Recommended reads on sustainability

Wheeler Institute for Business and Development researchers and faculty suggest titles to inspire us all to adopt planet-positive behaviours



  • Sustainability is the most urgent task of our generation
  • The challenge extends to every aspect of our lives today, including our lifestyles, our jobs, our businesses and the economy
  • The authors recommend titles that inspire us to adopt new ways of thinking and behaving for the good of us all
Books1021-Grow-The-Pie-324x490Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit by Alex Edmans

Recommended by Darcy Pu, PhD Student in Finance

One of the most insightful and thought-provoking books on ESG, Grow the Pie envisions a new approach in which people work together to share a bigger pie, rather than fighting each other to split a tiny pie. The book also contains insightful critical-thinking lectures. To take one example, Professor Edmans argues that we should carefully examine why companies should focus on shareholder value under certain assumptions, before providing evidence that looking after stakeholder welfare can eventually add to shareholder value. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to ESG advocates and ESG opponents alike – there are significant takeaways for both.

Books1021-The-Spirit-of-Green-324x489The Spirit of Green: The Economics of Collisions and Contagions in a Crowded World by William D. Nordhaus

Recommended by Diego Känzig, PhD Student in Economics

Nobel Prize-winning economist Nordhaus describes a new way of green thinking to help overcome some of the world’s biggest challenges. In a lucid and accessible way, he explains key concepts such as collisions, contagions and externalities, and outlines how rethinking economic efficiency, sustainability, finance and corporate social responsibility could improve the effectiveness of our economy and reduce economic inequality.

Books1021-The-Flightless-Traveller-324x490The Flightless Traveller: 50 Modern Adventures by Land, River and Sea by Emma Gregg

Recommended by Julian Marenz, Pre-Doctoral Researcher

For many of us, travelling is an integral part of what we enjoy about life. Equally, many of us want to reduce our carbon footprint and live more sustainably. In this book, Emma Gregg provides a guide to exploring the world in a way that is more wary of the impact that our journeys can have on the planet. With instructions on how to reach 50 destinations, near and far, via land, river and sea, it’s a great inspiration if you’re looking for a holiday to take it slow. With science clear about the gravity of the climate crisis, it’s up to all of us to change our behaviour. But, as this book shows, it doesn’t mean we have to forgo the things we take pleasure in.

Books1021-The-Wizard-and-the-Prophet-324x490The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles Mann

Recommended by Amelia Whitelaw, Executive Director

Mann draws on the opposing viewpoints of two 20th-century scientists and visionaries, Norman Borlaug and William Vogt, to address one of the most fundamental questions of our time: How will 10 billion humans live sustainably on Earth? Vogt, who is considered a founding environmentalist, believed prosperity could lead humanity to ruin; while Borlaug’s research was largely responsible for the shift to producing high-yield crops that saved many millions from starvation. Mann navigates the reader between the opposing views of the techno-optimist and the environmentalist in a very balanced manner. I also found the historical perspective that provides the context to how we have got to this point very illuminating.

“It’s up to all of us to change our behaviour. But that doesn’t mean we have to forgo the things we take pleasure in”

Books1021-The-Third-Pillar-324x490The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan

Recommended by Mithilesh Shah, Pre-Doctoral Researcher

The response of our society to the global pandemic reminds me of this important book by Professor Raghuram Rajan, one of the most influential thinkers of our time. The Third Pillar illustrates how the state and markets have left behind the communities that are an important pillar of an inclusive society. It advocates a framework in which all three pillars balance each other and help everyone prosper. This is an appropriate time to revisit Rajan’s ideas as we attempt to build back our society.

Books1021-99-Maps-to-Save-the-Planet99 Maps to Save the Planet by KATAPULT

Recommended by Tiago Ivo Martinho, Outreach Director

Did you know that just 67 companies worldwide are responsible for 67% of global greenhouse emissions? My love for maps and this question made me buy this book recently – it’s a great example of how maps and infographics can communicate powerful messages. Based on scientific research and smartly selected data, it provides shocking images of our damage to our planet. Easy to read but hard to digest, I highly recommend it as a complement to the longer reads suggested here.

Books1021-Field-Notes-324x490Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert

Recommended by Till JF Trojer, anthropologist and filmmaker; Post-Doctoral Researcher

The author takes us with her on a journey to several locations as she speaks to communities directly affected by climate change. She speaks to farmers in Puerto Rico and engages with Inuit groups in the Banks Islands in the Arctic Circle, whose entire way of life is threatened by the devastating consequences of climate change. Kolbert merges these personal stories with experts’ interviews and scientific discourse. Even after 16 years since its original publication, this remains an essential read on the impact of global warming. The personal stories deeply resonated with me and made me think (again) how we should all reflect on our ecological footprint and what we can do to stop climate change. In the age of the Anthropocene, it starts with us. The consequences of our inaction will define the lives of future generations.

Books1021-The-Climate-Casino-324x490The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty, and Economics for a Warming World by William Nordhaus

Recommended by Varun Sharma, PhD Student in Finance

Scientists have warned us that climate change is one of the most significant challenges humanity faces in the foreseeable future. Moreover, mounting evidence suggests that climate change poses a significant risk to capital markets and investments worldwide. In this thought-provoking and insightful book, Professor William Nordhaus, winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, explains the interlinkages between science, economics and the politics of climate change. In particular, he highlights the trade-off between the costs that need to be incurred for abatement measures and the damages that can be avoided. In addition, he elaborates an overarching approach to reduce the risks of global warming. Finally, he illustrates convincingly why free markets alone cannot address the problem and emphasises the critical role of national governments and international bodies in addressing the issue.