58 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2010
Annie Leonard's book tells us so much about our world and about, as it says on the cover, the environmental and social impacts of "our obsession with stuff." But it also tells us about who we are and what we think is important. Not preachy or judgmental, Annie creates a new way to think about the choices we make in our own lives and how they connect to everyone and everything. It's really a book about community and how to create one, and how to make choices --both personal and political --that can lead to a healthier, safer and more sustainable world for all of us. Loved the mix of personal stories and analysis and the detailed footnotes and citations. You can read the whole book, or just dip into individual chapters. It's well written and tells a great story. A great read that will make you see the world differently -- and open up many opportunities to make change. My only criticism is that the pages are very dense --would have loved more graphics and white space -- and I don't like the feel of the paper (100% post consumer recycled of course) but I know the author wanted to walk her talk by insisting on the highest possible green standards for publishing. This book picks up where the video leaves off with lots of discussion of solutions and what we can each do to create a more sustainable life for ourselves and the planet. One more thing: this book is not anti-stuff or anti-profit. The message is that life is about more than stuff or profits --that we should honor and appreciate everything we have (Who made those shoes? Where? How did they end up in my closet? Who raised the beef in my hamburger and how? How did it end up on my grill?). And of course businesses need to make money, as do we all. It's just not the only thing that life is about.
38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2010
Annie Leonard and Ariane Conrad bring essential details to light about our stuff!
In this important book I finally caught on to the concept of "real cost." While it is nuts how much stuff people buy that they can't afford the really crazy thing is that we pay nowhere near the real cost of almost anything that we buy. We don't pay to treat the poisoned children in the developing world that have no clean water because of the techniques used in materials extraction, we don't pay for a living wage for the oppressed peoples that manufacture our goods and we certainly don't pay for our goods to be "disposed of" in any kind of a way that would keep more pain and suffering and damage being done.
This isn't a political screed (and don't believe anyone that tells you that it is) -- this is the story of how our very real stuff interacts with millions of people and the environments of nations all over the world. Point being that it is not a story about governments or ideologies. It is about people and materials and how we can make things better.
The book is very well written and has the 'flow' that Annie has when she speaks on her film (which is very good -- google it if you haven't seen it yet) and goes into all the details. It also has a lot of really good stories from Annie's travels all over the world gathering the information that she has put in this book.
Honestly, I think that this is an essential book -- buy it and read it, then make the changes that you'll know you should.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2010
I heard Al Gore on the evening news once describe the climate change trend as the "Earth has a fever." In her book, The Story of Stuff, I found that Annie Leonard explains -- with sobering, and yet hopeful clarity -- why our planet is overheating from, in part, massive over-consumption by a relatively small part of Earth's human population. Without diminishing the appropriate emphasis on "how are we going to get out of this mess and not just survive, but thrive," the author illuminates the materials cycle, from extraction all the way to the dump. Clive Cussler or Robert Ludlum, it's not, but it kept me interested enough with anecdotes and a sense of humor rarely present in most tomes about how we're screwing ourselves and the 3rd Rock. I was happily surprised, and even energized, by her inclusion of a basic roadmap of sorts for reversing the over-consumption cycle -- one of our species most damaging trends. Here in the U.S., we are at the vanguard of a trajectory that threatens to make us consumers of the world, instead of citizens of the world. WIth more and more power and rights being ascribed to irresponsibly bottom-line-only-focused corporations (witness the recent Supreme Court Citizens United decision), I found the Story of Stuff entirely refreshing with its practically presented idea that I can take charge of my behavior, and increase the quality of my life by shifting how I consume. This is a handbook for crafting a better way of living with ourselves, families, and the Earth. The Story of Stuff would make a great curriculum for K-College students. Beyond the classroom, I hope everyone gets this book and then we can begin to make this important transition together!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2010
Annie Leonard has spent her career chasing dangerous waste handling and it shows in this book. With a no-nonsense, straightforward prose she covers the impact of Stuff through all steps from extraction of resources to disposal. As a European reader, I find the perspective rather US-oriented but that is okay, considering we basically participate in the same cycle of Stuff as Americans do.
For an environmentally aware person, most of what Ms Leonard writes is no news. However the best about her book is not the factual contents but her writing style. She totally stays away from the tiresome drama and speculative horror narrative, which you find in so many environmental books. Hence the book is very well suited for anyone who is concerned about the impact that all our Stuff is having on Planet Earth and what to do about it. Ms Leonard is very practical and solution oriented, and provides plenty of links to find out more details. So I figure this book would be very well suited for classroom/college use, study/discussion/community action groups or, as mentioned, most anyone concerned.
By the way ask your local library to get a copy ;-)
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
We have to change.
This isn't a message that everyone wants to read--or why we need to do it--now, not later. It's not a cliche (or overstated) to say that our "stuff" is destroying our world, our health and our lives. The authors make their case factually and clearly. Is it entertaining reading throughout? No, not really. (For that approach, we are lucky to have George Carlin's "Stuff"). But do we have to be spoonfed ideas as if they were baby food? I hope not.
This is an informative, thought-provoking and very worthwhile read. Any change for the better as a result of thinking about the examples the authors give makes the effort worthwhile. Recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2011
This book struck a chord with me because it basically explains how constantly buying and discarding "stuff" ultimately damages our planet and, in the process of doing it, keeps us unhappy. Like the author, I don't buy much stuff, at least not new stuff. Years ago, I discovered Rummage Sales and yard sales. I am lucky to live in one of the wealthiest counties in the US (I live in the poorer south end of the county, just a mile from the border with the City of Detroit). The discards where I live are very plush, and I am not shy about taking stuff that other people put by the curb for the trashman. I think every room in my house has things I rescued from the curb, from trash barrels or from debris piles in the abandoned neighborhoods of Detroit where, believe it or not, there are endless piles of "stuff." People throw away usable furniture, new clothes, perfectly good dishes, flower pots and all manner of useful items. I confess to being a scavenger, and I really enjoy the stuff I find that others have thrown away. But I am also shocked at the monumental waste it represents when these items actually end up in the garbage truck.
But the point of this book is not just about buying less, but about realizing the impact of an economy that values making ever more stuff and encouraging people to buy more and to throw away more to make room for buying more, etc. This means society is constantly extracting resources from the planet to make stuff that will be lightly used and destined for landfills or incinerators - the take-make-waste syndrome. A huge advertising and marketing industry in the US bombards us with messages urging us to buy things and subtly telling us that the stuff we have is sooo yesterday.
The really bad news about this over-consumption of goods is that it is unsustainable. We cannot go on using up our planet, which has finite resources. What we extract from the raw materials of mother earth should be going to the parts of the world where more stuff is actually needed. I enjoyed the personal stories the author provided about her time living or working in places like Bangladesh and Haiti where there is so much poverty. She describes how poor people have little waste because they reuse everything; even packaging can be turned into a toy; and they repair gadgets and tools when they break rather than throwing them away and buying something new. I was surprised to learn that international organizations like the IMF and the World Bank are not helping these places become self-sufficient, but instead are promoting the capitalist view of economic growth. The author feels they provide loans for "investment" in capitalist enterprises with doubtful benefits to the local population. It is difficult to see how encouraging poor people to live in crowded cities and work in sweat shops making clothing for export to the US is better than helping them live on sustainable farms near clean water, which would provide for them and their children.
The author actually dares to take on that sacred cow of corporate culture - capitalism. It has always bothered me that what is good for me - living within my means and only buying what I actually need - is bad for the economy. Economic growth demands that all of us do our duty and buy, buy, buy. GDP does not measure our quality of life, just how much stuff got bought. And it doesn't bring happiness either. Being grateful for what we have will go a lot further.
I recently read a wonderful book that also takes on this sacred cow of economics, and it was written by an economist! Annie Leonard, if you haven't read Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street by Czech Economist Tomas Sedlacek, go get the book and read it. He tells us Economics was once considered part of Moral Philosophy and he takes us into the past to see how we got to a place where Economics is all about growth charts. He too debunks the "invisible hand" of capitalism as a means to a good society.
I think the author underestimates what it might take to actually begin to live differently. The large multinational corporations will not loosen their grip on our economic life and will continue to urge us to work harder and buy more. They will say we need the jobs that consumption provides (and the "planned obsolescence" of products the author documents). It is better, they will say, to throw stuff away and buy new stuff instead of repairing the old stuff. It is not "worth it" to repair your phone or your old lawnmower, and who can argue with that? Only when you grasp the author's argument about this system "externalizing costs" can you look at this in a new way. The price tag on the goods we buy does not include the cost of the damage to the environment its production might have caused or the cost of its storage as waste when we throw it away.
People are caught on the treadmill, even when they decide to live with less stuff. They have to work, they have get to work (where I live, we have no effective public transportation), and they are going to worry about maintaining an income and access to health care. It is fine to say, "Let's work less and consume less," but that choice is rarely offered. In the world of work, you get ahead by working more and proving yourself reliable and being there when important projects require your presence. In our current tight employment market, turning down work or refusing an assignment is going to go heavily against you. Being satisfied with part-time work and less money makes you a slacker who lacks ambition. This is our culture, and it will be very difficult to change it.
The author ends her book on an optimistic note, and I hope she sustains that optimism. She has done a service with her internet site and this book. So, Annie, keep on fighting the good fight and when your jeans wear out, look for a Rummage Sale and get replacements. That's what I do.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2011
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
--John Muir, wilderness advocate
This book may garner intense reactions. You may find yourself vowing to make drastic changes to your life. You may throw the book aside in disgust and chalk it up to environmentalists' hysteria. You might become paralyzed by the staggering scope of problems our industrial complex has created, and simply do nothing and hope a miracle gets us out of this quagmire.
I live in Baytown, Texas. The population here is roughly 70,000. It is the home to one of the biggest oil refinery-complexes in the world: ExxonMobil. It is also home to several other refineries like Chevron Phillips and Bayer. When you drive about 15 miles southwest on Highway 146 then take the Highway to 225 to Pasadena, you run smack dab into a wall of stench that seems to be a solution of rotten eggs, steamed cauliflower and rubber.
They don't call it Stink-adena for nothing.
And while the industry is the bread and butter for many residents, we are very aware of the environmental implications. The Baytown Nature Center is what was formerly known as the Brownwood Subdivision, an affluent neighborhood in the 1970's. That is, until the ground dropped a foot and a half due to a depleted water table. What depleted resources started, Hurricane Alicia finished. The houses were then condemned, the area was vacated for about 20 years, and then ExxonMobil and the community worked together to turn it into a nature preserve.
We know about consumption. We know about waste. We know about depleted natural resources.
But when I read Annie Leonard's book, I could feel a chill go up my spine. And the more I read, the worse I felt.
Annie herself discusses this:
One friend told me me that reading this kind of information actually makes her want to go shopping because it is such a relief to be in a situation where your biggest concern is if your shoes match your purse. People everywhere are experiencing crisis fatigue. Heck, there are flu pandemics, freak storms, unemployment, and foreclosures to worry about. The thing is, we don't have a choice.
No, we don't. We live on this planet, and if it goes, we go. We haven't yet discovered a habitable place for human beings.
We use 98 tons of various other resources to make 1 ton of paper. Yes, you read that correctly.
The Fresh Kill landfill on Staten Island is said to have a volume comparable to that of The Great Wall of China and is taller than the Statue of Libery.
In trying to reduce our reliance on petrochemicals for fuel, we have destroyed the environment in other ways. Now, tropical rainforest are being cut down in order to creat farmland to grow those very biofuels. You're kidding me right? Sadly, no.
In the US, we spend more than 20 billion dollars on our lawns. Get this: with power motors "so inefficient they 800 millions of gasoline a year."
This is just a small sampling of the facts you will find in here. There are many, many others. You will never look at your cheeseburger in the same way. You will wonder at the true cost of that pair of shoes, or that watch, or this leather purse.
Because it's paid for all right. And not just with your money.
But Leonard isn't just doom and gloom. She actually gives you a list of ways you can help contribute to a better environment.
Reuse. Noting the effects of mineral extraction, the author has her fiancee buy her an antique ring instead of a new one. I really like that idea.
Don't buy teflon nonstick pans. (Did you know their fumes can kill your household birds? What are they doing to your kids?)
Reduce your waste. Buy reusable water bottles.
Compost. Your trash won't stink and your garden might look a little nicer.
Get a clothesline. I have such fond memories of helping my grandmother take down the laundry off the line. I'd love to do that with my girls.
Avoid PVC. period.
And for those of you that would like to take it a bit futher, write a letter. To companies, congressmen, your local politicians. Remember they work for you. Leonard even provides a sample letter to PVC retailers, manufacturers, and lobbyists.
We're all together on this rock hurtling through space. Let's take care of our home.
Start with a little. Make a resolution to change one thing. Then add another.
If we all do this, we can start a chain reaction. It's better than sticking our heads in the sand hoping a miracle will save us.
20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2010
This absolutely changed how I walk through my day! Now I am looking at things I might want to buy and thinking "who paid for this?" I hope someday that products come with tags that show pictures of the places they are made and names of people who made them. I'm really grateful to Annie Leonard for making me think about stuff, time, my life and what I value!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Some people are very good at explaining a complex idea using stories and concepts that make the idea seem simple. Their enthusiasm becomes persuasive. You feel like you understand what they are getting at. It all sounds really good. You get a warm feeling inside.
Leonard does that with this book. Her enthusiasm shows through. What she says makes a lot of sense.
But when she comes out with her vision, there is not much there. I felt she had oversold her ideas. In short, she says we should get along with less stuff. That's like telling someone who is overweight that they need to eat less. Not much vision in stating the obvious.
The important question is, how do we do that? How do we fight the urge to buy more stuff? How do we convince ourselves that we have enough clothes in the closet? That we do not need the bigger television? The vinyl wading pool for our kids? The new car?
We humans gain status by gaining stuff. And the search for status seems ingrained in all of us. (See Status Anxiety.)
Leonard condemns our obsession with stuff, and says it is harming us. But how do we change? That question Leonard does not answer.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2010
I'm not sure who Annie Leonard thinks her audience is for this book, but if it was someone like me, she's missed her mark. It is a well-written, meticulously-researched dissection of the environmental impact that our "stuff" has on the world and its people. She follows the entire lifecycle of consumer products in order, from extraction of the raw materials used to make the stuff, through distribution, consumption and ending with disposal. Through each chapter she relentlessly points out the harm that America's consumer culture is doing to the environment, and offers things that we can do to try to minimize our impact.
All of this is very well-documented and I don't doubt any of it. Terrible atrocities have been committed to the land and to workers around the world, I agree. Something needs to be done, it's true. But I don't want to be the one to do it. And this is where I think Leonard stumbles. If she's writing this book for fellow environmentalists, people who are motivated and interested in getting together to fight this fight, then she's done a superb job. But if she's writing for the average, selfish, apathetic American who has grown up with the capitalist system entrenched in his/her bones, then she hasn't won.
I'm sorry to say that I am one of those selfish Americans. I try to care about the environment, but when I read over 250 pages of how I'm helping to destroy the world, I react by feeling guilty, then getting resentful and even more apathetic. Leonard gives lots of examples of what we can do to help, mostly by going to a website or looking up an organization, but if she really believes that everyone who reads her book is going to do that, I think she's wrong. Even if only a few people follow her lead, I don't think it's enough. The entire world would have to be on board for real change to happen.
Leonard says that she wants to change the capitalist system, too, but I don't think she goes far enough in her ideas. I believe we would need an entirely new system of government in America to even begin to stop the problems, but Leonard shies away from pushing anything more radical than joining "green" organizations and writing letters to corporations. And some of her ideas (like "end wars") are simply never going to happen.
Leonard also tries to give the book a personal touch by interweaving her own story through the chapters, but to me she comes off as a typical Berkeley hippie who wants to lecture me about everything I'm doing wrong in the world to upset her utopian view. At the end of the book she gives an example of an ideal type of community, but when I read that, I thought, "Whose ideal is this? Not mine."
On a positive note, Leonard does touch on many things that I see that are wasteful and should be changed yet are never talked about, like the excessive packaging of most products, and the planned obsolescence of so many gadgets and appliances we buy. A lot of the things that she says make perfect sense, they just don't inspire me enough to try to change anything by myself.
So I guess if you're an environmentalist or someone who really feels like they can help change the world, then this book will be great. But if you are the average American consumer, even one with a conscience who tries to do the right thing when your can, your eyes might glaze over and you might feel that wall of resistance start to rise up like it did with me.