Falter – Book Review

We don’t have to falter.

In his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Bill McKibben is asking us to get real, get to work, and to have hope.

As soon as I spotted Falter on the bookshelf at a Barnes & Noble in downtown San Luis Obispo, CA, I grabbed two copies and headed to the checkout counter without even looking at the table of contents or reading the book jacket.

One copy was for me and the other one was destined to become a raffle prize at the SLO Climate Coalition event my spouse and I attended later that evening.

At the time, I was already reading two books in preparation for a post called Environmental Impact of Sugar, so when we got home I put Falter on a bookcase shelf in the living room.

Book Review

A few weeks ago, I took Falter off the shelf to read it.

After reading the book jacket, I thought “Hmm…This seems rather dismal.” Then I flipped to the table of contents and saw that the book begins with a prologue entitled “An Opening Note on Hope.” So, I read that part.

“A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty—but I want those who pick up this volume to know that its author lives in a state of engagement, not despair. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered writing what follows.”

Okay, now I was willing to dive in.

Falter Book Cover

Readers, in this book you will learn about and explore the climate crisis, genetic engineering, and artificial intelligence.

How do these three topics interconnect? Good question. Read the book.

Here are a few highlights.

Part One: The Size of the Board

This first section will give you a good sense of how the climate crisis is unfolding, not in some distant time, but now. You will also get a synopsis of how we got to this point.

“Climate change has become such a familiar term that we tend to read past it—it’s part of our mental furniture, like urban sprawl or gun violence. So, let’s remember exactly what we’ve been up to, because it should fill us with awe; it’s by far the biggest thing humans have ever done.”

On page 43-45, McKibben quotes parts of a poem by climate activists and poets Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner (Marshall Islands) and Aka Niviana (Greenland). I wanted to read the whole poem so I searched on the Internet and found this video. It is beautiful and heartrending speaking to the very essence of what is at stake.

Part Two: Leverage

Money and power provide leverage. This part of the book puts that maxim into the context of the climate crisis.

“The first thing to say is that current levels of inequality are almost beyond belief…The world’s eight richest men possess more wealth than the bottom half of humanity.”

McKibben devotes a fair amount of page real estate to Ayn Rand and her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged. He suggests that this book is required reading for the people who control the money and power in our country and around the world.

I was intrigued so I checked the book out of my local library. If you are interested in what I thought about that book, read the note at the end of the post.

Part Three: The Name of the Game

Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence enter the dialogue at this point. Here you will get a good overview of the topic as well as McKibben’s opinions.

“For our game, the real power of CRISPR comes with the ability to change people.” (CRISPR is a genetic engineering technology)

Part Four: An Outside Chance

Hope returns to the narrative in this section. McKibben points out that we already have the technologies and tools we need to address the climate crisis, like solar panels and nonviolent movements.

“Even in what seems like the very clinical world of environmentalism, mounds of research and data aren’t ultimately decisive: the fight over climate change is ultimately not an argument about infrared absorption in the atmosphere, but about power and money and justice. Given that industry has most of that money and hence most of that power, it usually wins—unless, of course, a movement arises, one capable of changing hearts as well as minds.”

The Bottom Line

Thirty years ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature which is often credited as being the first book about climate change intended for the general public. Since then, he has published 17 more books including Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Radio Free Vermont (a delightful fiction book). McKibben is a prolific journalist, the co-founder of 350.org, and scholar in residence at Middlebury College in Vermont.

McKibben’s choice to frame the discussion in Falter using game language and concepts seemed kind of weird to me but somehow it works. He writes as if he is having a conversation with you and explains technical stuff in a way I think many people could understand. I like that. I think it makes his work accessible to a wide audience.

I recommend Falter to any human wanting to continue playing the human game and who wants to protect the game board for their children, grandchildren, and the people who come after them.

A Note about Atlas Shrugged

I wanted to read Atlas Shrugged because I feel it is important to try to understand where people are coming from, especially people with different perspectives and beliefs than me. I also enjoy debate (as long it is friendly).

In short Atlas Shrugged is a fiction book written as a sort of treatise on libertarianism taken to the nth degree.

I slogged away until I got to page 291 (of more than 1,200 pages) and then I took the book back to the library. The subject matter was not a problem for me but the book is so poorly written I just could not go on.

Featured Image at Top: A hand flipping wooden cubes from the word “change” to “chance – photo credit iStock/marchmeena29.

Related Posts

Dark Money – Book Review

Stand up for our democracy or it will cease to exist.

Dark Money is the book you do not want to read that you must read if you care about the Earth and the people who live on it.

Not long ago, I was wandering through the non-fiction book aisles in the San Luis Obispo Library scanning the shelves for interesting books. I occasionally use this random approach to book selection because it enables me to spot books that are worth reading that may not be on my “to read” list.

Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer, published January 19, 2016, is one of those books.

The first thing that caught my attention was that there were three copies of the book sitting on the shelf. That seemed significant because the Library is well stocked but not big.

Dark Money Book Cover


The dark blue book spines were emblazoned with the title Dark Money in gold lettering and the Great Seal of the United States had been modified to show the bald eagle holding a bag of money instead of an olive branch in its right talon.

Intrigued I pulled the book off the shelf, read the book jacket text, and scanned the table of contents. It did indeed seem like a dark book to read, but an important one so I checked it out.

Book Review

Essentially Dark Money is a history of how, beginning in the 1970s, a small group of billionaires, spearheaded by Charles and David Koch and a few others has been systematically taking control of the U.S. federal government and infiltrating state governments.

What is their mission? They claim to be libertarians who believe in small government, liberty, and freedom for all Americans.

However, their actions tell a different story.

Readers you are about to embark on a journey through the hidden world of money in politics as Jane Mayer unravels thousands of threads that lead to the organizations who shield their billionaire donors that call the shots.

Dark Money unfolds in three parts.

  • Part One: Weaponizing Philanthropy: The War of Ideas, 1970-2008
  • Part Two: Secret Sponsors: Covert Operations, 2009-2010
  • Part Three: Privatizing Politics: Total Combat, 2011-2014

You will read about the corruption of think tanks and academia and the true nature of organizations with innocuous sounding names like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

Mayer will show you how the Tea Party is not a spontaneous grassroots movement, but a calculated and far-reaching campaign funded by dark money.

She will describe the dark money clan’s attempt to give themselves an image makeover in hopes that the American public will view these ruthless billionaires as people who care about them.

The Bottom Line

Jane Mayer is an award-winning investigative journalist and author. She has been writing for The New Yorker since 1995 covering politics, culture, and national security.

Mayer’s August 23, 2010, news article in The New Yorker entitled “Covert Operations” provided an impetus for her to write Dark Money.

She conducted hundreds of interviews over a five-year period, many on the record, but not all because some people feared reprisals. She also read books, new stories, and studies, which are documented in the extensive notes section at the back of the book.

The material covered is both detailed and complex. Mayer did an excellent job making the book readable and I think accessible to a wide audience.

While reading the book, I was disturbed and outraged. I did not want to accept that a handful of ultra-wealthy American citizens were willing to sacrifice our democracy and destroy the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people and the environment we all live in 24/7/365.

There were times when I wanted to stop reading Dark Money and return it to the library. But I persevered because I feel it is my duty as a human being and a mother to look the darkness in the face and then do something about it.

After reading Dark Money, I realized how naive I had been. I used to say off the cuff things like, “Corporations own the government.” or “Money buys elections.” without really understanding the full ramifications of what that means. Now, I do.

What Can You Do?

When faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, the urge to turn away is strong. I understand I feel like that a lot. The thing is that you have a choice to take action or not.

Here are just a few ideas of things you can do.

  • Read Dark Money and discuss it with your family and friends.
  • Vote in every election for every office and every ballot measure.
  • Make the effort to be an informed voter.
  • Help get people to the polls.
  • Support campaign finance reform.

If we do not stand up for ourselves, the dark money crowd will truly own our country.

Featured Image at Top: Inequality and power imbalance are represented by chess pieces on a scale – photo credit iStock/tifonimages.

Related Posts