Instead of focusing on how the people he interviewed in this book worked out the nitty gritty of living off the grid, the author, Nick Rosen, spent a lot of time going over the politics and in-fighting of the groups involved. It makes for a somewhat fascinating read, but you don't really learn much besides the author's biases.
One big bone I have to pick is how he really, rather cruelly, treats his subjects. I'm assuming Mr. Rosen does so in order to make this otherwise potentially dry subject more exciting, but it starts to get a little old as he rakes each of his interviewees over the coals. Many are portrayed as crazy or mean or both and disregards their motivations.
I guess I'm not the only one left with this impression. From Publisher's Weekly:
Fed up with "the hyper-consumption of the past thirty years, the pointless acquisitions, the hopeless materialism, and the obsession with celebrity trivia," British journalist and filmmaker Rosen sets out across the U.S. to find the perfect off-the-grid community "beyond the reach of the power cables and water lines that intersect the modern world."
His journey brings him into contact with a colorful collection of rebels and outcasts--aging hippies, anarchist kids, a middle-aged couple with an "off-the-grid McMansion" in Colorado--and he sprinkles his tale with the sorts of practical tips likely to appeal to anyone considering a similar adventure: the Clivus Multrum is "the Hummer of composting toilets."
What Rosen lacks is a knack for storytelling; he would have done well to step back and let his subjects speak for themselves. Instead, he constantly inserts himself into the frame and insists on passing humorless judgment on nearly everyone he meets (and a fair number of people he doesn't), and even whole cities are roundly dismissed (Boulder is "the smuggest town in America"). His curmudgeonly asides are off-putting, and it's disappointing to see the book's idealism and noble reach devolve into grousing.
Maybe I was expecting the book to be closer to David Black's, Living off the Grid: A Simple Guide to Creating and Maintaining a Self-reliant Supply of Energy, Water, Shelter and More which is a lot more "how-to" and less "how stupid!"
Overall, I disagreed with his treatment of several of the people he profiles in his book, his opinion on peak oil, climate change and a number of other issues. That said, I did learn about these groups and individuals that were interviewed, and for that I appreciated the book. I otherwise would not know they exist and what these folks are up to. Although I'm not exactly giving this a sparkling review, it is worth reading for that alone.
Now, I generally don't like doing two giveaways at the same time but, ah, what the hell. If you are interested in throwing you name in the hat for a copy of this book, please enter your name in the comments of this post by midnight Saturday, August 21st, 2010 PST.