The US Air Force X-37B Space Drone is A War Machine (National Interest) 29 July 2019

Boeing built at least two X-37Bs for the Air Force in the mid-2000s reportedly at a cost of around a billion dollars apiece. While it looks like a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, which retired from service in 2011, the X-37B essentially is a small, reusable and maneuverable satellite with a shorter per-mission endurance compared to single-use satellites.

The fifth and latest X-37B mission could send the mini-shuttle over large portions of Russian territory for the first time.

A Dutch skywatcher achieved a rare feat in late June and early July 2019. Using a 10-inch-diameter telescope fitted with a camera, Ralf Vandebergh photographed the U.S. Air Force’s secretive X-37B space plane in mid-mission 210 miles over Earth’s surface.

“We can recognize a bit of the nose, payload bay and tail of this mini-shuttle, with even a sign of some smaller detail,” Vandebergh told


Vandebergh had been hunting for the robotic spacecraft for months and finally managed to track it down in May 2019, according to reporter Leonard David. But it took a few more weeks to actually photograph the roughly 29-feet-long robotic shuttle.

“When I tried to observe it again [in] mid-June, it didn’t meet the predicted time and path,” Vandebergh told David. “It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers’ network, it was rapidly found in orbit again, and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2, [2019].”

Boeing built at least two X-37Bs for the Air Force in the mid-2000s reportedly at a cost of around a billion dollars apiece. While it looks like a miniature version of NASA’s Space Shuttle, which retired from service in 2011, the X-37B essentially is a small, reusable and maneuverable satellite with a shorter per-mission endurance compared to single-use satellites.

The Air Force describes the X-37B as an “orbital test vehicle,” or OTV.

The X-37B blasted off for its first mission on a United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket in April 2010. Where many satellites can function for up to a decade in orbit, the X-37B’s longest mission as of early 2018 was its fourth, beginning in May 2015. It lasted 717 days.

The X-37B that Vandebergh photographed launched atop a SpaceX Falcon rocket in September 2017. Each X-37B mission reportedly costs around $200 million.

The current mission is the X-37B’s fifth. The X-37B Vandebergh spotted is carrying a so-called Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader built by the Air Force Research Laboratory.

According to the Air Force, the spreader will help to “test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment.” The X-37B itself, with its longer and longer missions, is driving demand in the United States for spacecraft components that can survive for years at a time in orbit.

“The fifth OTV mission continues to advance the X-37B’s performance and flexibility as a space technology demonstrator and host platform for experimental payloads,” the Air Force stated.

As the Air Force continues to refine the X-37B’s operations, it’s possible the current mission could set a new record for the type. “It sips power and fuel like a Prius,” in the words of one government space insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the past, the Air Force was cagey about exactly which payloads the X-37B carried into orbit—and that encouraged wide-ranging speculation by space experts. “You can put sensors in there, satellites in there,” Eric Sterner, from the George C. Marshall Institute in Virginia, said of the X-37B. “You could stick munitions in there, provided they exist.”

The Air Force denies that the X-37B has ever carried weapons. Overtly arming a spacecraft would be a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

In pushing for a separate military branch for space operations and promising a new generation of orbital systems including missile-defenses, the administration of U.S. president Donald Trump could begin to challenge the decades-old ban on space-based weaponry.

But it would be perfectly legal, and unsurprising, for the X-37B to function as a kind of reusable spy satellite—and it could do so without necessarily jeopardizing its other, scientific missions.

Indeed, the Air Force acknowledged that testing the heat-spreader isn’t the X-37B’s only current task. The reusable spacecraft is also pioneering new orbital pathways for the type.

“The fifth OTV mission will also be launched into, and landed from, a higher inclination orbit than prior missions to further expand the X-37B’s orbital envelope,” the Air Force explained.

A spacecraft’s orbital inclination is equal to the highest north-south latitude it passes over. The X-37B previously flew between 37 and 43 degrees, according to Brian Weeden, a space expert with the Secure World Foundation in Colorado.

Extending the X-37B’s inclination expands “what it can collect information on, assuming that’s its mission,” Weeden told The Daily Beast. It’s worth noting that almost all of Russia lies north of the X-37B’s previous inclination range.

The fifth and latest X-37B mission could send the mini-shuttle over large portions of Russian territory for the first time.



David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War FixWar Is Boring and Machete Squad.

How much is your library card worth?

book case


If someone would pay me to read literature I would never have to work another day in my life.  I love reading.  Some people have bumper stickers that say, “I’d rather be golfing/hunting/knitting/fishing/etc.”  Guess what mine would say??

My old behemoth of a bookcase used to be filled with all the books I ever read from high-school on.  I’m a pretty big minimalist, but I always wanted to hold on to my books.  They were a big part of who I was, and I liked the idea of having them on display as an identity signifier in my future home (and also maybe to re-read, but that never seemed to happen).

Maybe I matured enough to realize that I didn’t need that external identity validation or maybe my minimalist instincts simply won out in the end.  Either way, I eventually donated all my books to Goodwill and took a tax write-off.  The tax write-off was pretty nice but nowhere near as large as the original face value of the purchased books.

Fast forward to today… I get my books from the local library for free (or as hand-me-downs from friends), I maintain a digital book shelf at Goodreads, and I don’t have any traumatic scarring from the hasty Goodwill book donation of yore.

The numbers:

So how much is this new lifestyle worth (borrowing from the library vs. buying books)?  It all depends on how you frame the situation, but going to the library versus buying new books is worth about $800 dollars over ten years.  I’ll get into more details below.

  • 10-Year NPV: $773
  • 10-Year ROI: 94%
  • 10-Year Payback: 0.6 years


These numbers aren’t that impressive, unfortunately, but there are a few things going on here.  First off, average people don’t read a ton; therefore they don’t spend a lot of money on books in the first place.  The median adult reads 8 books a year according to a 2011 PEW study.  If an average new book costs $16, then this person is only spending $128 per year on books.

Secondly, I’m assuming that the average book buyer is going to buy from Amazon, which means free delivery and no wasted travel time to and from the bookstore.  Versus the library scenario, where someone has to physically walk or ride a bike to both pickup and drop off their borrowed books.

Each situation is unique, but my personal library time costs are a lot lower because I borrow and download ebooks directly from my home computer. Removing the time/labor costs of library trips essentially doubles the value of borrowing books versus buying them, meaning that my free library card is actually worth about $160 every year, or $1,600 after 10 years.

But, working against the library ROI is the fact that I actually bought my books used in the past, at prices well below the suggested retail value.  Assuming no library trips are needed, the library still wins out versus buying used books; however, if library trips are required, the scenario is much more of a toss-up.

And then there is even another variable that I didn’t want to model… driving costs.  If someone is driving to the library versus walking, biking, and/or not even having to go at all, the value proposition becomes even more difficult.

As usual, it all depends on the details of the situation, but on the whole it appears that borrowing from the library is usually a smarter decision.  Seventy bucks a year isn’t something to retire on, but it is definitely a marginal improvement.  Think about it this way; multiplied by three people, this is about 1.2% of a $25,000 family budget.  And of course, the savings are higher for people that read more than 8 books a year.

  1. Buy 8 new books a year (PEW)
  2. New books cost average of $16 (School Library Journal)
  3. Library trips don’t involve cars and take 30 minutes each way
  4. Your time is worth $10.00 per hour
  5. $2.00 in late fees every year from library (building in some wiggle room for when your running behind on finishing Infinite Jest)
More thoughts on reading:

Reading might not make us better, more ethical human beings, but there is some evidence that it improves social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence.  If I had to guess, I would say it probably also helps with language skills and keeps the brain a little sharper.  Some people even argue that readers are the best people to fall in love with.  But I’m not in this for the icing, like Jay-Z, I’m after the cake (cake, cake, cake, cake) (aka the reading experience itself).

There isn’t anything like getting lost in a great novel (or literary non-fiction book).  For me, the main pleasures of reading come from well-developed characters and new ways of seeing the world.  I don’t have a source, but I came across an article that said people’s brains react to reading fiction in much the same way they do to socializing with actual people.  It is well-known that socializing with friends and family is one of the most important determinants of happiness, and based on how pleasurable reading can be, the findings aren’t all that surprising.

To top it off, in the context of how long a book might take to read, the value per dollar of reading for pleasure is hard to beat elsewhere.  You might not be producing or earning money, but you definitely aren’t throwing it away either.

So with that being said, here are, in my humble opinion, some books that will really stretch your dollar per unit of reading pleasure:

  • Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Schteyngart
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
  • Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo
  • Bangkok 8 (series) by John Burdett
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  • Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
  • The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
  • The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami

You can find most of these books at your library I would guess.  I have a longer list here too.  And if you want to be really systematic about it, I have an old awards-based ranking here (and below), although the sizing leaves much to be desired.

I also really like the n+1 and Paris Review literary magazines if you’re into that kind of thing (I’m really enjoying the work Kristin Dombek is putting out at both of these magazines lately, particularly her essay, “How to Quit” in n+1, although “Letter from Williamsburg” is great too.)  And finally, from a more conservative side of the spectrum, I thought this Marilynne Robinson meditation on beauty was really solid.

What about you?  Do you have a penchant for reading fiction or non-fiction, or for certain books or authors?  I’m always looking for new recommendations and more generally just curious to hear more about what you’re enjoying these days.  Let me know what’s good and thanks for stopping by!


*UPDATE: I forgot to mention how much I like the New Yorker Fiction Podcast.  Check it out here.


How much is your library card worth?

US Economic Warfare and Likely Foreign Defenses – by Michael Hudson • 23 July 2019



Today’s world is at war on many fronts. The rules of international law and order put in place toward the end of World War II are being broken by U.S. foreign policy escalating its confrontation with countries that refrain from giving its companies control of their economic surpluses. Countries that do not give the United States control of their oil and financial sectors or privatize their key sectors are being isolated by the United States imposing trade sanctions and unilateral tariffs giving special advantages to U.S. producers in violation of free trade agreements with European, Asian and other countries.

This global fracture has an increasingly military cast. U.S. officials justify tariffs and import quotas illegal under WTO rules on “national security” grounds, claiming that the United States can do whatever it wants as the world’s “exceptional” nation. U.S. officials explain that this means that their nation is not obliged to adhere to international agreements or even to its own treaties and promises. This allegedly sovereign right to ignore on its international agreements was made explicit after Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State Madeline Albright broke the promise by President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would not expand eastward after 1991. (“You didn’t get it in writing,” was the U.S. response to the verbal agreements that were made.)

Likewise, the Trump administration repudiated the multilateral Iranian nuclear agreement signed by the Obama administration, and is escalating warfare with its proxy armies in the Near East. U.S. politicians are waging a New Cold War against Russia, China, Iran, and oil-exporting countries that the United States is seeking to isolate if cannot control their governments, central bank and foreign diplomacy.

The international framework that originally seemed equitable was pro-U.S. from the outset. In 1945 this was seen as a natural result of the fact that the U.S. economy was the least war-damaged and held by far most of the world’s monetary gold. Still, the postwar trade and financial framework was ostensibly set up on fair and equitable international principles. Other countries were expected to recover and grow, creating diplomatic, financial and trade parity with each other.

But the past decade has seen U.S. diplomacy become one-sided in turning the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, SWIFT bank-clearing system and world trade into an asymmetrically exploitative system. This unilateral U.S.-centered array of institutions is coming to be widely seen not only as unfair, but as blocking the progress of other countries whose growth and prosperity is seen by U.S. foreign policy as a threat to unilateral U.S. hegemony. What began as an ostensibly international order to promote peaceful prosperity has turned increasingly into an extension of U.S. nationalism, predatory rent-extraction and a more dangerous military confrontation.

Deterioration of international diplomacy into a more nakedly explicit pro-U.S. financial, trade and military aggression was implicit in the way in which economic diplomacy was shaped when the United Nations, IMF and World Bank were shaped mainly by U.S. economic strategists. Their economic belligerence is driving countries to withdraw from the global financial and trade order that has been turned into a New Cold War vehicle to impose unilateral U.S. hegemony. Nationalistic reactions are consolidating into new economic and political alliances from Europe to Asia.

We are still mired in the Oil War that escalated in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, which quickly spread to Libya and Syria. American foreign policy has long been based largely on control of oil. This has led the United States to oppose the Paris accords to stem global warming. Its aim is to give U.S. officials the power to impose energy sanctions forcing other countries to “freeze in the dark” if they do not follow U.S. leadership.

To expand its oil monopoly, America is pressuring Europe to oppose the Nordstream II gas pipeline from Russia, claiming that this would make Germany and other countries dependent on Russia instead of on U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG). Likewise, American oil diplomacy has imposed unilateral sanctions against Iranian oil exports, until such time as a regime change opens up that country’s oil reserves to U.S., French, British and other allied oil majors.

U.S. control of dollarized money and credit is critical to this hegemony. As Congressman Brad Sherman of Los Angeles told a House Financial Services Committee hearing on May 9, 2019: “An awful lot of our international power comes from the fact that the U.S. dollar is the standard unit of international finance and transactions. Clearing through the New York Fed is critical for major oil and other transactions. It is the announced purpose of the supporters of cryptocurrency to take that power away from us, to put us in a position where the most significant sanctions we have against Iran, for example, would become irrelevant.”[1]

The U.S. aim is to keep the dollar as the transactions currency for world trade, savings, central bank reserves and international lending. This monopoly status enables the U.S. Treasury and State Department to disrupt the financial payments system and trade for countries with which the United States is at economic or outright military war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly responded by describing how “the degeneration of the universalist globalization model [is] turning into a parody, a caricature of itself, where common international rules are replaced with the laws… of one country.”[2] That is the trajectory on which this deterioration of formerly open international trade and finance is now moving. It has been building up for a decade. On June 5, 2009, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev cited this same disruptive U.S. dynamic at work in the wake of the U.S. junk mortgage and bank fraud crisis.

Those whose job it was to forecast events … were not ready for the depth of the crisis and turned out to be too rigid, unwieldy and slow in their response. The international financial organisations – and I think we need to state this up front and not try to hide it – were not up to their responsibilities, as has been said quite unambiguously at a number of major international events such as the two recent G20 summits of the world’s largest economies.

Furthermore, we have had confirmation that our pre-crisis analysis of global economic trends and the global economic system were correct. The artificially maintained uni-polar system and preservation of monopolies in key global economic sectors are root causes of the crisis. One big centre of consumption, financed by a growing deficit, and thus growing debts, one formerly strong reserve currency, and one dominant system of assessing assets and risks – these are all factors that led to an overall drop in the quality of regulation and the economic justification of assessments made, including assessments of macroeconomic policy. As a result, there was no avoiding a global crisis.[3]

That crisis is what is now causing today’s break in global trade and payments.

Warfare on many fronts, with Dollarization being the main arena

Dissolution of the Soviet Union 1991 did not bring the disarmament that was widely expected. U.S. leadership celebrated the Soviet demise as signaling the end of foreign opposition to U.S.-sponsored neoliberalism and even as the End of History. NATO expanded to encircle Russia and sponsored “color revolutions” from Georgia to Ukraine, while carving up former Yugoslavia into small statelets. American diplomacy created a foreign legion of Wahabi fundamentalists from Afghanistan to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya in support of Saudi Arabian extremism and Israeli expansionism.

The United States is waging war for control of oil against Venezuela, where a military coup failed a few years ago, as did the 2018-19 stunt to recognize an unelected pro-American puppet regime. The Honduran coup under President Obama was more successful in overthrowing an elected president advocating land reform, continuing the tradition dating back to 1954 when the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s Arbenz regime.

U.S. officials bear a special hatred for countries that they have injured, ranging from Guatemala in 1954 to Iran, whose regime it overthrew to install the Shah as military dictator. Claiming to promote “democracy,” U.S. diplomacy has redefined the word to mean pro-American, and opposing land reform, national ownership of raw materials and public subsidy of foreign agriculture or industry as an “undemocratic” attack on “free markets,” meaning markets controlled by U.S. financial interests and absentee owners of land, natural resources and banks.

A major byproduct of warfare has always been refugees, and today’s wave fleeing ISIS, Al Qaeda and other U.S.-backed Near Eastern proxies is flooding Europe. A similar wave is fleeing the dictatorial regimes backed by the United States from Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia and neighboring countries. The refugee crisis has become a major factor leading to the resurgence of nationalist parties throughout Europe and for the white nationalism of Donald Trump in the United States.

Dollarization as the vehicle for U.S. nationalism

The Dollar Standard – U.S. Treasury debt to foreigners held by the world’s central banks – has replaced the gold-exchange standard for the world’s central bank reserves to settle payments imbalances among themselves. This has enabled the United States to uniquely run balance-of-payments deficits for nearly seventy years, despite the fact that these Treasury IOUs have little visible likelihood of being repaid except under arrangements where U.S. rent-seeking and outright financial tribute from other enables it to liquidate its official foreign debt.

The United States is the only nation that can run sustained balance-of-payments deficits without having to sell off its assets or raise interest rates to borrow foreign money. No other national economy in the world can could afford foreign military expenditures on any major scale without losing its exchange value. Without the Treasury-bill standard, the United States would be in this same position along with other nations. That is why Russia, China and other powers that U.S. strategists deem to be strategic rivals and enemies are looking to restore gold’s role as the preferred asset to settle payments imbalances.

The U.S. response is to impose regime change on countries that prefer gold or other foreign currencies to dollars for their exchange reserves. A case in point is the overthrow of Libya’s Omar Kaddafi after he sought to base his nation’s international reserves on gold. His liquidation stands as a military warning to other countries.

Thanks to the fact that payments-surplus economies invest their dollar inflows in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit finances its domestic budget deficit. This foreign central-bank recycling of U.S. overseas military spending into purchases of U.S. Treasury securities gives the United States a free ride, financing its budget – also mainly military in character – so that it can taxing its own citizens.

Trump is forcing other countries to create an alternative to the Dollar Standard

The fact that Donald Trump’s economic policies are proving ineffective in restoring American manufacturing is creating rising nationalist pressure to exploit foreigners by arbitrary tariffs without regard for international law, and to impose trade sanctions and diplomatic meddling to disrupt regimes that pursue policies that U.S. diplomats do not like.

There is a parallel here with Rome in the late 1st century BC. It stripped its provinces to pay for its military deficit, the grain dole and land redistribution at the expense of Italian cities and Asia Minor. This created foreign opposition to drive Rome out. The U.S. economy is similar to Rome’s: extractive rather than productive, based mainly on land rents and money-interest. As the domestic market is impoverished, U.S. politicians are seeking to take from abroad what no longer is being produced at home.

What is so ironic – and so self-defeating of America’s free global ride – is that Trump’s simplistic aim of lowering the dollar’s exchange rate to make U.S. exports more price-competitive. He imagines commodity trade to be the entire balance of payments, as if there were no military spending, not to mention lending and investment. To lower the dollar’s exchange rate, he is demanding that China’s central bank and those of other countries stop supporting the dollar by recycling the dollars they receive for their exports into holdings of U.S. Treasury securities.

This tunnel vision leaves out of account the fact that the trade balance is not simply a matter of comparative international price levels. The United States has dissipated its supply of spare manufacturing capacity and local suppliers of parts and materials, while much of its industrial engineering and skilled manufacturing labor has retired. An immense shortfall must be filled by new capital investment, education and public infrastructure, whose charges are far above those of other economics.

Trump’s infrastructure ideology is a Public-Private Partnership characterized by high-cost financialization demanding high monopoly rents to cover its interest charges, stock dividends and management fees. This neoliberal policy raises the cost of living for the U.S. labor force, making it uncompetitive. The United States is unable to produce more at any price right now, because its has spent the past half-century dismantling its infrastructure, closing down its part suppliers and outsourcing its industrial technology.

The United States has privatized and financialized infrastructure and basic needs such as public health and medical care, education and transportation that other countries have kept in their public domain to make their economies more cost-efficient by providing essential services at subsidized prices or freely. The United States also has led the practice of debt pyramiding, from housing to corporate finance. This financial engineering and wealth creation by inflating debt-financed real estate and stock market bubbles has made the United States a high-cost economy that cannot compete successfully with well-managed mixed economies.

Unable to recover dominance in manufacturing, the United States is concentrating on rent-extracting sectors that it hopes monopolize, headed by information technology and military production. On the industrial front, it threatens to disrupt China and other mixed economies by imposing trade and financial sanctions.

The great gamble is whether these other countries will defend themselves by joining in alliances enabling them to bypass the U.S. economy. American strategists imagine their country to be the world’s essential economy, without whose market other countries must suffer depression. The Trump Administration thinks that There Is No Alternative (TINA) for other countries except for their own financial systems to rely on U.S. dollar credit.

To protect themselves from U.S. sanctions, countries would have to avoid using the dollar, and hence U.S. banks. This would require creation of a non-dollarized financial system for use among themselves, including their own alternative to the SWIFT bank clearing system. Table 1 lists some possible related defenses against U.S. nationalistic diplomacy.

As noted above, what also is ironic in President Trump’s accusation of China and other countries of artificially manipulating their exchange rate against the dollar (by recycling their trade and payments surpluses into Treasury securities to hold down their currency’s dollar valuation) involves dismantling the Treasury-bill standard. The main way that foreign economies have stabilized their exchange rate since 1971 has indeed been to recycle their dollar inflows into U.S. Treasury securities. Letting their currency’s value rise would threaten their export competitiveness against their rivals, although not necessarily benefit the United States.

Ending this practice leaves countries with the main way to protect their currencies from rising against the dollar is to reduce dollar inflows by blocking U.S. lending to domestic borrowers. They may levy floating tariffs proportioned to the dollar’s declining value. The U.S. has a long history since the 1920s of raising its tariffs against currencies that are depreciating: the American Selling Price (ASP) system. Other countries can impose their own floating tariffs against U.S. goods.

Trade dependency as an aim of the World Bank, IMF and US AID

The world today faces a problem much like what it faced on the eve of World War II. Like Germany then, the United States now poses the main threat of war, and equally destructive neoliberal economic regimes imposing austerity, economic shrinkage and depopulation. U.S. diplomats are threatening to destroy regimes and entire economies that seek to remain independent of this system, by trade and financial sanctions backed by direct military force.

Dedollarization will require creation of multilateral alternatives to U.S. “front” institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and other agencies in which the United States holds veto power to block any alternative policies deemed not to let it “win.” U.S. trade policy through the World Bank and U.S. foreign aid agencies aims at promoting dependency on U.S. food exports and other key commodities, while hiring U.S. engineering firms to build up export infrastructure to subsidize U.S. and other natural-resource investors.[4] The financing is mainly in dollars, providing risk-free bonds to U.S. and other financial institutions. The resulting commercial and financial “interdependency” has led to a situation in which a sudden interruption of supply would disrupt foreign economies by causing a breakdown in their chain of payments and production. The effect is to lock client countries into dependency on the U.S. economy and its diplomacy, euphemized as “promoting growth and development.”

U.S. neoliberal policy via the IMF imposes austerity and opposes debt writedowns. Its economic model pretends that debtor countries can pay any volume of dollar debt simply by reducing wages to squeeze more income out of the labor force to pay foreign creditors. This ignores the fact that solving the domestic “budget problem” by taxing local revenue still faces the “transfer problem” of converting it into dollars or other hard currencies in which most international debt is denominated. The result is that the IMF’s “stabilization” programs actually destabilize and impoverish countries forced into following its advice.

IMF loans support pro-U.S. regimes such as Ukraine, and subsidize capital flight by supporting local currencies long enough to enable U.S. client oligarchies to flee their currencies at a pre-devaluation exchange rate for the dollar. When the local currency finally is allowed to collapse, debtor countries are advised to impose anti-labor austerity. This globalizes the class war of capital against labor while keeping debtor countries on a short U.S. financial leash.

U.S. diplomacy is capped by trade sanctions to disrupt economies that break away from U.S. aims. Sanctions are a form of economic sabotage, as lethal as outright military warfare in establishing U.S. control over foreign economies. The threat is to impoverish civilian populations, in the belief that this will lead them to replace their governments with pro-American regimes promising to restore prosperity by selling off their domestic infrastructure to U.S. and other multinational investors.

chart hudson

There are alternatives, on many fronts

Militarily, today’s leading alternative to NATO expansionism is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), along with Europe following France’s example under Charles de Gaulle and withdrawing. After all, there is no real threat of military invasion today in Europe. No nation can occupy another without an enormous military draft and such heavy personnel losses that domestic protests would unseat the government waging such a war. The U.S. anti-war movement in the 1960s signaled the end of the military draft, not only in the United States but in nearly all democratic countries. (Israel, Switzerland, Brazil and North Korea are exceptions.)

The enormous spending on armaments for a kind of war unlikely to be fought is not really military, but simply to provide profits to the military industrial complex. The arms are not really to be used. They are simply to be bought, and ultimately scrapped. The danger, of course, is that these not-for-use arms actually might be used, if only to create a need for new profitable production.

Likewise, foreign holdings of dollars are not really to be spent on purchases of U.S. exports or investments. They are like fine-wine collectibles, for saving rather than for drinking. The alternative to such dollarized holdings is to create a mutual use of national currencies, and a domestic bank-clearing payments system as an alternative to SWIFT. Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela already are said to be developing a crypto-currency payments to circumvent U.S. sanctions and hence financial control.

In the World Trade Organization, the United States has tried to claim that any industry receiving public infrastructure or credit subsidy deserves tariff retaliation in order to force privatization. In response to WTO rulings that U.S. tariffs are illegally imposed, the United States “has blocked all new appointments to the seven-member appellate body in protest, leaving it in danger of collapse because it may not have enough judges to allow it to hear new cases.”[5] In the U.S. view, only privatized trade financed by private rather than public banks is “fair” trade.

An alternative to the WTO (or removal of its veto privilege given to the U.S. bloc) is needed to cope with U.S. neoliberal ideology and, most recently, the U.S. travesty claiming “national security” exemption to free-trade treaties, impose tariffs on steel, aluminum, and on European countries that circumvent sanctions on Iran or threaten to buy oil from Russia via the Nordstream II pipeline instead of high-cost liquified “freedom gas” from the United States.

In the realm of development lending, China’s bank along with its Belt and Road initiative is an incipient alternative to the World Bank, whose main role has been to promote foreign dependency on U.S. suppliers. The IMF for its part now functions as an extension of the U.S. Department of Defense to subsidize client regimes such as Ukraine while financially isolating countries not subservient to U.S. diplomacy.

To save debt-strapped economies suffering Greek-style austerity, the world needs to replace neoliberal economic theory with an analytic logic for debt writedowns based on the ability to pay. The guiding principle of the needed development-oriented logic of international law should be that no nation should be obliged to pay foreign creditors by having to sell of the public domain and rent-extraction rights to foreign creditors. The defining character of nationhood should be the fiscal right to tax natural resource rents and financial returns, and to create its own monetary system.

The United States refuses to join the International Criminal Court. To be effective, it needs enforcement power for its judgments and penalties, capped by the ability to bring charges of war crimes in the tradition of the Nuremberg tribunal. U.S. to such a court, combined with its military buildup now threatening World War III, suggests a new alignment of countries akin to the Non-Aligned Nations movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Non-aligned in this case means freedom from U.S. diplomatic control or threats.

Such institutions require a more realistic economic theory and philosophy of operations to replace the neoliberal logic for anti-government privatization, anti-labor austerity, and opposition to domestic budget deficits and debt writedowns. Today’s neoliberal doctrine counts financial late fees and rising housing prices as adding to “real output” (GDP), but deems public investment as deadweight spending, not a contribution to output. The aim of such logic is to convince governments to pay their foreign creditors by selling off their public infrastructure and other assets in the public domain.

Just as the “capacity to pay” principle was the foundation stone of the Bank for International Settlements in 1931, a similar basis is needed to measure today’s ability to pay debts and hence to write down bad loans that have been made without a corresponding ability of debtors to pay. Without such an institution and body of analysis, the IMF’s neoliberal principle of imposing economic depression and falling living standards to pay U.S. and other foreign creditors will impose global poverty.

The above proposals provide an alternative to the U.S. “exceptionalist” refusal to join any international organization that has a say over its affairs. Other countries must be willing to turn the tables and isolate U.S. banks, U.S. exporters, and to avoid using U.S. dollars and routing payments via U.S. banks. To protect their ability to create a countervailing power requires an international court and its sponsoring organization.


The first existential objective is to avoid the current threat of war by winding down U.S. military interference in foreign countries and removing U.S. military bases as relics of neocolonialism. Their danger to world peace and prosperity threatens a reversion to the pre-World War II colonialism, ruling by client elites along lines similar to the 2014 Ukrainian coup by neo-Nazi groups sponsored by the U.S. State Department and National Endowment for Democracy. Such control recalls the dictators that U.S. diplomacy established throughout Latin America in the 1950s. Today’s ethnic terrorism by U.S.-sponsored Wahabi-Saudi Islam recalls the behavior of Nazi Germany in the 1940s.

Global warming is the second major existentialist threat. Blocking attempts to reverse it is a bedrock of American foreign policy, because it is based on control of oil. So the military, refugee and global warming threats are interconnected.

The U.S. military poses the greatest immediate danger. Today’s warfare is fundamentally changed from what it used to be. Prior to the 1970s, nations conquering others had to invade and occupy them with armies recruited by a military draft. But no democracy in today’s world can revive such a draft without triggering widespread refusal to fight, voting the government out of power. The only way the United States – or other countries – can fight other nations is to bomb them. And as noted above, economic sanctions have as destructive an effect on civilian populations in countries deemed to be U.S. adversaries as overt warfare. The United States can sponsor political coups (as in Honduras and Pinochet’s Chile), but cannot occupy. It is unwilling to rebuild, to say nothing of taking responsibility for the waves of refugees that our bombing and sanctions are causing from Latin America to the Near East.

U.S. ideologues view their nation’s coercive military expansion and political subversion and neoliberal economic policy of privatization and financialization as an irreversible victory signaling the End of History. To the rest of the world it is a threat to human survival.

The American promise is that the victory of neoliberalism is the End of History, offering prosperity to the entire world. But beneath the rhetoric of free choice and free markets is the reality of corruption, subversion, coercion, debt peonage and neofeudalism. The reality is the creation and subsidy of polarized economies bifurcated between a privileged rentier class and its clients, their debtors and renters. America is to be permitted to monopolize trade in oil and food grains, and high-technology rent-yielding monopolies, living off its dependent customers. Unlike medieval serfdom, people subject to this End of History scenario can choose to live wherever they want. But wherever they live, they must take on a lifetime of debt to obtain access to a home of their own, and rely on U.S.-sponsored control of their basic needs, money and credit by adhering to U.S. financial planning of their economies. This dystopian scenario confirms Rosa Luxemburg’s recognition that the ultimate choice facing nations in today’s world is between socialism and barbarism.

Keynote Paper delivered at the 14th Forum of the World Association for Political Economy, July 21, 2019.


[1] Billy Bambrough, “Bitcoin Threatens To ‘Take Power’ From The U.S. Federal Reserve,” Forbes, May 15, 2019.

[2] Vladimir Putin, keynote address to the Economic Forum, June 5-6 2019. Putin went on to warn of “a policy of completely unlimited economic egoism and a forced breakdown.” This fragmenting of the global economic space “is the road to endless conflict, trade wars and maybe not just trade wars. Figuratively, this is the road to the ultimate fight of all against all.”

[3] Address to St Petersburg International Economic Forum’s Plenary Session, St Petersburg,, June 5, 2009, from Johnson’s Russia List, June 8, 2009, #8,

[4] . Already in the late 1950s the Forgash Plan proposed a World Bank for Economic Acceleration. Designed by Terence McCarthy and sponsored by Florida Senator Morris Forgash, the bank would have been a more truly development-oriented institution to guide foreign development to create balanced economies self-sufficient in food and other essentials. The proposal was opposed by U.S. interests on the ground that countries pursuing land reform tended to be anti-American. More to the point, they would have avoided trade and financial dependency on U.S. suppliers and banks, and hence on U.S. trade and financial sanctions to prevent them from following policies at odds with U.S. diplomatic demands.

[5] Don Weinland, “WTO rules against US in tariff dispute with China,” Financial Times, July 17, 2019.

The surprising benefits of journaling for 15 minutes a day—and 7 prompts to get you started – 25 July 2019

Flowers in July

If you’re like most people, you’ll only write down what you absolutely need to, like to-do lists, meeting notes and reminders. But writing in your journal as a way to release and express your thoughts, feelings and emotions can be a life-changing habit.

Daily writing can be a challenge if you’re new to it. Much like meditating, it requires patience and commitment. But if you stick to it, it can improve your life in significant ways.

The surprising benefits of journaling

1. It can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings

Keeping a journal allows you to track patterns, trends and improvements over time. When current circumstances appear insurmountable, you can look back on previous dilemmas that you have since resolved and learn from them.

You might also encounter moments where you feel confused and uncertain about your feelings. By writing them down, you’re able to tap into your internal world and better make sense of things.

Anne Nelson, an acclaimed journalist and author of the forthcoming book, “Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right,” says she’s often asked whether she suffers when writing on fraught subjects. Her answer is always no.

“What I feel is a deep satisfaction when I get it right,” she said. “It’s the feeling when I’ve explained something in writing that I couldn’t explain to myself before I started.”

2. It can help your injuries heal faster

It may sound a little crazy, but a 2013 study found that 76% of adults who spend 50 to 20 minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings for three consecutive days two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy were fully healed 11 days after. Meanwhile, 58% of the control group had not fully recovered.

“We think writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress, thus helping the body to heal faster,” Elizabeth Broadbent, professor of medicine at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and co-author of the study, said in an interview with Scientific American.

3. It can improve your problem-solving skills

When you encounter a difficult problem, removing the situation from your mind and putting it down on paper encourages you to look at things from different angles and brainstorm several solutions in a more organized manner.

A classic 1985 study from the School Science and Mathematics Association, for example, found that students who wrote about their math problems in a journal (e.g., describing the problem and writing about how they came up with the answer) had significantly improved test scores over time.

4. It can help you recover from traumatic experiences

There are no rules as to how or what you must write about. Creative writing, such as fiction or poetry, can also be a form of journaling — and it can help you move past traumatic experiences.

Writing creatively allows you to craft a coherent narrative and shifting perspective, according to Jessica Lourey, a tenured writing professor, sociologist and author of 15 books, including “Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction.”

What I feel is a deep satisfaction when I get it right. It’s the feeling when I’ve explained something in writing that I couldn’t explain to myself before I started.

After the loss of her husband, Lourey, Anne Nelson said she couldn’t survive reliving the pain of the tragedy by writing down her thoughts and emotions. “I needed to convert it, package it and ship it off,” she wrote in a column for Psychology Today. Rewriting her life to fit a fictional narrative helped her heal faster because it allowed her to become “a spectator to life’s roughest seas.”

Journalist and novelist Leila Cobo agrees. Writing fiction has helped her so much that it’s now become a daily routine. “It allows me to say anything in any way that I wish. It’s the most amazing feeling,” she said. “I write either early in the morning or late at night. And once I’m in, I’m in.”

How to get started

While some can write for hours at a time, researchers say that journaling for at least 15 minutes a day three to five times a week can significantly improve your physical and mental health.

If you’re new to journaling, the easiest way to begin is to find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed and just start writing. (Don’t worry about spelling or grammar; you’re writing for yourself and no one else.)

If you don’t know what to write about, here are some ideas:

  1. Write about something (or someone) extremely important to you.
  2. Write about three things you’re grateful for today — and why.
  3. Write about what advice you’d give to your younger self.
  4. Write about a current challenge you’re struggling with and possible solutions.
  5. Write about 10 things you wish people knew about you.
  6. Write about one thing you did this year that you’re proud of.
  7. Write about 10 things you’d say yes to and 10 things you’d say no to

Goodbye, Alan Moore: the king of comic books bows out – by Sam Thielman (Guardian) 18 July 2019

The pioneer of serious superheroes – who is retiring – has transformed the genre over 40 years of rebellious invention

Deconstruction of the superhero myth … Alan Moore.
Deconstruction of the superhero myth … Alan Moore.

One of the most significant fiction writers in English is retiring, to the greatest fanfare of his singular and titanically influential career. Alan Moore has promised that the (extremely late) final issue of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be his last comic, and his final contribution to an art form he utterly transformed, sometimes to his chagrin. His work in the 1980s on Miracleman, a deconstruction of the superhero myth, inspired so many imitators to darken formerly kid-friendly heroes that Moore has apologised more than once for it.

A brainy pop writer whose style veers between Stephen King and John le Carré, Moore’s influence can be felt everywhere – in our literature, on our screens, in our politics. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, quoted Watchmen’s Rorschach on Twitter, in response to reports that she was agitating the Democrats. (“I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”) Writers as diverse as China Miéville and Ta-Nehisi Coates have cited him as inspiration. HBO’s great post-Game of Thrones hope is yet another adaptation of Moore’s most popular book, Watchmen, which (co-authored with illustrator Dave Gibbons) has sold millions of copies since it was first published in 1987. He’s played himself on The Simpsons, seen his work adapted into a number of films – none very good – and even inspired an activist collective: the Anonymous group wear Guy Fawkes masks as a tribute to V, the anarchist hero of Moore’s and illustrator David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta.

Moore draws very rarely, instead he writes comics scripts, and at punishing length. Those can run to hundreds of pages, describing every layer of background and every tertiary character. The scripts themselves, occasionally enclosed in deluxe editions of his work, are as detailed as David Foster Wallace novels. Describing Batman’s home city to artist Brian Bolland in the script for The Killing Joke, Moore wrote: “The lower and seedier levels of Gotham are more inclined towards a territory somewhere between David Lynch and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, all patches of rust and mould and hissing steam and damp, glistening alleyways. I imagine this strip as having an oppressively dark film noir feel to it, with a lot of unpleasantly tangible textures, such as you habitually render so delightfully, to give the whole thing a really intense feeling of palpable unease and craziness.” And Moore’s collaborators have always risen to his challenges, turning this overwriting into eye-popping set pieces.

Before Moore, and the likes of Frank Miller, Dave Sim and the Hernandez brothers, the idea that serialised comics could amount to literature was laughable, and that adults could enjoy them without irony creepy. But Moore has had a preternatural grasp of the intricacies of a genre – superheroes – widely considered to be devoid of them.

The Joker in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke

He asked troubling questions of superheroes, who had always appeared in stories that retroactively rewrote themselves and seemed to go on forever. Where was the end of these stories? Had we fully understood their beginnings? Was heroism even possible? The fates of silly costumed heroes became urgent in his hands: Krypto the Super-Dog, the shambling bog-monster Swamp Thing, a kid flying ace named Jetlad – each of these characters has moved me to tears.

Moore can be tiresome – his digressions into the minutiae of Kabbalah in his Wonder Woman-style fantasy comic Promethea are insufferable – but he could also be delightful. Top 10, his affectionate send-up of cop shows, was a riot of sight gags, rendered by artists Gene Ha and Zander Cannon. Parody and melodrama keep close company in his work, especially in what is arguably his masterpiece: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, created with the brilliant artist Kevin O’Neill. One character murders another with his magic penis at one point. It’s quite moving.

This lurid streak can make Moore a tough sell. One Swamp Thing features an issue-length sex scene in which one participant is a plant; yet the books’ central relationship hinges on the idea that Swamp Thing is the best man a woman could hope for, despite – or perhaps because of – his plant-ness.

Anonymous protestors at a demonstration in Paris, 2011.

Moore as the saviour of superheroes is ironic in many ways. For one, his work suggests that they are at best feckless and at worst possibly fascis. For another, the process of working with DC Comics, which published his work during his two great fertile periods in the mid-80s and late 90s, so embittered him to the industry that he has often repudiated his own work on corporate superheroes, just as it acquired pop cultural success: video games, action figures, spin-offs. Recently asked about the real-world political influence of V for Vendetta, he was characteristically blunt: “From my position, if I have had one of my ideas stolen from me and turned into yet another cash-generator for some abhuman corporation, then if it has at least escaped into the wild sufficiently to be of some symbolic use to today’s protest movements, that makes me feel a lot better about having written it in the first place.”

At the heart of this antipathy is DC’s hold on the legal rights to his co-creations Watchmen and V for Vendetta. Moore and Gibbons were promised that all rights would return to them when Watchmen went out of print, but it never did. Gibbons accidentally predicted what would happen in this arrangement back in 1986. “What would be horrendous, and DC could legally do it, would be to have Rorschach crossing over with Batman or something like that, but I’ve got enough faith in them that I don’t think they’d do that,” he told Neil Gaiman in a public interview preserved by the Comics Journal.

Moore never got his rights back and DC has spent many years revisiting Watchmen with lucrative anniversary editions, prequels, a movie, the forthcoming TV series and indeed Watchmen II, called Doomsday Clock, a work in progress with script and art by a different creative team. This will merge the fictional world Gibbons and Moore created with the universe shared by Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern.

Moore’s efforts outside superheroics, such as From Hell, Lost Girls and A Small Killing, are often cited as proof of his literary worth. But his greatest contribution to English letters isn’t found in his additions to the growing canon of respectable graphic novels – a term Moore has said was invented to allow adults to “validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal”. It’s in his dazzling, quixotic overwriting, applied to trashy genre fiction with an ironic, but never cynical quality. This worked wonders on uncomplicated planet-tossers like Superman and Captain Marvel. And when he leaves behind the superhero hijinks, a lot of the fun leaves the writing along with them. Don’t get me wrong, the highbrow books are still brilliant; they’re simply not as enjoyable as the pulpy stuff.

Many fans have been left in the awkward position of liking Moore’s superhero comics a good deal more than he does himself. When Miracleman delivers his baby girl and turns his face toward the reader, his eyes abrim with tears, and his internal monologue proclaims, “These are the moments when we are real”, I have always agreed, despite the narrator’s being clad in a blue leotard.

Moore would be the first to tell you that seriousness isn’t always a virtue, but his was thoroughly transformative. And for many readers, myself among them, it was a great relief to be taken seriously as a reader of something supposedly sub-literate and stupid, to be treated with intelligence and care, and to be introduced to Moore’s rebellious brand of morality: his passionate feminism, his suspicion of authority and wealth, his love of normal people and veneration of togetherness, especially in the face of the hopelessness of the real world. His gifts for cruelty and horror inspired undistinguished competitors to enter the field, but his unexpected gentleness was what kept readers coming back to him.

22 Books That Expand Minds and Change The Way People Live – by Darius Foroux

For the past few years, I’ve formed a habit of asking everyone for book recommendations. It’s one of the habits that has truly changed my life.

Reading is my favorite way to develop my mind because it’s the most effective way to learn something. But not every book changes the way you think. Francis Bacon said it best:

To me, expanding your mind means that a book had an impact on the way I look at the world.

And after serious thought, I came up with the following 22 books that caused a real shift in the way I think. I hope they expand your mind too.

1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Victor Frankl

I still think about this book almost daily, years after I first read it. What happened to millions of Jews 70 years ago, is truly horrific. We forget that it was only a few decades ago. Not centuries. And Victor Frankl’s account of his experience in concentration camps is almost superhuman. His philosophy and perspective on life should be cherished and passed on forever. Read this book.

2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau started my ‘thinking about life’ journey ten years ago. I remember how I discovered his writings — through the movie Into The Wild. The movie (released in 2007) was based on a Jon Krakauer book with the same title about Christopher McCandless, a young and naïve idealist who wanted to live a simple life. McCandless’s story is sad. But his biggest inspiration was Thoreau. And since Thoreau isn’t recommended reading in school in The Netherlands, I decided to pick it up by myself (and the Jon Krakauer book too). I haven’t stopped thinking, reflecting, and living more consciously ever since.

3. The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

We make a lot of decisions in our life. How many of those decisions are rational? If you ask Dobelli, very little. This book is an excellent collection of 99 thinking errors — from cognitive biases to social distortions. This is the most practical book I’ve read on decision making.

4. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book lives up to its hype. You will change the way you think after reading Kahneman’s book. It’s a summary of his most important findings ever since he started as a cognitive psychologist in 1961. I think it’s one of the most important books that’s published in recent years.

5. The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Self-control is the number one skill that helped me through my college years. And this practical book inspired me to bring my willpower to the next level. McGonigal writes in a down-to-earth manner that inspires you to take action.

6. Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Your ability to enjoy your work not only determines work satisfaction, but it also impacts how good you become at something. Flow is one of those books I think about every day. Getting in a flow state is something that actually changes the way you work and experience life.

7. The Story of the Human Body by Daniel Lieberman

Who knew that knowledge about human evolution could change the way you live? At least, that’s what happened to me. To truly understand your body, you have to know how it evolved. You’ll appreciate it more after reading this book — I can tell you that.

8. Spark by John Ratey

I’m a big believer in daily exercise. To me, it’s as important as breathing. John Ratey’s book inspired me to include daily exercise into my life. And I can’t tell you enough how significant the impact has been on my productivity, confidence, health, happiness, and overall enjoyment of life.

9. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I don’t agree with all the hype of this book being the best book of all time. It is, however, a great summary of human history and evolutionary psychology. And, most importantly, it reads beautifully.

10. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

A novel about a young, nameless black man, as he moves through life invisible, “‘simply because people refuse to see me.” Is the book fact or fiction? Doesn’t matter because it paints the picture from one person’s perspective on race—that’s what matters. The book is published in 1952 but still seems current after all those years. Life is about understanding others. This book will help you do that.

11. Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

This classic book teaches you the science of persuasion. And it’s full of research and anecdotes that will change the way you look at life, relationships, business, and people’s intentions.

12. Quiet by Susan Cain

Most introverts don’t even know they are introverts. Quiet is a book about knowing yourself. And that simple skill can change the outcome of your life. It comes down to this: Don’t try to be something you’re not.

13. When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead by Jerry Weintraub

One of the most entertaining life stories I’ve read. Weintraub is a Hollywood legend. He’s someone who genuinely thought different from the rest of his industry. And this book inspires you to be more practical, hard-nosed, and persuasive.

14. The Greatest Salesman In The World by Og Mandino

If you’re looking for a hardcore self-help book, look no further. If you read this book the way Og Mandino instructs, it will change your life.

15. Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Making decisions is one of the most mentally draining things you have to do daily. This book changed the way I look at options: Less is better.

16. The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Forming new habits is a practical skill that immediately impacts the quality of your life. Want to lose weight? Be more productive? Exercise regularly? Build successful companies? One thing is sure: Without habits, those things will be extremely difficult to pull off.

17. Daily rituals by Mason Currey

A unique insight into the habits and rituals of the world’s most renown figures. You’ll be surprised how simple their lives were.

18. Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher

Most people are afraid of negotiation. That’s an entirely unjust feeling. It’s actually fun to negotiate. And you should do it more often. Who doesn’t want to pay less and earn more?

19. The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley

To me, Malcolm X is the real symbol of a self-made man. It has nothing to do with money or fame. You make yourself by expanding your mind. That’s what Malcolm X did in prison. Hands down, the best biography I’ve ever read.

20. The Moral Animal by Robert Wright

You can’t put human behavior into perspective without knowing more about our evolution. It’s a little depressing. But so is life. Study it, instead of getting sad by it. As a result, you’ll be more understanding towards people and yourself.

21. Mastery by Robert Greene

The ultimate guide to becoming good at what you do. This book is not only a playbook for mastery, but it’s also a collection of biographies of great historical figures.

22. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Multiple readers recommended this book to me. Bird by Bird is about more than writing. If it doesn’t make you a better writer (which I doubt), it will make you a better person.

Like I’ve said before, I hope you pick up one of these books and that they will change the way you think. And don’t let the money hold you back.

One of my friends recently told me that he had bought a 4K television. But when I told him a year ago to read a few of the books listed above, he answered: “Books are way too expensive.”

This reminded me of something my mentor once said when I complained about the cost of education:

“Ignorance costs you more than you’ll ever know.”

Essential Reading for Young Adventurers – by Brian Kevin


Here are 15 of the best kids’ adventure stories ever written. Photo by Paul Edmondson/Stocksy.


You remember the book that did it for you, the book you found on a library field trip that—pow!—suddenly put you right freaking there at that storm-battered base camp or on that threadbare raft as it was pummeled by waves. For me, it was The Sign of the Beaver. I was nine years old and otherwise devoted to my Nintendo. But after a few chapters of Elizabeth George Speare’s young-adult survival saga, I was suddenly spearfishing and fending off rampaging black bears in the woods of 18th-century Maine. I wrote the author my first-ever fan letter and grabbed my Scholastic Book Club catalog, jonesing for another fix.

These 15 books elicit that level of enthusiasm. We think they’re the best kids’ adventure stories ever written—and every single one deserves a place on the shelf of adventurers-in-training.

Andrea Davis Pinkney

15. ‘Peggony-Po: A Whale of a Tale’

By Andrea Davis Pinkney; illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Grades K–3

The tall tale of Peggony-Po—a fearless boy carved from driftwood who crews aboard an 18th-century whaling ship—draws inevitable comparisons to Pinocchio and Moby-Dick. But Ahab never harnessed his white whale and rode it around the world, like Peggony-Po does with the monster who took his father’s leg. And Geppetto had nothing on Peggony-Po’s dad, Galleon Keene, a tough black whaler from an era when Americans of all races served side by side at sea. Spoiler alert: this one’s not for PETA types, as the leviathan antagonist eventually becomes whale steaks and scrimshaw.

Mary Pop Osborne

14. ‘Magic Tree House: High Tide in Hawaii’

By Mary Pope Osborne

Grades 3–5

Arthurian wizardess Morgan Le Fay sends a bookish bro and sis on a (really long—55 books and counting) series of time-traveling quests. The entire series is almost required binge reading for youngsters, but a fun start is #28, which lands them in precontact Hawaii. The siblings get up on alaia boards, practice the hula, and escape a tsunami. Osborne fudges some details about Hawaiian culture, but in stressing the strength of friendships formed outdoors, she nails the aloha spirit.


13. ‘Little House in the Big Woods’

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

Grades 6–8

This is the first and best of the Little House books that introduced generations of kids to pioneer life. Laura and her family carve out a life in the woods of western Wisconsin, while occasionally fending off bears, panthers, and wolves. Laura goes on to be quite the backwoods badass, but the real hero of book one is Charles “Pa” Ingalls. An expert hunter, woodcarver, fiddle player, and storyteller, he’s been setting the bar impossibly high for dads since Big Woods hit shelves in 1932.

Scott O’Dell

12. ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’

By Scott O’Dell

Grades 4–7

A survival tale with a truly epic sweep, Island of the Blue Dolphins was inspired by the tale of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, the last surviving member of the Nicoleño tribe who lived for nearly two decades on one of California’s Channel Islands before being discovered in 1853. O’Dell’s story of Karana—who becomes a resourceful hunter, forager, and tamer of feral dogs—reads as fresh as it did when it won a Newbery Medal in 1961. The prolific O’Dell also wrote The Black Pearl (1967), a moral fable of a young pearl diver, which would find a spot on a longer version of this list.


11. ‘Yes, Let’s’

By Galen Goodwin Longstreth; illustrated by Maris Wicks

Grades K–3

Get up early. Grab boots and backpacks. Drive to the nearest trailhead and spend the day goofing off with your kids, preferably near water. Get milkshakes on the way home. This underrated illustrated ode to the day hike is an easy read for elementary school kids or a read-along for the younger set—but it’s also a weekend instructional for moms and dads. Bonus: If you dig the art, graduate to Primates, a comic biography of primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas that’s a collaboration between illustrator Wicks and fellow science-obsessed graphic novelist Jim Ottaviani.

Random House

10. ‘The Lorax’

By Dr. Seuss

Grades K–Adult

Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss himself, once told a biographer that The Lorax was his favorite work. The explicitly environmental parable finds a wizened, Wilford Brimley–looking wood sprite squaring off against a greedy developer. As Seuss’s characteristically colorful and fuzzy truffula forest gets trashed to make cheapy apparel called thneeds, grown-ups wearing microfiber-shedding fleece laugh nervously.

Mariner Books

9. ‘The Little Prince’

By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Grades 6–12

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s poetic saga of a stranded aviator and his adolescent extraterrestrial pal is the nearest thing to a 20th-century fairy-tale masterpiece. On the surface, it’s a desert survival story with space exploration interludes. But then it hits with insights like this: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The book is actually a series of unfolding parables about adulthood and human relationships—lessons young readers will unpack years after reading.

Elizabeth George Speare

8. ‘The Sign of the Beaver’

By Elizabeth George Speare

Grades 3–5

When his father is delayed on a trip to the colonies, the adolescent son of white settlers is left to fend for himself in the woods of 18th-century Maine. He gets by with the help and generosity of nearby members of the Penobscot tribe, gradually befriending a capable boy his own age—and trying to win respect as he learns their ways. The Penobscot characters’ pidgin English is cringeworthy, like old Hollywood portrayals of Native Americans—and the word “squaw” pops up more than it should—but the overall message is one of cross-cultural empathy and respect.

Scholastic Books

7. ‘Paint the Wind’

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Grades 3–7

An orphaned girl trades upper-crust Los Angeles for the high, wild Wyoming ranch country where her mother was raised. The book trades perspectives between 11-year-old Maya and Artemisia, the now wild horse Maya’s mother once rode. Things get harrowing when an earthquake strands the duo in the backcountry. It’s more than just a fish-out-of-water tale—throughout, Muñoz asks the question: What does it mean to be tamed, wild, or free?


6. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’

By Maurice Sendak

Grades pre K–4

Who, after a hard day, hasn’t wanted to sail away to a jungle island, don a costume and crown, and enjoy a few days of bacchanalian ruckus? Maurice Sendak’s lusciously illustrated classic is often invoked among the best picture books of all time, thanks to his rendering of the animalistic wild things (which are simultaneously cute and menacing) and his suggestion that sometimes an adventure’s best course leads back home. Some schools and libraries pulled the book off shelves after its 1964 publication, fearing Max’s feral rebellion among the wild things was too subversive for kids. We’re all for it.

Puffin Books

5. ‘My Side of the Mountain’

By Jean Craighead George

Grades 3–5

This book could also be called I Was a Teenage Hermit! Fed up with his claustrophobic life in 1950s New York City, Sam Gribley ditches his parents’ apartment and bugs out for an old family plot in the Catskills. Sam’s detailed account of self-taught homesteading makes it sound easy (read a library book on falconry, steal a chick, and suddenly you have the coolest pet an off-the-grid teen could ask for). But his internal monologue about the benefits of companionship and culture versus solitude and self-sufficiency make this book a classic. Be warned: two sequels, published 31 and 40 years later, respectively, do not hold up to the original.

Amulet Books

4. ‘Heart of a Samurai’

By Margi Preus

Grades 5–8

It starts with the desert-island shipwreck of a Japanese fishing vessel. Then the action moves to an American whaling ship. Then the California gold rush. Followed by a mutiny at sea. Margi Preus adapts the real-life story of Nakahama Manjirō, one of the few 19th-century Japanese citizens to visit the West, into a Newbery Honor–winning adventure tale that’s a hymn to the spirit of exploration.


3. ‘Peak’

By Roland Smith

Grades 6–9

Fourteen-year-old Peak is a New York City hood-rat graffiti artist with a knack for scaling buildings. His estranged dad is a climbing bum (hence his son’s name) who’d like to see Peak become the youngest person to summit Everest—and who’d also like the publicity and profits the stunt would bring his guide company. Smith’s characters are complex and relatable, he gets Everest Base Camp culture mostly right, and Peak’s eventual epiphany about the value of a summit bid is worth his 29,000 feet of effort. As Peak’s Sherpa pal warns him, “You can never tell who the mountain will allow and who it will not.”

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

2. ‘The Hobbit’

By J.R.R. Tolkien

Grades 6–12

Long before Hollywood cashed in with an overblown blockbuster trilogy—and years before J.R.R. Tolkien fleshed out Middle Earth to epic proportions in The Lord of the Rings—there was The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, a winding, mythic, impossibly charming adventure yarn starring one of YA lit’s best-ever protagonists. Likable homebody Bilbo Baggins shares anxieties about his limitations with many of his young readers. Like them, he’ll discover his capacity for courage, curiosity, and friendship only when he shoulders his pack and heads into the mountains and woods.

Simon & Schuster

1. ‘Hatchet’

By Gary Paulsen

Grades 5–8

A 1987 Newbery Honor winner and bestseller, Gary Paulsen’s quintessential young-adult survival novel finds somber 13-year-old Brian Robeson surviving a plane crash and hacking out a living for two months in the Canadian bush. His only tool? A hatchet he’s never wielded. The trick of any survival story—never mind one written for kids—is to render failure and slow progress in a way that feels authentic but not dull. Paulsen’s terse sentences and Brian’s pensive inner monologue (on top of it all, he knows his mom is having an affair) keep things moving. From Brian’s fantasies about food to his mantra-like repetition of his survival strategies to the abruptness of his rescue, Hatchet simply rings true. Lest we forget these words to live by: “You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”