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Thinking in Systems by Donnella Meadows

Book Cover of Thinking in SystemsI highly recommend Donnella Meadow‘s little book, Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Chelsea Green 2008). It’s short, fun, and to the point. No math or physics required. Recommended for everyone, literally.

In clear, humorous, commonplace situations, Meadows explains the use of systems analysis and how it can be applied in both large-scale and individual problem solving. She moves from simple to more complex examples ultimately explaining the complex ways that feedback loops are used to create self-organizing systems in nature and society. She also explains methods for fixing systems that have gone astray.

About Donella “Dana” Meadows

Photo of Donella Meadows

Donnella Meadows

Dana Meadows (1941-2001) was a biophysicist and  environmental scientist who taught at Dartmouth for 26 years following her research fellowship at MIT where she worked with Jay Forrester the creator of the study of system dynamics. She is author of one of the most influential essays on systems dynamics, “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” available for PDF download and reprinted in Thinking in Systems, pp. 145-165. She received numerous awards for her work including a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 1994. Her work is considered to have a formative influence in many fields and on many scholars. Unfortunately she died of a bacterial infection at the age of 59 and before completing Thinking in Systems. The manuscript had been circulating amongst students and faculty who added comments. The final manuscript was edited by Diana Wright of the Sustainability Institute.

In 1996, Meadows founded the Sustainability Institute or the study of global systems and practical demonstrations of sustainable living, including cohousing and ecovillages. The Institute was founded next to Cobb Hill Cohousing in Hartland, VT and has been renamed the Donella Meadows Institute and moved to Norwich, VT. Her papers were donated by the Institute to the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College in 2011.

One of the wrong-headed ideas discussed in Thinking Systems, pushing in the wrong direction on fixing economic growth, the subject of the landmark book, The Limits to Growth; A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, for which she was lead author. Using a computer model, it projects the effects of continued growth. An extensive review appeared in The Nation in 2012: The Limits to Growth: A Book that Launched a Movement by Christian Parenti. Limits was first published in 1972 and updated. The original version sold 12 million copies and was translated into 37 languages. It was 205 pages. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (2004) is 338 pages.

To purchase at Amazon: Thinking in Systems: A Primer, softcover 2008.