Jared Diamond's book argues (essentially) that we're not so different from chimps and other primates, contrary to the idea of the "noble savage." Paraphrasing crudely, he makes the point that by recognizing our close kinship with other animals, we might stop assuming we are put on this earth to have dominion over the rest.
What's the greenest place in America? Not the rolling hills of Vermont. Not a cabin in the woods. It's New York City, where people use less of everything, live smaller, and basically turn the idea of responsible living completely on its head. Dense, vertical cities, says the author, are our best hope for a sustainable Earth.
If you read no other book this year, read this one. It convincingly tears down many of the assumptions we all make about efficiency gains leading to energy conservation. Without behavior change, the author wisely notes, efficiency improvements simply lead to new ways to consume and pollute.
In this brilliant book, the late George Basalla gently disassembles many of our most common misperceptions about how, when and why people adopt various technologies. Acceptance of the wheel, he says, was not a foregone conclusion. The fact that a technology exists does not guarantee that it will become a tool (or weapon) that's acceptable in human society. Translation: Maybe we won't become slaves to our robot drones...
Rifkin's book about the ways in which machines and computerization replaced people in American industry is a bit dated now. We KNOW what happened. But some of his observations about the biotech industry's goals for our food system, and the failed promises of more leisure time, make it worth the read.
Among the most extreme of the Technotopian futurists, Kurzweil paints a picture for us that he may see as utopian, but many of us find bleak and unsettling--where the "organic" nature of human beings, by the year 2100, has become more of a disability than a wonder, and those who are not digitally "augmented" cannot compete with those who embrace, and in fact merge, with their machines.