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347 of 360 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2004
This is a great book about preparing for short-term societal or environmental crises - how to conserve water when the water's not running (after a hurricane, say), how to stay warm and safe when the ice-storm of the century wipes out your natural gas and electricity, or an earthquake shakes your house down around your ears in the middle of the night.
The true beauty of this book is the wealth of information for longer-term "doing without," or slow erosion of a situation of plenty we now take for granted. Here is information on dealing with medical problems when no doctor is forthcoming, growing food organically and with your own saved seed, how you might store food over the winter with no refrigerator.
If we lost the luxury of the machines that run our world, would we find ourselves back in the stone age, having lost the knowledge handed down for generations beyond count of how to shelter, clothe, feed and doctor ourselves? These skills are all touched on in this book, with voluminous resource lists so that the reader can learn more about any of these subjects.
Technology, too, is given its due - renewable energy sources like solar and wind are discussed and the best water filters on the market.
Change is coming. That's apparent. If you're worried, wary - this is a good book, a jumping-off place to learn skills you may some day be very thankful for, or at least gather a library of relevant information against the day when it is needed. Survivalist paranoia not required.
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131 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2001
Matthew Stein has written a clear, concise book on the subject of survival that, while educating, also does what few others have managed to do - entertain and engage the reader.
Throughout the book you'll find personal stories accompanying the text to further illustrate or drive home a point. The use of these asides brings you into Matthew Stein's life, as he recounts personal stories of survival and tells the stories of others who have managed to overcome the odds to survive.
Not just a survival book, Matthew also covers topics like alternative therapies; how to create a survival mindset; survival strategies; renewable energy; companion gardening; prophecies etc. as well as all the regular topics found in such books - edible plants; first aid; making a survival kit; growing, hunting and foraging; making tools; creating shelters; spinning/weaving/tanning etc.
The book has some great illustrations that make plant identification and first aid that much easier to understand and each chapter finishes with a reference section listing books (along with a short review) and resources (with web addresses where available).
This book is supposed to have been 15 years in the making - and the time and effort taken by the author to research his topic really shows. When Technology Fails belongs in your survival library - as the publisher says, "it's a user-friendly manual for the 21st Century".
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543 of 611 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 18, 2001
Most of this book is very good. It is a good survey of many issues related to self-sufficiency. It has great references that make it easier to find the materials needed for a more in-depth understanding of most of the topics.
However, I had the feeling while reading the book was that it was written by Abby (Dharma's mother from Dharma & Greg). Great, pragmatic information is tainted with pseudo-science nonsense and newage garbage. Most of which is harmless, but some of it may be downright dangerous.
For example, there is a half page editorial on the moral issues of hunting followed some pages later by a long discussion of tanning. There is a story of how blessing water turned undrinkable swill into sweet healing water. There's enough folk and eastern medical advice to make your head swim.
If you believe everything you read, this probably isn't the book for you. However, if you can discern the likely from the silly, you might find this book useful.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2001
The content of this book is diverse and well researched. One of the strengths of this books is the vast amount of information it covers in an easily accessible way. It is like a tour through many alternatives to our traditional technological solutions. It gives you a view into such topics as low-tech healing, alternative shelters, power, heating, effective methods for growing food, tool making, and much, much more. If you need to know more about any particular topic you will find an abundance of references at the end of chapter.
The title "When Technology Fails" does not seem to fit the content well. The book does have a few sections on emergency preparation, procedures, and first-aid, but that is clearly not the heart of this book. It is also not an anti-technology book. It is full of technological solutions, however they are low-tech and earth friendly technologies. This book is much more about our future and how we can live using much more earth friendly and sustainable practices. Chapter 2, "Present Trends, Possible Futures," is a MUST read for everyone. Stein shows the reader, very clearly, how we can all still live in relative comfort AND dramatically reduce our impact on the environment.
The book is very well written with many examples and illustrations to highlight his teachings. Its is also a fun read, which is unusual for a "how to" manual. There are many beautiful and powerful quotes and several ideas that will challenge your thinking. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2001
I'm the kind of guy that wants to understand how things work- I'm not an engineer or anything like that- I'm just a regular guy. One of the things about our modern society that concerns me the most, is as new technology makes our lives simpler, we (the people not involved in implimenting the new technology) lose track of how things really work. This book is a handbook that describes the systems and techniques that our grandparents once knew and we (as members of modern society) have never learned.
There are a lot of books out there that focus on singular aspects of what this author undertakes. I have not ever seen a book as comprehensive as this on the subject. Although the author is an engineer, the book is written for the layperson- and he does a great job doing it. It shows; he has extensively researched all of his topics and offers a huge reference section at the end of each of his chapters.
This author has a keen understanding of where the modern world is going- if something isn't quickly done to change its course; but rather than just complaining about the problems the world faces, he offers time proven solutions that every one of us can utilize, on our own.
With the threat of higher utility bills on the horizon, the timing of this book is uncanny. I truely believe that this may be one of the best books to have in the reference section of your personal library!
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193 of 220 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2010
"when technology fails" is misleading to the content of the book. It had a few good ideas but is was more about the author's philosophy. To give you a better idea of what I am speaking of before you decide to buy this book;
this is chapter 16 Making the shift to sustainability.
Plan B
1. change the tax structure - cap & trade
2. rebuild our cities
3. rebuild our railways, waterways, and mass transit systems
4. rebuild our homes, office buildings, and factories
5. rebuild our industries
6. fund and support renewable energy development
7. eliminate population growth (I had to write the whole caption under this one)
Reduce global population to the point where the population of our planet levels off, followed by a decline in world population. On a planet where the estimated long-term carrying capacity is on the order of 1 to 2 billion people, if we can't control our own population growth, nature will do it for us. Most people would agree that it is much more humane to provide family-planning eduction and birth control materials for all people on earth than for the population to find its natural level through starvation, plagues, and wars. "when technology fails" page 461.
8. share the wealth
9. reach out to developing countries
10. replace coal-burning power plants
11. global relocalization
12. make decisions based on sustainability
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
When Technology Fails
A good engineer understands technological theory and is able to apply it in the real world. A good teacher helps other people grasp an abstract idea and its concrete manifestations. A good writer can get an idea across to the reader.
In his new book "When Technology Fails", Matthew Stein succeeds as an engineer, teacher and writer. He demonstrates his broad knowledge of the field of self-reliance. He helped me better understand self-reliance concepts and, especially, their many applications. He writes clearly and concisely. It's a good how-to and why-to book. It does remind me of The Whole Earth Catalogue as the jacket suggests, but it covers many topics more deeply than its predecessor. The extensive bibliography makes it an excellent reference source if you want to explore a topic more, but one gets plenty of practical advice without going further. It also reminded me of my old scout handbook, loaded with self-reliance tips for everything from emergency survival to first aid to energy efficient, low-cost housing. I'm not wild about the book's title. Stein is an MIT-trained engineer, not a survivalist reactionary. The book also provides low-tech, not no-tech solutions.
When Technology Fails is a well-written, useful source of information and ideas for both the neophyte and old pro interested in becoming more self-reliant.
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163 of 191 people found the following review helpful
on December 29, 2005
There is a lot of good information in this book, especially good are the reference and resource areas and websites the author includes.

With that said, I found a lot of stuff that simply wasn't practical or necessary to have. Some questions I have after reading it are: Where would the average person store that roughly 1200 lbs of grain, 240 lbs of legumes, 200 lbs of dairy, etc, etc. needed for a family of 4 to survive a year? And what would you do at the end of the year when you had eaten all your food? Also the average uban dweller probably isn't likely to be able to drill their own well for drinking water. And what about your neighbors? Is it really practical to expect that they would let you eat drink and be merry while the whole village starved?

Some of the things the author lists for survival also seem ridiculous. How about the condom that you can put in a sock to create a water bottle. Why not just keep a couple water bottles around? He lists a compass and matches and candles. Unless you are planning to do hiking in previously unnavigated areas, the compass seems not necessary. Candles and matches! I live in South Florida where we get a lot of power outages from hurricanes- the last one left us without electricity for two weeks. My best suggestion is a couple really good flash lights (battery powered and solar) and some solar lanterns and stock up on those batteries.

I couldn't decide if this book was for the end of the world, a nuclear attack, or a beginning primer to for the end of fossil fuels. This book seemed more like a hodge podge of other more succinct works giving the most extreme examples.

Since we aren't at the end of the world yet, there are lots of ways to reduce your personal dependence on the modern electrical grid. If we all do this collectively, then a manual like this becomes less necessary. Buy compact fluorescent light bulbs- 1/4 the energy usage- lasts 10x as long. Get a tankless water heater or one that is solar powered. Turn off your lights and unplug your appliances when you aren't using them. Buy appliances that have an energystar rating. Plant some trees- they will give you shade and soak up some of that carbon modern societies love to emit. Plant some vegetables. Compost & buy a rain catcher for plant irrigation. Recycle everything! Buy a hybrid car. Plan your shopping excursions to maximize your time out driving. ETC, ETC. And most importantly demand an energy policy that works from your elected officials!

You can also buy those appliances that won't leave you stranded if there is an extended outage. Solar cookers, gas grills, solar refrigerators, and like I noted earlier the flash lights and solar lanterns. Stock up on some water and non perishible items if you live in a place that gets hit with hurricanes.

So, in sum, while this book gives a lot of good advice, its not very concise and also gives you a lot of info that you won't likely need.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2007
What I love about Stein's book, "When Technology Fails" besides the incredible in-depth information on alternative health remedies, is he simplifies the job of disaster preparedness for those of us who don't buy into the media-based fear, are not survivalists, or retired boy scouts but want to take prudent action to protect our families - just in case. As Stein commented on a recent appearance on "The View from The Bay" ABC news Channel 7 in San Francisco, preparedness is like auto insurance, we hope we never have to use it and it's a good thing to have around when we need it.

As a mother of four children living in San Francisco, the book leaves me feeling empowered with the basic facts along with plenty of options to consider without outfitting a nuclear safe compartment for a family of six in my backyard. Living in California, my husband and I had wondered for example, if we could store an adequate supply of water in our city garage for our family in case of earthquake. One of the helpful hints we got from Stein was to buy a water filter and treatment tablets used by hikers and climbers because they are both effective and compact.

While it isn't easy to consider the unthinkable, especially when you are responsible for young children, knowledge is power and "When Technology Fails" put that knowledge right in the reader's hands. We can't and don't control disasters and/or world events but we do very much have choice about our own abilities to respond if necessary. We don't need to buy into the fear but the facts are certainly helpful.

Don't read it cover to cover. Read it like an encyclopedia. Check out the topics that are of interest and use the information that is helpful in your own circumstances. And don't miss the information on the "grab and run" kits.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This book combines three different topics in one. (1) It tries to educate us about why we should be concerned about hiccups and failures in the elaborate system that keeps us fed, sheltered, and comfortable; (2) It is a manual on some knowledge and techniques that will be good to know in the event of a major failure in those systems; and (3) it is a "survival manual" in the classic sense, describing what to do if you are on your own in an unfamiliar situation (such as lost in the deep woods). A lot of information in one book! This is potentially helpful for getting many of us to think about these subjects together--Something we might not do if we had to search out three separate books and integrate the information ourselves.

The book has the weakness you might expect from such comprehensiveness. It is a fairly large book (certainly not something you'd take along on a trip just in case) and each topic gets only generic coverage. On the other hand, one of the big strengths of the book is that after each chapter there is a list of resources--Books, websites, or other information sources--And a brief discussion of the worth of each resource. This provides a good start on getting more information.

There are some definite weaknesses in the information. The book takes many New Age ideas such as alternative medicine, dowsing, and Killer Electromagnetic Fields very seriously. Some readers will be put off by this. Plus there are some problems with some of the information that is there. To the author's credit, he keeps the section on guns very very brief, but he commits some howlers in that brief section--Recommending a .44 magnum pistol for someone who has to get their gun information from such a brief read (that wouldn't be a happy thing), and suggesting that we should all be worried about protection from bears--Bears will be the least of our worries in the type of civilization disruption he is writing about! The completeness of some information, such as subsistence farming, in one book is suspect, as you'd suspect from such wide topical coverage. I definitely wanted to read more about wind power, which I felt he gave short shrift compared to other energy subjects covered.

On the plus side, the book is a very complete introduction to these topics, and it is well-written and easy to read. Recommended for anyone wanting an introduction but also realizing there's much more to learn outside the covers of this book.
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