Customer Reviews


341 Reviews
5 star:
 (225)
4 star:
 (83)
3 star:
 (13)
2 star:
 (14)
1 star:
 (6)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


98 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No, it's NOT a creepy van.
"He was many things -- a surveyor, a naturalist, a handyman, a pencil-maker -- but I thought of Thoreau as a writer more than anything else. And his greatest story wasn't one of his essays, or 'Walden.' His greatest story, I thought, was his life. He knew that anything is possible when you wield the pen and claim your life as your own. . . . [F]or those of us who can,...
Published 15 months ago by Theoden Humphrey

versus
67 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bait and Switch
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I have been a proponent of the Voluntary Simplicity movement since the early 1990s when I happened upon a book called YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE by Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez. Through the years I have learned firsthand how frugality can ransom that most limited of commodities--TIME. I also have personal experience of the...
Published 13 months ago by clahain


‹ Previous | 1 235 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

98 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No, it's NOT a creepy van., May 10, 2013
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"He was many things -- a surveyor, a naturalist, a handyman, a pencil-maker -- but I thought of Thoreau as a writer more than anything else. And his greatest story wasn't one of his essays, or 'Walden.' His greatest story, I thought, was his life. He knew that anything is possible when you wield the pen and claim your life as your own. . . . [F]or those of us who can, should it not be our great privilege to live the lives we've imagined? To be who we want to be? To go on our own great journeys and share our experiences with others?"

It's interesting that Ken Ilgunas describes himself, repeatedly, as a slacker: apathetic and indolent throughout his high school and undergraduate career, he finished college with a degree he didn't particularly care for (though he had found some inspiration in the last year or so of college, some thirst for knowledge, some interest in writing) and $32,000 in debt. But a slacker would never have done what Ilgunas did: he found work during a recession and despite the enormous surfeit of college graduates with degrees but little passion, he worked at crappy jobs in ugly circumstances, worked extra hours (60, 70, 80 a week) as much as possible, he saved every penny he could, he bought almost nothing for himself -- and he paid off his debt. And then, he went back to school. But to ensure that he did not go back into debt -- a promise he had made to himself while chipping away at the mountain of his first batch of student loans -- he chose to live in a van.

Ilgunas calling himself a slacker reminds me of a favorite quote from Lech Walesa, the Polish union organizer who brought his country from communism to democracy in the 1970's and 1980's: "I'm lazy. But it's the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn't like walking or carrying things." And just like Walesa, who couldn't rationally be considered lazy, Ken Ilgunas cannot rationally be considered a slacker.

What both of these men are -- and, arguably, Henry David Thoreau before them, who served as Ilgunas's primary inspiration for his simplified life -- is dedicated. Because Ilgunas is dedicated, focused only on what was really important, he didn't spend time or effort, or money, on things that were unnecessary -- and Ilgunas has a very definite and narrow idea of what was necessary. It was only one thing: freedom. To achieve that, first he had to escape his suburban boredom, which he did by going to Alaska, and visiting one of the last truly wild places left in America; and then he had to escape his debt. Then he had to go back to school, where he discovered a new purpose -- and the answer to that new purpose was this book.

Mr. Ilgunas succeeded in this last purpose as well. Because he has inspired me, and, I have no doubt, many others, too.

It's a good story. It's an Everyman's memoir, though Ilgunas does what most of us never bring ourselves to do, to our own loss. I thought it would focus more on the actual vandwelling that features so prominently on the cover, but the first two-thirds of the book is not: it tells the story of his war with his debt. It's a good story, and a necessary one to understand the vandwelling. It's an especially good story for people today to read. I'm glad I did. I will be sharing this book with my college-bound students (I teach high school) and I will go on my own great journey, and I will share my experience with others. Yeah. I'll go for it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow - Incredible Story!, June 4, 2013
Author Ken Kilgunas graduated from the University at Buffalo owing $32,000 and with a degree in history and English. (Fortunately, he'd limited his debt by working over 30 hours/week at a Home Depot - $8/hour.) Unable to find work, he ended up taking a $9/hour job and tour guide and cook at a Coldfoot truck stop about 174 miles into the mostly gravel Dalton Highway and 60 miels north of the Arctic Circle, mostly used by truckers en route to Prudhoe Bay from Fairbanks.(He notes in 2009 there were 17.4 million college graduates in jobs not requiring a degree, including 365,000 cashiers and over 100,000 janitors - 5,057 with doctorate or professional degrees.) Clothes came from donation bins, friends cut his hair. The 'good news' is that the nearest store was in Fairbanks (no temptation to spend money), there was no cellphone reception (no temptation to sign onto a phone plan), and he got free room and board. One year later, he'd paid off $18,000. A year later he got a better-paying seasonal job as a back country ranger with the Park Service at the Gates of the Arctic National Park, and after 2.5 years, was debt free.

In Alaska, Kilgunas also learned about subsistence living and worked with a 74-year-old maintenance man living in his 1980 Chevy Suburban. Wanting to continue his education, he applied to and was accepted at Duke. Living quarters would be a 1994 Ford Econoline van he bought for $1,500 (complete with bald tires) - for two years! Internet and electricity - available at the library. Showers, via a cheap campus gym membership. The bathroom was a quarter-mile from his parking space. Food - he cooked himself in the van, averaging $4.34/day, much cheaper than Duke's cheapest on-campus meal plan $15/day. Their cheapest dorm rooms cost 18X what he paid for his parking permit. Other expenses were covered by tutoring and becoming a test subject.

It's a shame that college costs have reached such levels that Ken had to take such actions, though obviously a great credit to him that he did it. The bad news is that he left Duke with no job and a another degree not likely to bring in a good income. Hopefully his education in living, combined with writing talent, will do what the college educations alone could not - allow Ken to live his dream. Since then he's hiked the length of the controversial Keystone Pipeline - total cost of $6,983, $5,220 of that for gear.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A young writer not afraid to soar, May 14, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Ken Ilgunas' book gives me some hope for the future. Ken's story proves that the American suburbs and the American education system can still -- at least on rare occasions -- produce a genuine, thinking, feeling, conscious, self-directed human being.

What does it take to do that? A fertile and rebellious young mind with a hunger for books and genuine experience, plus exposure to the writings of the best minds of the past: In other words, a liberal arts education.

Young though he may be, Ken is a natural-born philosopher, just as he is a natural-born writer. Though he makes much of his slacker, frat-boy origins, no doubt that is part of a writerly device to keep his feet on the ground, even when the wind is in his wings. Slacker frat-boys don't get to speak at Duke graduations, nor are they capable of conceiving, or finding words for, Ken's powerful appeal for the liberals arts, which brought tears to my eyes in an era in which universities are spending borrowed money to build yet more business schools.

I want to take issue with a couple of reviews that have attempted to police and scold Ilgunas for occasionally being politically incorrect. One review lifts out of context a passage in which Ilgunas expresses thoughts of aggression toward a homeless guy who had duped him. I must police and scold such careless reviewers, who lack the insight to realize that Ilgunas really was expressing anger at himself, and questioning his own self-worth, because it was a low point in his journey. Of course Ilgunas is occasionally politically incorrect. He is a truth-seeker and a truth-teller, with no time for frauds and scams.

I eagerly await Ilgunas' future writings. For better or for worse, he is never going to be able to live the way other people live. He is a heretic, so he is doomed to re-imagine how one might live, and how one might think, in times like the times we live in. It was largely Thoreau, it seems, who helped Ilgunas climb to the peak upon which he now stands. But I have to imagine that Ilgunas is looking up toward the next level of the climb, trying to figure out what obstacles the modern world is going to throw in his way, and what insights and philosophical tools it's going to take to go higher.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


67 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bait and Switch, July 27, 2013
By 
clahain (Las Vegas, Nevada) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I have been a proponent of the Voluntary Simplicity movement since the early 1990s when I happened upon a book called YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE by Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez. Through the years I have learned firsthand how frugality can ransom that most limited of commodities--TIME. I also have personal experience of the burden of student loan debt, how poor or thoughtless choices at eighteen can haunt a person for decades. So when I heard about Ken Ilgunas' efforts to escape debt and suffer a little now in return for a more peaceful life forever after, I was ready to jump right on board.

Too bad Ilgunas' head is such an unpleasant place to spend time.

Sure, it might have something to do with his age that he considers working for Home Depot more soul crushing than cleaning toilets in an Alaskan motel. The myth of Rugged Individualism and all that. He's from western New York, which these days is apparently a wasteland of suburban tract housing populated by husks of humanity cut off from nature and doomed by their demand for warm homes and cable television. Even the mighty Niagara Falls fail to move him. Forget for a moment that the state of New York is home to vast amounts of farmland and the Catskill and the Adirondack mountain ranges--perhaps that doesn't mean much in comparison to the wilds of the northern frontier. Hey, who wouldn't like to walk on a glacier or watch caribou galloping along the tundra? My quarrel with Ilgunas (besides his questionable moral code in which a co-worker who beats his girlfriend until blood seeps from her ear or pours water over dogs sleeping outside in below-freezing temperatures is treated with more compassion than a horny truck driver who eats too many fried foods) is his tendency to indulge in childish tantrums that blame society for his own choice to fritter away his teens/early twenties playing video games and emailing porn.

Does the author have some amazing stories to tell about his time in the wilderness? Absolutely. Does he show us some hard truths about the day-to-day struggles of this country's working poor? Yes. Is he correct about the damage excessive student debt can do to the individual and to society? Definitely. But apparently these life-transforming experiences and insights, which comprise 95% of the book, are not important enough to provide its marketing hook. Instead Ilgunas, critic of modern consumer culture, allowed his publisher to focus on the 5% of the book that has to do with his time actually living in his van.

I know people will ask, what's wrong with capitalizing on the current hot topic of student debt and that perennial best-seller Thoreau's WALDEN, especially if it helps another young person avoid financial trouble? Normally, nothing. But once you've read through Ilgunas' repeated tirades against capitalism and those of us who have chosen to make some peace with the world we live in--even if that world has had the bad manners to continue progressing past 1850--you'll find a problem with not getting the book he advertised.

I suppose if one person reads this book and limits the amount of student loan debt he accumulates, it's worth the cover price. But it really is just another tale of adolescent rebellion screeched at ear-splitting volume. If this was 1990, Ilgunas would have backpacked through Europe on five bucks a day, joined a kibbutz, and then come home to get his MBA.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A candid, thoughtful, and relatable story., June 11, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
With the advent of the e-reader, I know exactly how far along I am in a book at any moment. I kept telling myself "I'll read until I get to X% and then go to bed." Well, 50% comes and goes; 65%, 80%, and I'm done before I realize it's 5 in the morning and I have to get up in a few hours.

Is the book always politically correct? No. Is it sometimes crude? Yes. But if the author had censored himself, we would have lost out on what makes the book so appealing -- its honesty. The author isn't trying to be anyone other than himself. He lets us experience his weird, idiosyncratic thoughts and feelings, some of which we can all relate to (even if we would never admit to it). And we always feel like we're right there with him, mosquito bites and all.

The book is about so much more than living in a van. As others have mentioned, the vandwelling is only covered in the last third of the book. And, for me, it wasn't just about getting out of debt either. Though I understand his circumstances and adventures were all tied back to the debt, the choices he made seemed to stem from something much deeper. Had he not had that debt, I imagine he still would have felt that same need to break free from the life he sees so many people living -- a life of staticness.

While reading this book, I was overwhelmed by an urge to do more than I'm currently doing. To travel, to fall hopelessly in love without any expectations it will last, to rid myself of excess material goods, to be better than I am. And isn't that what we want in every book we read? To feel something, anything, that we weren't feeling before we picked the book up? I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, and I look forward to more stories from this author.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More obnoxious than Walden, but still an entertaining and inspirational read, June 11, 2013
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Some might consider the title "Walden on Wheels" to be a tad presumptuous and myself began the book wondering if Ilgunas could pull off a work that could at least respect a classic. But when one considers the author to be a roaming adventurer of the liberal persuasion and of my generation the attitude makes sense. And yes, I felt the book earned the reference. But only those who can tolerate this book will feel the same way. Will you find Ilgunas a venerable free thinker and spirit or a full-of-himself kid spouting ideologies? Your view of Ken will largely affect your view of the book.

So I will avoid opinions for now and simply state the nature of the book: Ken Ilgunas is a former slacker who attended college and eventually liked the whole education vibe. He graduated with over 30,000$ in debt. He then takes to the road, largely Alaska, working odd jobs until the debt is gone. He then purchases a van and spends his grad student life living in it.

That basic concept is what drew me to the book. Ilgunas is a fine writer with a great sense of humor that keeps the book entertaining and readable from beginning to end. In fact, I had to laugh out loud multiple times. He is downright funny and knows how to get that humor into writing. He speaks of his experiences with a casual air that at once captures what he learned and his rather snarky nature. But even with that he often waxes thoughtful as he shares his thoughts on the state of the country and the nature of consumerism.

That latter portion is where opinions may waver. While I largely liked the book, Ilgunas often became preachy. If you're liberal, you might be able to take it. If you're conservative, you might not. For me, it was more of the holier-than-thou aura to his words. And for those who prefer cleaner books, you might want to sway away from this--crude language is about.

I did not expect a totally sweet telling here, but it was more obnoxious and crude than I preferred. Of course, I can see many people liking his view of the world and his mannerisms. Either way, his hilarious writing and his experiences make this book worth a consideration.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lesson that school never taught you., May 21, 2013
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
If you are an average American kid graduating from college you probably have some debt. The dilemma on how we go about climbing out of that debt is not new or unusual. Some of us are resourceful enough to pay our debt as we go. Others chip away at it for a decade or more. Some give up on it entirely and look to government for some type of future bail out.

Ilgunas' approach boarders on self martyrdom. He works a series of low paying jobs in remote locations and under horrid conditions. He, at times, complains about the people who help him as well as those he chooses to associate with along the way. Although these self-imposed trials, tribulations and self-deprivations add to the the feeling of jubilation when Ilgunas finally rises from the muck and defeats indebtedness, it left this reader wondering if Ilgunas was right in characterizing his liberal arts degree as "worthless". Ilgunas continues on in the same vein in going on to graduate school. He vows to finish debt free by living in a van on campus. Seriously? More self-pity, trials, tribulations and self- deprivation followed by another victory in graduating debt free. Although I don't applaud his method, the story would have suffered had he made it through by living in the basement of his Aunts house while working at Pancake World.

The real win in all this is that Ilgunas turns out to be a brilliant and gifted writer. His liberal arts degree has done him well and vise verse. The story is in the travels and experiences he has along the way. His accounts are thought provoking. If you ever wondered who that person was standing at an off ramp looking to hitch a ride, or who was in a tent you spotted far off in the middle of nowhere, Ilgunas presents some splendid insight. There are some sticking points when Ilgunas offers his long winded musings on life, which can be easier stomached if you remember that ilgunas is a twenty-something who, although adventurous, hasn't spent a lot of time outside his childhood home or the ivied walls of University. I'm sure we'll hear from Ilgunas again. He is sure to be even better after a few more years on planet earth.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVED IT. If I could be a kid again and go to college, I'd want to be this guy, June 11, 2013
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Talk about taking the unnecessary pressure right off a college student! The guy lived in a fairly decent van parked in a remote lot, and went through college without debt. As yet there's no law against going through college this way except the U. of Buffalo banned the practice now.

This is radical. Ken Ilgunas carried on outside the banking system and didn't get caught. He graduated! Of course, he majored in English and history. I think the story would be better if he majored in bio-engineering or finance.

There is a lot of detail about how to conduct life in cramped quarters and eat properly on a budget. I hope the author becomes a prepper and writes about that in the same instructive and entertaining manner. Others may already feel inspired to conduct their affairs directly rather than financing contracts.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Road Less Traveled, June 6, 2013
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
This is a well-written memoir about a young man's journey from unemployed college graduate with more than $30,000 in student loans, to an older, wiser person living debt-free after daring to find adventure while keeping living costs to a bare minimum.

But while Ilgunas' frugality provides the motivation for the story, it's the combination of unusual adventures and vivid inner life that make the story constantly engaging. He's a bit of an extremist, but he has a fierce integrity and intellectual curiousity that keep him clear-eyed about the choices he makes.

The book provides some insights into what it's like to live in a van, but it's not a how-to. Likewise, Ilgunas shares some of his budgets, but this is not a book on frugal living. That said, this book will probably inspire most people to take a second look at the costs they take for granted, and reflect on what they might gain by letting go of the excesses of modern life.

I hope Ilgunas writes more books.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives up to the reference to Thoreau, May 11, 2013
By 
Just Me (here and there across the USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom (Paperback)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I hesitated to get this book, as a feared that I would not like the author, and thus not relate to the story. I was thinking he was just another of those people who want attention for being rebellious or "weird". Instead, I found a young man who does rebel against blindly following society's "norms", but does so in large part because of what he believes, not just to rebel for the sake of rebelling I found much of what he wrote to be well thought out. He does indeed remind me of Thoreau, and is a worthy successor.

The book in broken into 4 parts: Debtor, or My Attempt to Pay Off $32,000 in Student Debt with a Useless Liberal Arts Degree; Tramp, or My Attempt to Live a Free Life in Spite of Debt; Grad Student, or My Attempt to Afford Grad School by Moving into a Creepy Red Van, and Vandweller, or How I Learned to Live Simply.

The following are brief quotes from the book that give insight into the outlook of Mr. Ilgunas, and showcase what you can expect from the book: "Yet after each rest, I was able to get up and take a few more steps, and a few more after that. At some point, I'd wandered into that strange territory between my perceived limits and my actual limits -- that stretch of land called the "unknown" a territory as wild and unfamiliar at the Alaskan country before me." (pp. 25); "Perhaps there's no better act of simplification than climbing a mountain. For an afternoon, a day, or a week, it's a way of reducing a complicated life into a simple goal." (pp. 29); "I became obsessed with destroying what I thought was most constraining me. The debt wasn't a mere dollar amount; it was a villain that needed to be vanquished, a dragon that needed to be slain, a windmill that needed to be toppled." (pp. 47); I was bearing witness to an ancient ritual (the northern lights) that I felt I'd seen in a previous lifetime. I was being reacquainted with the images processed by a million eyes before me, reveling in the privileges of the great human experience. Money, prestige, possessions, a home with two and a half bathrooms -- these aren't the guiding lights of our universe that show us our path." (pp. 73); "When we tell ourselves that we are controlled, we can shift the responsibility of freeing ourselves onto that which controls us. When we do that, we don't have to bear the responsibility of our unhappiness or shoulder the burden of self-ownership. We don't have to do anything. And nothing will ever change." (pp. 74); "(Thoreau) described how his fellow citizens ("serfs of the soil") would toil away at desks or on huge farms, hating every minute of it, just so they could live in large homes and wear fashionable clothes in order to impress their neighbors, who were also unhappily employed." (pp. 78); "By having had to do without, I discovered that I was, in many ways, better off." (pp.78); ""while I only made $22,000 in a year, I saved 82 percent of it and could have saved nearly 100 percent if I hadn't spent it on my trip to Ecuador and other tiny luxury costs." (pp.81); "Alaska taught me that anything was possible; that there are other ways to live, to work, to shelter oneself; that the cold wasn't so cold; and that -- even in an age of inky oceans and suburban sprawl -- there was still wildness." (pp.88); "Frankly, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. This was all just so weird. Yet I knew the experience would be memorable. And I hoped that the strain of the voyage might somehow fast-forward my development." (pp.109); "But when we go on a journey -- especially a journey that follows no one else's footsteps -- it has the capacity to help a person become something unique, an individual. While Western society never had anything quite like the vision quest, we do have a heritage of journeying laced into our cultural DNA." (pp. 116): "The voyage was teaching me how unexceptional I was and how exceptional the human mind and body is." (pp. 117); "I learned that when work is meaningful and when the worker produces some useful service or produces some useful product, work is no longer "work" but an enriching component of one's day." (pp. 145); "I was so terrified of guilt I never did anything that I thought someone else would disapprove of. For my whole life, I'd been feeling guilt for doing -- or wanting to do -- what my instincts begged that I do." (pp. 148).

In short, life is about experiences and personal growth, not stuff.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 235 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom
Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas (Paperback - May 14, 2013)
$15.95 $9.57
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.