1. John Adams, by David McCullough. This biography of Adams erases any fantasies we might have about our American Revolution being easy, short, or something to take for granted. It gives a deep insight into what it takes for a revolution to succeed, which is strong, intelligent, and dedicated leadership from within the country and having a higher purpose that one is willing to die for.
2. The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan. Of all of Pollan's books, this is my favorite. This "plant's-eye-view of the world" enables you to see nature from the perspective of plants and animals, imagining that perhaps they use us just as much as we use them. It also offers great insight into classic stories like Johnny Appleseed.
3. America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, by Gail Collins. From the first non-native woman to see the shores of America (she committed suicide) to the truth about how long and hard it was for women to get the right to vote, this book will never let you take women's freedom for granted ever again.
4. Hell's Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine, by Diarmuid Jeffreys. I found this book while researching Organic Manifesto and was stunned at how it outlines the creation of chemical weapons for WWII and how the companies involved with creating them became even stronger after the war, evolving into the aspirin maker Bayer, the imaging and IT corp Agfa, and the world's leading chemical company BASF.
5. The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki. The first novel ever written was by a Japanese noblewoman, and while the story is more than a thousand years old, and its narrative long and rambling, it enabled me to connect to history in a much more personal and fascinating way than any history book. Fashions and philosophies may come and go, but emotions are the same throughout time.
6. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman. A former fundamentalist details his quest to get to the "truth" of the Bible by studying the original languages of Jesus, New Testament manuscripts, and the history of the times. Through his journey, Ehrman uncovers incredible truths about the fallibility of the Bible and what is truly attributed to Jesus versus what was added hundreds of years later.
7. Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body--New Paths to Power and Love, by Riane Eisler. This was the first book that truly helped me understand where violence and genocide stem from, and how emphatically love and a balanced relationship between male and female values are the way to heal and evolve our civilization.
8. The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future, by Fawzia Koofi. A beautiful and horrible look at the inside of culture, war, and tradition in Afghanistan and a testament to the courage of one woman to do what it takes to change it from within (see book #1).
9. Massoud: An Intimate Portrait of the Legendary Afghan Leader, by Marcela Grad. Incredible stories of what it really takes to be a leader during war and just how complicated and challenging the different cultures of Afghanistan (and the Middle East as a whole) really are. These are not battles that will ever be won with weapons. Ever. Although Massoud tried and did win against the Soviet Union, he didn't win the ultimate war between the tribes of Afghanistan.
10. Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. All those stereotypes about women and sex and men and sex that you read about every day, and that are "confirmed" by academia are wrong (and I suspected it all along). This book looks at our sexual history in a whole new light, and it's a totally refreshing new view (for women, anyway!).
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.