The Best Books by Naomi Klein

Author, social activist, and filmmaker Naomi Klein is one of our foremost modern voices on societal problems and climate change. Here, we explore four of our favorite books of hers.
by Uptime Staff / 2021-10-26

Naomi Klein wears many hats: author, activist, filmmaker, and political organizer. Though she’s most well-known for her current work on climate change, Klein's books cover a wide range of topics that concern the problems our planet - and the people who live on it - face today; Klein speaks and writes about everything from ecofeminism, leftist politics, labour organizing, disaster response, and critiques of capitalism. 

Luckily for readers, Klein has a deep stack of books under her belt to help educate you on these topics. Of course, as always, you can read more about on Goodreads and Amazon, as well as keeping up with her by following her Twitter account or perusing her website - but if you haven't got time for all that, we've put together this handy guide to Naomi Klein's best books.

The Shock Doctrine

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein reveals the dark side of free market capitalism, and how it actually hinders the democracy that we need to sustain a just society. Through careful analysis, Klein explains how, in the wake of disasters, world leaders have been known to use traumatic events as market opportunities, instead of helping citizens in the ways that a just government should. Free market capitalists exploit traumatic societal events to bend public will to their whims. 

Our summary picks out the following ideas:

- Free market enthusiasts impose shady economic reforms in the wake of disaster.

Taking a deep dive into the history of economics, Klein first shares how Milton Friedman and the Chicago economists believed that real change could only come through mass upheaval—but these days, leaders use disasters to mimic that shock and make changes when people are traumatized and not paying attention. Governments use the time immediately following a disaster to impose rapid and often irreversible change. 

- Free market reform often happens through terror inflicted on citizens.

In 1973, General Pinochet took control of Chile and his military turned on the people they claimed they would protect. They brutalized average citizens in order to keep power and imprisoned civilians in sports stadiums. They publicly executed people and created torture chambers, all in the name of creating privitization, deregulation, and cuts to social spending. 

- These economic shock treatments create immense wealth for the powerful.

Those imposing the changes and profiting from them are the wealthiest individuals and corporations. In the wake of disaster, public wealth is put into the private hands of the already wealthy in the name of control. 

This book is a long read, but full of powerful ideas. It was turned into a documentary feature film (directed by Michael Winterbottom) in 2009, as well as a short, 6-minute feature directed by Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuaron in 2007. To explore our run-down in more detail, you can have a look at our The Shock Doctrine summary on Uptime.

No Logo

In No Logo, Naomi Klein explains how brands and their power have changed the world for the worse since the 1980’s. Companies focusing on their image rather than the effectiveness of their products has changed the workplace for the worse for employees. Large corporations have negatively affected society as a whole. The largest companies in the world have become as powerful as government entities. As corporations got bigger, they destroyed the environment and working conditions worsened. In the book, Klein discusses exploitative labor practices and more.

She lets you in on the secrets of bad corporations…

- Successful brands care more about how they look than how well they work.

If you’ve ever bought an expensive product that seemed like everyone has it, only to have it not work like you thought, this probably makes sense. These products are designed to sell the idea of a lifestyle rather than work well. They care more about trends than how the product actually affects the consumer. 

- The largest companies earn huge profits by outsourcing their work to foreign countries.

This negatively affects everyone, not just the workers they exploit. Before the outsourcing of work, these jobs stayed in America and the workers were protected by unions. When companies shifted their money to marketing instead of manufacturing, America lost good jobs and employer loyalty to employees.

- There’s still hope.

We can still shift our spending away from multinational brands and to local products. Speak out against brands that use sweatshops and child labor in foreign countries. 

Since its publication in 1999, No Logo has become an international bestseller. If your curiosity is piqued by these ideas, then have a look at our full book summary of No Logo over on Uptime.

This Changes Everything

Many of us know Naomi Klein primarily for her work on climate change, and this is the book that made her famous in that arena. Klein makes the compelling case for the link between environmental collapse and capitalism. The economy is at war with the environment, she argues, and we are all suffering because of it. Even worse, we’re not making changes fast enough to help the climate — so, what could we (moreover, the powers that be) be doing differently? 

Naomi Klein outlines the following map for change:

- Really moving forward against climate change would require changing our economic system.

Those in power don’t want to do that. The economic model of most of the world relies on growth, but we’ve grown past the earth’s natural limits. The planet has finite resources, but unchecked growth is killing what’s left of the earth’s natural stockpiles. We have to put the planet over economic prosperity if we have hope of saving the environment for our children. 

- Regular citizens should engage in mass protest to try and change things.

Talking on the internet isn’t enough. There’s no way to stop the powerful from using up the earth’s resources except mass protest. 

- For lessons, we can look back to the abolition of slavery.

It required tremendous economic reorganization, which is the same thing that we need to have for extreme climate action. Just as today the US is dependent on fossil fuels, the economy was dependent on salvery. We can change this dependency on fossil fuels in the same way. 

If you're interested to find out more, then find this book on Uptime, where we expand on these ideas in much more detail via our This Changes Everything book summary.

On Fire

Following This Changes Everything, with more real talk on climate change, On Fire chronicles the case for the Green New Deal. Published in 2019, this book posits that we’re on track for absolute ecological disaster if the current temperature changes continue as is.

But the Green New Deal offers hope. The Green New Deal could change our economy in ways that save the planet and provide much needed jobs. 

What you need to know from Klein about the Green New Deal:

- It’s not communism.

Though critics compare the green new deal to communism, this is a scare tactic, and not based in fact. 

- By re-distributing wealth, the Green New Deal would create millions of new jobs worldwide.

Today wealth is concentrated in a tiny percentage of people who don’t use it to help others or the planet. These wealthy people are also responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, meanwhile, the poorest people will suffer the most from climate change. The Green New Deal is designed to help remedy this inequality. We can begin by taxing the super rich with a global minimum corporate tax rate. 

- The fight for climate change action feels hopeless right now, but the Green New Deal could help us spring into action.

With the loss of union power, disenfranchised communities, and personal traumas, it’s easy to feel like we've already ost the battle. But anyone can lobby in their community for policies like the green new deal, and that sense of reinvigorated hope can fuel us all on a larger scale. 

But that's just the beginning. Our Hack of On Fire explores these insights in a lot more detail - check it out on our On Fire book summary.

Wrap-Up

If you care about social inequality and climate change but don’t know where to direct your efforts, the works of Naomi Klein are an incredible place to start.

Not only does she give you the facts about our world in crisis, she gives you ways to move forward and make change. If you’ve gobbled up these books and want more, we also suggest Battle for Paradise, her recent book on disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico. Otherwise, you can have a look at our guide to the best books on global warming.


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