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Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream Paperback – May 4, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Powers (Blue Clay People) refers to wildcrafters, people who shape their inner and outer worlds to the flow of nature, as heroes. Among these wildcrafters is Dr. Jackie Benton, a physician who lives in a 12'×12' dwelling in the midst of 30 acres on No Name Creek in rural North Carolina. Benton lives a sustainable life off the grid by raising honeybees, growing her own vegetables and preserving them, and harvesting what she might need from the woods around her. As Powers points out, Benton seems to have achieved self-mastery in these confusing times, and his initial meeting with her is a search for clues to this self-mastery. After the two meet, Benton's sobering and often hilarious (taking showers in rain water warmed by the sun, learning that in order to eat chicken for dinner, he himself would have to kill a chicken given to him by his neighbors) narrative of his life in the 12'×12' offers precious insights into the ways that all individuals living in a fast-paced consumer culture might incorporate different ways of thinking about the natural world into their lives. (May)
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From Booklist

Take four giant steps forward. Turn right; do it again. Turn right again; repeat. Right; repeat. Now imagine living in a space roughly the size of the area just paced off. Without electricity or running water. In the middle of nowhere. Having recently returned from years in the Bolivian rain forest, environmental activist Powers experienced a nearly debilitating form of culture shock upon his reentry into the heart of American consumerism. His salvation came from ardent permaculturist Dr. Jackie Benton, who offered Powers the use of her spartan cabin in rural North Carolina. Living among other “wildcrafters”—organic farmers, furniture artisans, and eco-developers—Powers learned firsthand what it means to be self-sufficient in the midst of a nation that profligately squanders its resources and looks askance at those who choose to live deliberately. While there are no easy answers to be found in such an extreme experiment, Powers’ eloquent memoir reveals the breadth of this conflict and the depth of one man’s commitment to himself and his community. --Carol Haggas

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: New World Library (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1577318978
  • ISBN-13: 978-1577318972
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Powers new book "New Slow City" offers an inspiring exploration for anyone trying to make urban life more people- and planet-friendly.

Born and raised on Long Island, William Powers has worked for over a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Native North America, and Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and is on the adjunct faculty of New York University. A third generation New Yorker, Powers has also spent two decades exploring the American culture-of-speed and its alternatives in some fifty countries around the world. He has covered the subject in his four books and written about it in the Washington Post and the Atlantic. An expert on sustainable development, he is a freelance writer and speaker. More information on his work can be found here:

Contact William directly:

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Cupcake on April 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
While I liked the concept of the book (I'm a sucker for stunt journalism), I feel the author could have realized a better product by exploring more of the practicality of the *outer* experience of living "off the grid and beyond the American dream" and less of his *inner* experience and emotional dialogue.

I loved the author's vignettes of the various different families and individuals trying to live simply, and I wish he'd explored them further. I especially liked that he included discussions of race and class--there, I found his inner dialogue thoughtful and important to the discussion. A lot of us moving out to the country and downshifting are essentially self-absorbed yuppies, and forming new social bonds and adjusting to the change of pace can be a real challenge. Racism and classism are as real and difficult in the country as in the city, but in the city, it's easier to live in a safe little echo chamber of like-minded people and avoid ugly issues altogether. It's easier to forget that you, too, have ingrained biases that you need to confront.

I also really liked the initial tone of the book, and the writing style--it captured his restlessness and disillusion--and those early details like the hospital that farmed out its catering to Wendy's were exactly the sort of typical corporate BS that makes you crave this kind of book--but I found myself getting annoyed with the new-age language that progressively seeped in as he settled into the 12x12--and it actually made me feel resistant to a message that I essentially agreed with.

My main disappointment was that there wasn't more useful information.
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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on March 12, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
William Powers' memoir "Twelve by Twelve: A One-room Cabin Off the American Grid and Beyond the American Dream" is an intimate account of his journey to find answers to the questions: "Why would a successful physician choose to live in a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot cabin without running water or electricity in rural North Carolina?"and "How can we learn to live in harmony with each other and nature?"
Dr. Jackie Benton (not her real name), a mother, peace activist and "wisdomkeeper" who mostly lives off the produce from her permaculture farm, struck Powers as someone who had achieved self-mastery in confusing times. To avoid war taxes (fifty cents out of every dollar goes to the Pentagon) she accepts only eleven thousand dollars instead of the three hundred thousand she could make as a senior physician.
Powers needing a way out of despair from a separation from his young daughter and a decade of challenging international aid work accepted Jackie's offer to stay in her cabin next to No Name Creek for a season while she traveled.
He said Jackie's 12 X 12 and her unique approach to living in todays world seemed full of clues toward living lightly and artfully. He hoped it would help him learn to think, feel and live another way.
Having worked in Africa and South America Powers asked Jackie how we can stop the northern economies pillage of the Global South's forests, mines and oceans. He later came to synthesize Jackie's vision as "see, be, do." Before acting on a problem we must "BE." Take time in solitude to reflect, meditate or pray. Only when we SEE with clarity can we act ("DO") fearlessly. Powers says this blending of inner peace with loving action is sometimes called God, intuition, the "still small voice," grace or presence.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By John P. Plummer VINE VOICE on May 5, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
William Powers allows us to accompany him on a journey winding inward as he spends time in a tiny off-the-grid cabin in rural North Carolina. Powers, who travels and works around the world, was only borrowing the cabin for a short time, and we repeatedly see the contrast between his expansive life and the different kind of expansion brought by the external contraction of the cabin. In the early pages, I worried that he was being overly romantic about this lifestyle, the cabin's owner (a local physician), and his neighbors. However, as the book progresses, a more complete, and sometimes difficult and disappointing, picture emerges. It is a thoughtful and lovely book, which deserves to be read slowly. Powers writes: "There is a point where we must let the feel of water on bare feet replace books and spiritual practices. They can be very helpful as guides, as structures, as inspiration, but can also, if we hold on to them too tightly, obstruct the most important thing: an unmediated facing of the world as it is, which is to say, as we shape it." (198-199) With lucid grace, Powers leads the reader toward putting down the book, and facing the world with renewed vision.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lois E. Wauson on June 8, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having grown up during the 1930's on a farm that had no electricity and no running water I have experienced the life that Bill Powers lived in that 12 x 12 cabin. Our house was probably 700 sq ft and we had 10 people living in that house. We lived off the land, growing vegetables to eat, and killed hogs and calves, and chickens for meat. I milked cows every morning before I went to school and at night too. We gathered eggs to eat when the chicken would lay them. It was a simple life but a hard life. We all worked in the fields in the summers. We never had a vacation. When we moved on the farm in 1936 my father didn't have a car. We moved to the farm from another farm in a wagon with mules. I was four years old.
There are pros and cons about this kind of life. It is a simple life to live off the land, but it is a hard life that I don't to repeat. I am 78 years old and I think back to those days, and would take electricity and running water any time! But there has to be a way we can have some of both lives. I don't want the Tyson Chicken farms. I buy my eggs from a local farmer and my vegetables and berries and fruits when I can get them, from local farmers. I buy meat from a small town meat market who buys grass fed meat...local ranchers..and I see the cattle on the farms around here grazing in the fields and it makes me feel good. I buy milk from a local dairy that does not add hormones to the mild. I pay more for it, but I love the taste and I know it is pure.
There is way to live a simple life. You just have to make up your mind how to do it!
I liked the book and I liked how Bill Powers intertwines his personal life into the narrative of writing about global warming, permaculture and the environment.
Lois Zook Wauson
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