate deific competition.

Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Golems are made to serve. Does that mean they should have no rights?

If you’re hooked on Discworld after these two, read Thief of Time or Reaper Man next. If you’re not, you probably never will be.

My introduction to Discworld is here. For a tiny sample of Pratchett’s work, visit

American Gods by Neil Gaiman is ‘serious’ (and very, very good) fantasy which brings immigrant Americans’ gods to modern USA. The book (2001) is now quite old; the TV series (2017 onwards) has been updated and adapted by the author and it is also very good but it is rather different.

3. The serious stuff – books about religion

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
A short, very clear, no-nonsense introduction to mindfulness meditation, which is all about giving full, calm attention to the present moment. It is very practical – lots of exercises and very little religious theory although it’s very firmly grounded in Vietnamese Buddhism. As such, it’s a great introduction to something that more and more of us need in these stressful times.

Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana
Buddhist meditation explained from a Theravada perspective. Very readable at any stage of the path but profound enough to reward re-reading when one has practised for a while longer.

Tao Te Ching
The classic of Taoism. The thoughtful, poetic and beautifully-presented edition from Element translated by Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay is my favourite, but there are many others.

God – the Interview by Terry Lane
Against Religion by Tamas Pataki
Two attacks on Christianity with occasional swipes at Judaism and Islam. Both make some very good points, though neither plays quite fair. Links take you to my reviews of them.

Created April 2008,
updated and published here February 2021

Continue reading “Big Questions reading list”