This book is a reprint of two classics "Living the good life" and "Continuing the good life". In these books, Scott and Helen Nearing describe how they chose to live deliberately, and built for themselves a sustainable life and lifestyle in Vermont and Maine. In "Living the good life", they explain some of the circumstances that led them to stage a strategic withdrawal from New York City and relocate to a run-down farm in Vermont during the 1930s. They describe how they acquired and developed their land, how they built their house, and their garden and diet. A major focus of the book is explaining their philosophy of non-exploitation, and how they wanted to implement their ideas of social justice into their lifestyle. The Nearings believed so strongly in avoiding exploitation of any kind that they avoided resorting to animal labor or products on their farm. They arranged their days so that they could spend 4 hours doing bread labor, 4 hours working with the community, and had 4 hours of free time each day to pursue independent interests. They also describe how they earned cash income from maple sugaring on their property. Towards the end of this first section, they explain that growing crowds of visitors, combined with a general lack of cooperation in the community eventually convinced them to abandon their project in Vermont and move on to Maine.
In "Continuing the Good Life," the Nearings describe how they built a second homestead in Maine. Once again, they explain how they constructed a house from stone, and how they developed a case income, this time based on blueberries. Gardening and diet is also given more space in this volume than it had in "Living the Good Life".
This book is rich with both inspiration and practical details. Scott Nearing was a well published academic in the field of economics before he started the adventures described in these volumes. As a result, his style of writing is rather academic, and his chapters contain quite a few footnotes. It's a little strange to read this book out of context, to dive right in without knowing anything about the Nearings beforehand. This is what I did the first time I read the book, and I found the premise of the adventure rather preposterous- -two city people going off to establish a commune in the mountains during the 1930s. They mentioned that they earned some money from traveling and writing. Without further explanation, I thought they were travel writers or something. It wasn't until I read John Saltmarsh's book The Making of a Homesteader that I began to get the full picture. In that book, Saltmarsh describes how Scott Nearing had been a very successful economics professor in the first decade of the century. However, he was a very outspoken pacifist, and lost his teaching positions because of his politics. He was living in New York City, separated from his wife, when he met Helen, his soul mate. Because of his political stances, Nearing was recruited by the Communist Party as an educator and politician. However, he was too much a freethinker for the communists, and was soon expelled from the party for continuing to voice his independent ideas. It was at this point, when he was about 50, when he and Helen began their Good Life experiment in Vermont. With this background in mind, Nearing's comments and opinions stated in this book make a lot more sense.
I first became aware of the Nearings (Helen and Scott) as a university student in the late 1960s, when they were considered the elder statesmen of the Sixties counterculture's back-to-the-land movement. As such, they prefigure by decades all the current flood of authors counseling a return to basic human values, lives of simplicity and a turning away from lifestyles of mindless consumption. The thread of truth running through their decades of rural adventures and struggles to live their lives with quality, public service, and dignity is an American classic, and one the present generation could learn much from. Simply put, this is a classic volume that describes the Nearings' lifetime experiment at establishing and maintaining a more meaningful alternative lifestyle, one eschewing the waste, rampant materialism, and corporate subjugation so common in today's mainstream society. After reading this book, one will chuckle quietly at the pathos inherant in the sight of all these busy, self-important yuppies driving proudly down the highway in their hard-won BMWs, doing their deals and talking on their cellular phones while driving in traffic, going nowhere fast with such innane but self-absorbed intensity. There is a much more meaningful and satisfying way to approach one's life, and it is described in detail in this book. Buy it and be prepared to be educated and amazed. It has profoundly changed my own life and the way I approach the future, and I recommend it to anyone who has even a mild degree of discomfort with the rampant greed and materialism characterizing contemporary American society. Cheers!
on February 8, 2002
Some books speak to us where we are, others inspire us with what we may become. Not everyone will respond to the Nearings' vision of the good life, and some of you who do have dreams of living beyond the sidewalk may not find their account entirely useful--but it's still a consolation to know such a life can be lived. Society could not solve all of its ills if everyone tried to live like the Nearings, but who could doubt whether making their aims ours isn't a step in the right direction: reducing wants, cooperating with Nature, neither exploiting nor being exploited. _Good_Life_ is often called the _Walden_ of the 20th century, a comparison both helpful and misleading; it's more like an expansion of Thoreau's first chapter. And remember, the Nearings followed this course of life to the end of their days.
The Nearings include a great deal of practical advice, all of which is fascinating to read but not all of which may be useful to prospective homesteaders--even those in New England, where Scott and Helen made their home (twice). The best anyone in a different region can do is to use the Nearings' account as a model. Absorb the spirit of their activities, if you cannot follow them in substance. Live locally, in tune with the seasons, and meet your needs with your immediate resources. And count on working hard, your own labor being free and in virtually endless supply. One important lesson to be learned from the Nearings (also the advice of many homesteaders) is that you cannot expect to live entirely off the land. Some income is necessary, some inputs may have to come from the larger economic sphere. The Nearings sold maple syrup; other homesteaders retain some sort of workworld employment.
If you like this book, you might also wish to read Scott Nearing's autobiography, "The Making of a Radical." Scott was a university professor in economics nearly a century ago who lost his position when he spoke out against child labor. Finally, let me note that I am not a homesteader, though books like _The_Good_Life_ have inspired me to find simpler and healthier solutions to many of life's challenges. May you too!
on January 21, 2005
This was an inspirational book for me when I was a young man and yearned to "go back to the land." Now, been there done that, and I'm more cynical about city folks in the country.
The Nearings left "civilization" in the depression era when Scott was about 50 and spent the next 50 years homesteading rural properties in Vermont and Maine. Actually, if you read between the lines, they spent only part of the year homesteading and the rest traveling and lecuturing. They were an opinionated pair -- strict vegetarians, organic gardeners, and full of personal idiosyncracies they spend a lot of time rationalizing. For example, they ate with wooden utensils rather than metal silverware because of fear of chemicals. But who can argue with them? Scott lived to be 100 and Helen lived a long time too.
There are as many contradictions in their philosophy as has a Marxist manifesto. The "simple life" as they define it includes a pickup truck (something of a luxury in 1930s Vermont), cement mixer and (gasp!)chemicals to acclerate the workings of their beloved compost pile. They are anti-capitalist but make a living selling maple sugar, blueberries, and Scott's economic tomes. I would guess they took advantage of the Depression by buying land at low, low prices from destitute farmers -- but they later donated some of it to the community. Typical of city folk in rural situations they looked down on their neighbors as backward rubes, incapable and unwilling to be educated (indoctrinated) by their betters. I would love to have a book about the Nearings by one of their neighbors. It could be hilarious.
Amidst the philosophy of a pair of radicals in the country is some good advice on how to build a stone house and wall, tap maple trees, and irritate your neighbors. The romance of the rural is compelling and I enjoy dipping into their books from time to time.
on August 3, 1998
Since I was a little girl I've dreamt of living on a farm. Growing my own food. Gaining my daily exercise while I do my chores. Today I'm in my early 30's and still have a strong desire to live a life similar to Helen & Scott Nearing. This book was such an inspiration to me! "The Good Life" has made me yearn even more for a healthier, and fruitful lifestyle. I'm thankful that Helen & Scott were such generous people and willing to share their experiences and knoweldge. I only wish that I had the opportunity to meet these beautiful souls and share a few days labor, meal and conversation with them.
on January 16, 2004
This book is about a couple who develop a self-sufficient life style. Originally I bought the book as a blue print for retirement so that I could pluck from it those things I wanted for my family - a very good guide for such a purpose. However, the Nearings had a very strong set of principles, which sets them aside from most people who want to get away from city life. An initial period of work in his grandfather's mine alongside immigrant workers turned Scott into an outspoken critic of the social system resulting in his being fired from his university post and made unemployable. Royalties on his textbooks, widely used in the educational system, ceased. Scott's wife, Helen, was also a very high-principled person. Perhaps this was the ultimate secret of their long-term success - they were completely uncompromising on whatever principles they adopted.
Helen Nearing tells us that they left the city with three objectives:
- economic: independence from the commodity and labor markets
- hygienic: to maintain and improve health
- social and ethical: to liberate and dissociate from the cruder forms of exploitation - plunder of the planet, slavery of man and beast, slaughter in war and animals for food. They were against the accumulation of profit and unearned income by non-producers.
She goes on to tell us that after 20 years:
- a piece of eroded, depleted mountain land had been restored to fertility
- a successful economy without animals, animal products, chemical fertilizers had been created
- a subsistence household had been established , paying its way and yielding a modest surplus
- a small scale business had been established from which wagery had been virtually eliminated
- health was at a high level
- the complexities of city life had been replaced by a simple life pattern
- they enjoyed six months labor and six months leisure used for research, travel, writing, speaking, teaching
- they always had an open house for hundreds of people annually
We are told that no family group of vigor, energy, purpose, imagination and determination need continue to wear the yoke of a competitive, acquisitive, and predatory culture. A family can live with nature, make a living, preserve and enhance efficiency, enjoy leisure, and do their part to make the world a better place. They maintain that a couple of any age 20-50 with minimum health, intelligence and capital can adapt to country living, learn its crafts, overcome its difficulties and build a rich pattern of life of simple values, being productive of personal and social good.
If you have wondered whether city life is for you, there is no better book to read than "The Good Life".
on January 23, 2003
'The Good Life' consists of two previously published books: 'Living the Good Life' and 'Continuing the Good Life'. Both books have completely different flavors. 'Living the Good Life' (1954) was written in the Nearings' still youthful and rebellious years, while 'Continuing the Good Life' (1979) shows the Nearings in a mellowed, tolerant old age.
Living the Good Life has some very useful information on gardening, food storage, and stone construction. The book is a mix of practical advice and the Nearings' philosophy of living, which includes self-reliance, vegetarianism, and socialism or communism. The authors do a good job of outlining their "design for living". A plethora of quotes tends to disrupt the writing.
The Nearings move from New York City to the Vermont hills, but say little of how they learned "the good life". Much of the book was written as though the authors knew better than the Vermont natives from the start. Surely, there were some humbling moments and follies that they experienced, but none are related. A little self-deprecation would have made the Nearings more likeable.
The authors had attempted to establish a commune or socialistic village in Vermont. However, the independent country folk refused to buy into their collective experiments. With only a handful of members, the Nearings made little economic or social progress. With intense scorn regarding the independence of rural America, the Nearings admit failure of their experiment and move off to Maine.
'Continuing the Good Life' abandons the philosophical ranting found in the first book and focuses on practical advice for modern homesteaders. The Nearings even relax some of their own vegetarian beliefs, as evidenced by eating dairy products and occasional eggs. By abandoning much of their preaching, they become more likeable. Although some of their endeavors are amusing, such as building a 1.5 acre pond with pick, shovel, wheelbarrow, and some concrete, we respect them for adhering to their beliefs and having so much energy at such an advanced age.
on August 13, 2003
I was very interested in reading about a couple who took the plunge and homesteaded. I found the references to why they moved to the homestead interesting, but unfortunately, the rest of the book is interweaved with this philosophy as well as social issues. The practical is overshadowed or not explained in detail. The detail that is there focuses on what they did not how they did it. If you are looking for a how-to book, you should look elsewhere. I did find the section on health interesting and helpful. Also, the second section, "Continuing the Good Life" had some practical ideas on gardening. Overall the book was a disappointment, since I expected a how-to book not a philosophy book.
on June 29, 1998
This book is the key to life. Helen and Scott did what others only dream of. One of my most influential people during my developing years handed me a copy of this book and said, "Read this and find your soul." That gent was a fan of the Good Life and figured out how to live on thirty five dollars a week in Silver Lake, NH. His legacy lives in my heart and this book is where I go back in time to understand a way of life I dream of. I have come to realize from this book that you need the right spouse to make this kind of lifestyle happen. Not all spouses can handle this lifestyle. Mine cannot and I have an ache in my soul for the one who can.
on October 28, 2002
While I admire the Nearings for dropping out of urban society and making it on their own in rural Vermont way before it was fashionable to do so, I found their tone to be didactic in the extreme, and their attitude (we are the only ones on the planet who know exactly how to live, work, play, eat, sleep, breathe etc. correctly) to be annoying.
The book gives no real practical knowledge of homesteading, other than a densely written, obtuse chapter on building with stone. It also actively disparages the rural culture and traditions of the people around their homestead. The Nearings are the only people who know anything (in their estimation), and the fact that the people around them don't bow down to them, and acquiesce to their every wish and demand, just proves that they are all dolts.
I also found it curious that despite the fact that the Nearings claimed not to use any animals on their homestead, there are two pictures of them in the book (at least in the 1970 edition I was reading) using a team of horses.