Book reviews

Book reviews (10)

"Oil,Power and War : A Dark History

Author: Matthieu Auzanneau

Originally published: Nov. 30 2018

Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing

Paperback: 672 pages



The story of oil is one of hubris, fortune, betrayal, and destruction. It is the story of a resource that has been undeniably central to the creation of our modern culture, and ever-present during the darkest exploits of empire the world over. For the past 150 years, oil has become the most essential ingredient for economic, military, and political power. And it has brought us to our present moment in which political leaders and the fossil-fuel industry consider extraordinary, and extraordinarily dangerous, policy on a world stage marked by shifting power bases.


If you want to understand the world you inhabit and the challenges it faces, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this book. Oil supplies the global economy with a plethora of essential raw materials, not just energy. Particularly since the beginning of the 20th century the evolution of industrial civilization has been driven by access to oil. But oil and other fossil fuels are one-time, finite resources created by evolutionary processes that began more than one billion years ago. Their finite nature has long been understood – and feared – by those who derive wealth or power from control of access to fossil fuels.

The random distribution of oil by geological processes essential to its creation is the root cause of the ‘oil wars’ that have plagued Western Civilization since the middle of the 20th century. Auzanneau provides a concise description of oil’s origins, derived from his conversations with Bernard Durand, former director of the geology-geochemistry division of the French Petroleum Institute. He devotes a large part of his book to the “dark history” of oil - “dark” not just in terms of wars and political corruption but also in terms of ‘unknown’ to those of us without a serious scholarly bent or ‘inside’ connections.

But perhaps the real strength and importance of this book is its exploration of the consequences of what has been called ‘peak oil’. Prior to the introduction of ‘fracking’ most people understood ‘peak oil’ to mean the end of access to oil. As Auzanneau notes, the world will never run out of oil. But it is running out of access to cheap oil, except – and maybe even including - those few locations endowed by random geological processes with most of the world’s remaining oil reserves. The consequences of ‘peak oil’ understood in this sense (i.e. running out of access to cheap oil) should be of concern to everyone, not just politicians and the oil industry.











"Merchants of Doubt

Author : Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway

Originally published:May 25th 2010

Publisher : Bloomsbury Press

Paperback : 357 pages


One of the absolutely essential reads on climate change and quite how we got into the mess of denialism at the very highest level of government that we're in today. In a sentence, the book documents the same playbook used by various industries from tobacco to foster doubt in the minds of consumers, allowing these industries to continue operating. It is an incredibly frustrating, depressing read and a cautionary tale about the power of unchecked information and unchecked capitalism. As well as a few unchecked 'scientists'. It's also fantastically researched and clearly written work that should serve as a gold standard for anyone writing about the history of climate or policy. There are well-characterised individuals who come up again and again, and does an exceptionally good job of explaining some complicated science. Every part of this book is impressive. Everyone should read it.







"Electrify: An Optimist's Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future

Author :Saul Griffith

Originally published: Oct 12,2021

Publisher : MIT Press

Paperback : 357 pages


The best thing an individual North American can do right now to fight global warming personally is to switch to electricity for all your energy needs. Your next car should be electric and your next home heater and water heater should be heat pumps. Rooftop solar is an excellent idea too.At least that is the central argument in Electrify, Saul Griffith’s new book about global warming. He’s been talking about this for awhile; Electrify covers a lot of the same ground as his free self-published Rewiring America and his Make articles.

The most interesting part of the new book isn’t the personal advice but rather his global plan for how the whole world mitigates global warming. He starts by pointing out how urgent the problem is: we have to start doing more right now, this very year, and there’s no time to wait on new technologies. Electricity is the best form of energy for transportation and storage. The basic idea is to shift from fossil fuel to electric consumption while in parallel adding more carbon-neutral electricity sources to the grid. He argues we’ll need 4x as much electricity in the US to achieve full electrification but this is a huge net gain (50%ish) in both total energy consumption and actual costs. He advocates for an effort akin to World War II mobilization to get it done, financed with low interest debt.

What I like best about his argument is it breaks the Gordian knot about “what can we do”? Electrify now and work on adding clean energy sources. I also like his holistic clarity, he really looks at whole-world energy consumption and economics. The optimism is great too. I find the argument convincing.







"How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need

Author :Bill Gates

Originally published: Feb 16, 2021

Publisher : Random House of Canada

Paperback : 272 pages


So let us begin with clearing the elephant in the room, Bill Gates is a rich white dude with an opinion. Do we really need another one of those? The people he rubs shoulders with have arguably done the most to put us in this terrifying mess with our climate that we’re in now.

Despite that caveat, in my opinion Bill Gates is still someone with valuable insight that a pragmatic climate activist will want to tap into. Yes, he’s a crafty billionaire. Also, a yes is that he’s a genius in at least a couple key ways. One, he seems to have a fantastic ability to absorb detailed knowledge on a subject quickly. Two, he successfully turns that knowledge around into brilliantly simple and poignant questions about the crux of the problem. If we can look past our instinct to “other” him, we can take lessons that will make us more effective at getting to the solutions that are going to save this planet from the worst on the horizon.


We’ve highlighted some things we found valuable in this book,

1. The honest, terrifying truth about the problem.

The first, easiest, thing to get right in any book about climate change is the honest assessment of the problem. The honest assessment is, we already have much more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than has ever been there for the last 800,000 years – almost the entirety of time that our species has been on the Earth.

2. The best gift for concerned citizens – the right questions to ask.
This, in our opinion, is Bill Gates’ real talent. He asks good questions. For example, “What’s your plan for cement?” might sound arcane and technical. It’s actually a major consideration because cement is used in apartment buildings, bridges, sidewalks, even dams and power plants. Also, with cement, no one knows a way to make it yet without burning fossil fuels.

In the meantime, countries that are successfully pulling their people out of poverty, are making cement and lots of it. So, clearly, we need to fund the research which will make carbon neutral cement a possibility. That’s just one example, there’s also steel, asphalt, fertilizer, and lots of others.

3. He talks about the entire scope of the problem, a global society drowning in fossil fuels
Similar to the point above, he points out something you don’t see in the news. That is, if you look at sources of emissions, it’s pretty evenly distributed between things like transportation, manufacturing, electricity generation, heating homes, and even agriculture. Part of why fossil fuels are so hard to get away from is that they are woven into every part of our society. If you bought bread at the grocery store, fossil fuels probably made the fertilizer for the grain and fueled the transport truck that brought it to your home. If you use a toaster, coal was used to make the steel it is made of. For the electricity the toaster uses, your power plant might be natural gas.

It’s everywhere and so there’s no magic bullet. Tesla cars aren’t going to fix this problem. Our whole society has to swing in an entirely different direction to get to net zero carbon emissions.

4. He over, and over (and over) advocates for the people who stand to lose the most
One story I really appreciated reading in his book is about a family of farmers in Kenya he met on two separate occasions. They are the global poor. They own a plot of land just large enough to feed their family and make a little extra money with the meager excess. They till the land with their hands. They contribute about fifty-five times less greenhouse gases than the average American.

They have done nothing to put us in this terrible place we are with global warming and they will still be the people who suffer most. They will be more exposed to droughts and, due to the ironic science of a warmer world, more likely to have floods in those times that it rains. We, on the other hand, have contributed the most to global warming, and have the most resources to research the technologies we need to keep the problem from becoming worse than it already is. We don’t care if it’s a pampered billionaire who delivers that message, it’s one we all need to hear.

it offers a call to action in the form of getting vocal about what we can do about climate change with our politicians and with people around us to help galvanise a growing movement. A preparedness project recommended read!





"Cool It!" 

Author :Bjørn Lomborg

Originally published: Jan. 1 2007

Publisher : Cyan and Marshall Cavendish

Paperback : 304 pages


This is one of the few books that all of our members and fans alike should read. Global warming has become unfortunately and for the masses such an incredibly irrational issue. Its an burning issue in bringing more awareness to our project in general, and this book brings a rational, objective voice to the debate. This book is meant to cool everyone's temper on the issue (hence the name 'Cool It'), and provide logical solutions to the problem.

Lomborg a sitting member on UN planning committees argues that we should be looking for smarter, more cost-effective approaches (such as massively increasing our commitment to green energy R&D) that will allow us to deal not only with climate change but also with other pressing global concerns,further discusses the following: global warming is caused at least partially by humans, but dealing with it by means of extreme CO2 cuts it not a viable solution. Instead, he argues that using our world's resources to solve other world problems, such as disease and poverty, will have an incredibly larger benefit to the world in the long-term, and will in turn put us in a better position to deal with a world that is slightly warmer than it is now. He argues that we should continue making our technology more environmentally-friendly, but that suddenly making all technology have no environmental impact (as some environmentalists want) is completely unreasonable. 

Lomborg supports his position with a tremendous amount of evidence, cost-benefit analyses, and references. To give an idea of how much his argument is supported, this book has 164 pages of actual content, and there are approximately 450 citations and 400 references. Of course, we can't browse through all of them to see how valid they are, but of the few dozen that we checked they seemed quite reliable. However, there are some claims that I found somewhat hard to believe, such as what is predicted by the various models of climate and human condition that Lomborg references. For example, Lomborg claims that humans will be richer in general over the coming century, which we find somewhat believable, but we find it hard to believe the precise numbers that he gives from the models of the worldwide economy that he references.

As I mentioned, we recommend this book to you and those on either side of the debate on how we tackle these issues present and future. You might not believe all the claims made in the book, but it definitely provides an excellent and fresh alternative viewpoint on the subject. The book is short enough to be accessible to almost anyone, yet it doesn't miss any important aspect of the issue.





"Food not Lawns" 

Author : Heather Jo Flores

Originally published: Oct. 15 2006

Publisher : Chelsea Green Publishing 

Paperback : 344 pages


Did you know? Americans spend over $30 billion every year to maintain over 40 million acres of lawn. Yet over 40 million people live below the poverty level. Even if only ⅓ of every lawn was converted to a food-producing garden, we could eliminate hunger in this country.

Lawns use more equipment, labor, fuel, and agricultural chemicals than industrial farming, making lawns the largest (and most toxic) agricultural sector in the United States. Lawnmowers burn more fuel every year than all industrial oils spills of the last twenty years, combined. Growing Food Not Lawns is a beautiful, responsible and empowering step towards finding real solutions to the major problems we face as a global society.

Grow Food, Not Lawns!

When the original chapter of Food Not Lawns was started in 1999, Heather Jo vision was to share seeds and plants with their Eugene , Oregon neighborhood, to promote local awareness about food security, and to learn about permaculture, sustainability and organic gardening. Their project blossomed. They had received a Neighborhood Improvement Grant from the City of Eugene, and conducted a low-cost permaculture design course for the neighborhood. They proceeded to have transformed most of the neighborhood lawns into lush organic gardens and hosted annual seed swaps. Soon, they started to get mail from people around the country who were starting up local Food Not Lawns chapters of their own, and a movement had been born.

A self-described "avant-gardening collective” FNL's basic premise was to garner surplus resources, whether food, seeds, plants, tools, garden space, publications, or volunteer time, and channel them toward building better food security for the community at hand.In 2006, co-founder Heather Flores published Food Not Lawns, How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community. The first half of the book is about gardening in the city, with no budget and on shared land. The second half is about working with people to build community around shared food and resources. 

The book has sold over 25,000 copies, and now there are more than 50 affiliated Food Not Lawns groups in the United States, Canada, and the U.K.. The original Food Not Lawns collective just hosted its 16th annual seed swap, and the meme, “Food Not Lawns,” has taken root in the mainstream consciousness.

Heather Jo Flores director of Permaculture Women’s Guild, creator of the #freepermaculture project, Holds an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts, with special focus on the intersection between ecofeminism, permaculture, and creative writing.She’s been self-employed as a writer, educator, and freelance creative for 25 years. She tends a 1/4 acre Mediterranean food forest in the mountains of Andalucia with her partner and two dogs.

We found this read to be a great introduction to grass-roots food activism. This may be a good read  for school teachers or parents, but we wouldn't recommend it for more experienced gardeners and activists as there is nothing new here for you.We do not advocate or advise to take the advice in one section of the book on   starting a garden on vacant land “with or without” the land owners permission nor the aspects of squatting, we’ll file this under do at your own risk.


" Smelling Land: The Hydrogen Defense Against Climate Catastrophe"


Originally published: April 21st, 2013

Author: Dr. David Sanborn Scott

Original title: Smelling Land


As this project proclaims climate destabilization is an unprecedented, global environmental threat. Yet neither the public nor governments seem aware that any solution must have hydrogen at its core. Author David Sanborn Scott suggests hydrogen will bring a safer, cleaner, brighter future.

Because any energy source can produce hydrogen, using this fuel will allow sunlight, wind or nuclear energy to power cars, ships and airplanes. Why is hydrogen essential? Take just one example: Airplanes can't fly on electricity. But they can sure fly on hydrogen-farther, faster, safer, cleaner and with larger payloads.


Written by Dr. David Sanborn Scott, one of the foremost experts on energy systems. Founding director of the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at the University of Victoria, Dr. David Sanborn Scott has made numerous important contributions to the study of hydrogen. He authored the influential report, Hydrogen: National Mission for Canada, and served as a consultant to the federal government, major U.S. laboratories and multinational consulting firms. He was Vice-President (for the Americas) of the International Association for Hydrogen Energy and was recognized by that body with the prestigious Jules Verne Award in 2006.


He was named the inaugural honorary life-time member of the Canadian Hydrogen Association. When Albert College in Belleville, Ontario created its Alumni Wall of Honour in 2008 to celebrate its 150-year history, Dr. Scott was among the first nine persons so recognized. In 2010 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. He was the honorary chair of the 2012 World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Toronto.


Smelling Land is the first book to properly describe, in plain English, how the energy system really works - and why the twin energy currencies, hydrogen and electricity, are essential components of any strategy that can steer us clear of climate disaster.A pertinent and invigorating read. Should be mandatory reading for any politicians that have any influence on energy policy.



You can purchase a digital copy or read a portion of the book here :



Below is Dr. David Sanborn Scott on Climate Change Innovation : 

 "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"


Originally published: August 30, 2013

Author: Thomas Piketty

Original title: Le Capital au XXIe siècle


Something a bit different this month a book review on a video. The book is "capital in the 21st Century" by Thomas Pickety, watching the video skips reading 700 pages of this book which is a dynamite academic analysis and proof of the process called polarization of wealth.  


Some may consider what capital and the future have to do with climate change or with preparedness. As with the other books reviewed in the past here, the information in this book lets you look at the roots of climate change and why preparedness is important.


These books prepare you in themselves, because you are able to talk and write with authority on what you have suspected for some time.

 "The Trouble with Billionaires"

Author: Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Published : Paperback Edition, 2011

Publisher:Penguin Canada

Paperback:, 272 pages


In this book, the authors present a comprehensive and detailed case against the extreme inequality in the distribution of income and wealth that has developed in the U.S. and, to a lesser degree, in Canada over the past thirty years.  In the U.S. the share of income earned by the top 1% of income earners increased from just under 10% in the postwar years to 24% in 2008. The case is supported by evidence-based research by economists, political scientists, other social scientists and epidemiologists as well as many factual anecdotes.  

The authors maintain that the increases in inequality in both countries have been largely driven by  wealthy elites who have captured the political agendas.  Inequality has not been the result of forces inherent in the free market capitalist economic systems.  In both Canada and the U.S. the authors document how the wealthy elite have subverted democracies by advancing their economic interests at the expense of the values of the majority.  

For example, U.S polls around 2000 showed that 74% of American voters preferred spending surpluses on social security to tax cuts. Nevertheless Republicans implemented tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. In a March 2001 survey, 73% of Americans favoured tax cuts that would be aimed more at middle income Americans than across- the- board cuts that would give the largest share of the cut to wealthy Americans.

Despite these preferences, the richest 0.1 percent of Americans saved 284 times more from the Bush tax cuts between 2001 and 2010 than people in the middle 20 percent of the U.S. income distribution.” For Canada the authors describe how business men and the wealthy succeeded in pressuring the federal government to eliminate  estate taxes in 1971, how they blocked attempts of finance ministers in 1972 and 1981 to make the income tax more progressive,  how they influence the change in rules on family trusts in 1991 that saved wealthy families untold billions.              

Increasing inequality has created a lot of collateral damage.  It has been bad for the health and social well being of citizens.  It has reduced social mobility which is at the heart of the American Dream.  And it has been bad for the economy as it has reduced economic growth and increased unemployment.  Indeed increasing inequality was one of the primary factors causing the Great Depression of the 1930s and the financial crisis of 2008.  

A central argument in the book is that the wealthy elite deserve only a fraction of their legally- earned income.  Much of the success of billionaires can be attributed to past scientific and technological  breakthroughs that properly belong to society as a whole rather than to individuals.  Another part of the  success of billionaires results from government policies that enhance markets for their products and services by enforcing property rights and by giving them degrees of monopoly power (e.g., through patent legislation on pharmaceuticals and computer software, and  copyright laws).

Government regulations  on international trade, banking and commerce also contribute to their success.  Last but not least, the authors’ analysis of billionaires Bill Gates, John Paulson and Warren Buffet reveal  instances where their  success has been, to a significant extent, the result of just plain luck,  connections or government bail outs rather than hard work or innovation.  

To reverse inequality in Canada, the authors propose an inheritance tax, increased marginal tax rates of 15% and 25% on incomes over  $500,000 and $2,500,000 respectively, and the elimination of tax loop holes.  In addition they propose that Canada support international measures for a clampdown on tax avoiders and evaders that would involve the establishment of a simple international system for reporting financial transactions.  Finally they recommend (that Canada) support the international implementation of a financial transaction tax (often referred to as the “Tobin tax”).  Such a tax would impact primarily on the wealthy, raise much needed revenues for governments and curb short term financial speculation that adds little value to the economy.  

The book concludes with an exhortation to strive to change current social attitudes about the role of progressive taxation in a democracy – attitudes that neoconservatives have successfully propagated with fallacious arguments.  The following fallacies stand out.    

1.The assertion that the wealthy work harder  is not supported by systematic evidence.  At the anecdotal level, individuals on minimum wage who have two jobs to make ends meet work harder than many CEOs.  Moreover it is illogical to assume that Canadian CEOs who work 60 hours a week or 1.5 times a 40 hour week of an average Canadian deserve pay that is 45 times greater than the average Canadian.    

2. The assertion that extreme pay levels are necessary to motivate high performance is not supported by any systematic evidence.  Are the top 400 U.S. earners in 2006 who were paid 19 times more than  the top 400 U.S. earners in 1961 (in 2006 dollars) more motivated?  Where is the evidence? 

3. The assertion that high CEO pay for performance is analogous to the pay of sports superstars is false.  Sports superstars’ pay is based on measures that are objectively related to their  performance;  there are no such realistic measures of performance for CEOs of large corporations.

4. The slogan about “tax freedom day” gives the false impression  that taxes completely eliminate the freedom of businesses to exchange in markets. It ignores the  fact that at least a majority of citizens have freely chosen through their  elected  representatives government services over private services.  They may have chosen government services because they are less costly than  private  services (e.g., education) or because it is simply not  feasible to provide the services in private markets (e.g., defense and policing services)  or because they are  less  risky (e.g., municipal water).  So tax freedom day should be repositioned as “paid  up” public services day.         

5. One of the rationales for taxation is to fund activities that are in the public interest. Neoconservatives rely on public choice theory to suggest that there  is no such thing as the “public interest” (only a collection of private interests) in order to discredit their rationale for taxation.  However the authors point out that public choice theory is based on two false assumptions:  (1) humans are  exclusively concerned  with their own welfare and (2) individual  welfare depends solely  on material  goods. 

The authors’ exhortations to change social attitudes about taxation are directed to the left and the progressives who have abandoned the moral high ground for protesting against the concentration of wealth. Apparently  they view it as a losing proposition and an unwise political strategy.  In this regard they are advised to develop moral counter arguments to the neoconservatives’  “moral” positioning of progressive taxation as  “class warfare” and “the enemy of hard working citizens trying to live the American Dream”.   The authors have explained how the American Dream has already been compromised by the loss of social mobility.  The more recent charge of “class warfare” completely ignores the democratic polity’s aim of fairness.  This aim was embodied in the implicit social contracts in postwar Canada and the U.S. that combined highly progressive taxation systems with good economic growth where both business and labour were in relative harmony.  

In his book The Conscience of a Liberal Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman states that (in the U.S.) “This age of economic equality roughly corresponded to the golden age of political bipartisanship “.  In this context the implicit social contract could be said to be truly democratic and hence legitimate.  The book presents a coherent explanation of how the wealthy elite breached this contract. In this light the authors’ proposals can be positioned as a remedy to correct a class action suit for breach of contract.   

In my view the analysis and proposals in this book provide a good foundation for the development of a coherent historically- buttressed ideological narrative for progressives and the left in Canada.  In contrast with the neoconservative ideology it would be evidence-based and resonate with the aims and aspirations of a majority of Canadians.  Such a narrative might serve as a manifesto for beneficial change that would address the frustrations of the participants in the Occupy Canada movement.  


"Wealth By Stealth" 

Author : Harry Glasbeek

Originally published: 2002

Publisher : Between the Lines Publishing 

Paperback : 370 pages


The pictorial cover of Harry Glasbeek’s polemic on corporate irresponsibility speaks the proverbial thousand words. A pair of besuited corporate wolves, fangs bared, conspire together in a wood-paneled gentlemen’s club library.

Fine china tea cups are laid beside them on a table bearing a cloth patterned with international currency. On the wall behind hangs an artwork depicting two leaden Monopoly tokens, passing ‘Go’ (and no doubt collecting $200) on their gallop toward profits around the board.

Here are the ‘captains of industry’, the powerful and wealthy insiders who control global capital, closeted in the luxury of a private club. Here are the wolves, exempted from the moral responsibilities imposed by society on the rest of us sheep, by the deviously clever artifice of the modern corporation.

Professor Glasbeek’s thesis in this passionately written treatise is plain: the corporate law practised in western liberal democracies allows and indeed encourages the accumulation of wealth by a very few at the expense of the wellbeing of the broader global community. The two principal tenets of corporate law – the separate legal personality of the corporation, and limited liability for shareholders – provide the means for a wealthy elite to shirk the usual responsibilities borne by ordinary citizens to pay the costs of any harm they cause. 

The camouflage of the corporate form allows these privileged few to shift the social and environmental costs of creating their wealth onto others. In this, Glasbeek asserts, the corporation is the antithesis of the democratic and individualistic ideal supposedly enshrined in the liberal market economy. The theory that freely competitive, rational economic actors will allocate resources to those pursuits which will maximize general welfare – the true Adam Smith Wealth of Nations ideal – is aborted when the most powerful players in the market are able to abscond with profits, without meeting the true costs of making those profits.

This corrupts not only the workings of the so-called ‘free market’ but also our conception of a democratic legal and political system ‘in which the central principle is that sovereign individuals are to be responsible for their conduct’ (p41).

Glasbeek draws an analogy with children who claim that an invisible playmate is to blame for the spills and breakages of their games. Only a foolishly fond parent would allow a child to escape punishment by such a ruse. But our system of law frequently allows the controllers of these invisible corporate friends to avoid responsibility entirely, or at most to bear relatively insignificant fines and penalties for the types of wrong-doing which would render an individual perpetrator liable to criminal sanctions.

Moreover, the powerful elite who enjoy this privilege also assert for these invisible corporate friends the rights of natural persons: the right against self-incrimination, the right to freedom of speech (much abused in Glasbeek’s view by the likes of the tobacco industry), and in some jurisdictions the right to sue for defamation (a powerful tool to curb public criticism).

Those familiar with Professor Glasbeek’s scholarship will find nothing surprising in this book. Its 14 chapters capture the wealth of several decades of research and scholarship in the fields of political economy, industrial law, occupational health and safety, and corporate crime. The arguments – as extreme as many may find them – are buttressed by evidence drawn from example after example of corporate crimes and misdemeanors, most of which escaped any serious sanction when they occurred.

The examples span a panoply of sins: revenue avoidance, anti-competitive conduct, environmental depredation, flagrant and deliberate disregard of product safety standards, extreme exploitation of indigent labour, and, not least, one of Professor Glasbeek’s special research areas – industrial manslaughter. He does not simply tally up ‘lifeless aggregate data’ (p139) – although this tells a shocking story in itself – but narrates many true stories. Those familiar with Professor Glasbeek’s charismatic persona and compellingly direct speaking style will recognize the strident, no-beating-around-the-bush prose, and will appreciate the book’s publishing format, which is designed to appeal to a broad readership.

For a legal academic, it was first a little disconcerting to read such a forcefully argued narrative apparently unsupported by any footnoted authority. But the evidence is all there, in a thick section of very detailed scholarly endnotes from pages 285 to 335. There is also an extensive bibliography, and for those who would dip in and out of the pages, an index. The word ‘greed’, for instance, notes six separate entries. 

The book was first published in Canada in 2002, and many of the examples are specifically Canadian. Nevertheless the general themes are equally relevant in Australia. North America had Enron; we had HIH. Canada had Westray, we had the Longford gas explosion.Indeed, the book provides both a timely and a timeless perspective on important questions about how a liberal democracy should regulate corporate activity. The early chapters of Wealth by Stealth flesh out the argument in stages. 

Chapter 4, ‘The Small and the Ugly’, documents case studies on the abuse of the corporate form by the so-called ‘entrepreneurs’ in closely held corporations. This is principally a Canadian work, so the examples are drawn from that jurisdiction, but Australian readers will have no difficulty in substituting examples from our own.

The 2003 budget estimate for the federal government’s General Employee Entitlement Redundancy Scheme, which picks up the bill for unpaid entitlements when small companies fail owing workers money, was $85 million. That represents quite a number of ‘invisible friends’ who have escaped paying their own debts and passed the cost on to general taxpayers.

Chapter 5, ‘The Westray story’, documents an example of an especially horrific and apparently avoidable mining ‘accident’, in which government bodies were implicated, to demonstrate the how much harm a corporation can cause, and how little responsibility it may be required to bear.

The following chapters analyse the operations of large public companies, particularly their influence over government policy (Chapter 7), their general avoidance of criminal liability, even for causing death and large scale environmental destruction (Chapters 8 and 9), and their assertion of rights to the constitutional freedoms enjoyed by natural persons, even though they escape the legal responsibilities of natural persons (Chapter 7).458 SYDNEY LAW REVIEW [VOL 26: 456    Chapters 10 to 12 move on to examine responses to the problem of corporate irresponsibility. Chapter 11 provides an excellent critique of the ‘stakeholder’ theories of corporate governance, which should be essential reading for undergraduate corporate law courses.

 In telling the story of the emergence of these communitarian approaches to corporate governance (which argue that corporate captains should be held accountable to a broad range of interests, not just shareholders), Glasbeek places the Adolf Berle versus Charles Dodds debate within its historical and socio-political context of the Great Depression, when corporate capitalism was patently not delivering on its promise of wealth and prosperity for all (p 190).

In the course of this chapter, Glasbeek provides a concise explanation of the law and economics ‘nexus of contracts’ theory of the corporate firm, which students may well find useful. Ultimately, Glasbeek argues that the stakeholder theories, as laudable as they seem, are inherently self-contradictory. The corporation remains essentially a tool for profit-maximization and the ‘private accumulation of socially produced wealth’. As such, it is demanding nothing short of schizophrenia to expect this vehicle to promote public policy. 

In Chapter 12, Glasbeek examines the prospects for consumer activism to bring aberrant corporations into line by using the consumers’ market power. Although he recounts some limited successes for consumer boycotts, the picture he paints is largely pessimistic. 

The worst abuses are the hidden ones. As an example he cites extensive harms caused by the mining of coltan mud in Africa to make the invisible microchips in electronic equipment (p210). The consumer boycotts, which may have had some influence in markets for a few wearable luxuries – like Nike runners and Body Shop beauty products – are making no impact on silicon mining in Africa.

Finally in Chapter 14 Glasbeek asks his own version of Marx’s question: ‘What is to be done?’ Here it is clear that Glasbeek’s chief grievance is that the wealth created by corporations is not shared with those at whose expense it is created. The perspective of the ordinary working class people is never far from the surface in this book. Workers’ chief grievances include weak (or non-existent) rights to corporate information (p68), deliberate risk-taking with workers health (p161), and cavalier attitudes to workers’ deaths through avoidable industrial accidents (p171).  

Glasbeek proposes a number of measures to address these grievances: a need to personalize responsibility for corporate wrong-doing; statutory requirements for adequate capitalization before a firm may enjoy corporate status; ‘outing’ the captains of corporate industry who are complicit in corporate crime by publicizing their association with criminal activity; and improvements in workers’ rights to participate in corporate decision-making especially concerning safety standards and the introduction of new technology.


 "Principally, Glasbeek proposes a change to the corporate Monopoly rules. Invisible corporations which commit crimes, together with their controlling shareholders – those wolvish captains of industry – should bear full responsibility for their crimes. His message for them is clear: ‘Go to Gaol (no typo actual spelling for the word we know as jail  G.J.). Go Directly to Gaol. Do Not Pass Go and Do Not Collect $200.’ -JOELLEN RILEY Senior Lecturer, Law Faculty, University of Sydney