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1,344 of 1,462 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Dissenting Opinion, June 27, 2003
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This review is from: The Encyclopedia of Country Living: An Old Fashioned Recipe Book, Updated 9th Edition (Paperback)
This book appears to have a devoted following so I'm sure I'll arouse some ill will with this, but here goes.

There are several things potential readers need to know about this book. The first is that, as the other reviewers suggest, the author comes across as very friendly and sincere. Another is that it has been around in some form or another for a long time, long before many "hobby farm"-type books were available, and for that reason has many devoted fans, at least some of whom appear to be unaware of more modern reference books that have superseded this one in many respects. The next is that if you have a lot of free time, and you like nine hundred page books whose author is in no rush to get to any of its thousands of points, you'll love it.

The most important, though, is that if you would like the best, easiest to understand advice available on raising sheep, keeping chickens, growing a garden, and all the other fun but challenging aspects of hobby farming, you will be far better served by other books out there. I have a hobby farm on seven acres with fruit trees, vegetable garden, livestock, etc., and own many of the hobby farm books available. We have had the opportunity to consult them as we have learned from direct experience, and have found that there is a wide variety in usefulness.

While The Encyclopedia of Country Living contains good advice, this book has features that I believe the average modern, would-be hobby farmers will be put off by. One is its overwhelming, unnecessary, and frustrating length. It wouldn't be so bad if each paragraph was a sparkling, concise gem of practical wisdom, i.e, if it really were written like an actual encyclopedia, but core information is often clouded with anecdotes, nostalgia, sermonizing, etc. If you are the kind of person who likes reading books about country life, but who doesn't actually live in the country and doesn't plan to, this may be something you enjoy, but it made this book difficult to use for me.

Moreover, the author regularly feels obliged to list the many and disparate views on a particular topic held by her friends, or by people who have written her letters over the years. A number of these printed comments are either pointless or really daft, and are liable to confuse more than enlighten the would-be hobby farmer, especially since the author often does not make clear which ideas have most merit, scientifically or from her own personal experience.

I believe the average person who plans on "country living" or hobby farming will find other books far more useful. The updated and revised "Backyard Livestock", by Steven Thomas, is absolutely brilliant for beginning hobby farmers serious about keeping animals for food, eggs, milk, etc. It is concise while still telling you everything you need to know. For those wishing more detailed information on livestock, the various Storey's guides to raising farm animals are also excellent. If you are interested in fruit or berry cultivation, you will find the Stella Otto books far more valuable than this one. For vegetable gardening, "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith is the best. I could go on, but my personal experience is this: if you would like to hobby farm, be successful at it, and have fun doing it, you'll need the best information you can get. For most of us, this means a few A-list, reliable, practical, concise, understandable reference books. Despite its length and sometimes charming autobiographical features, there's no reason why you should buy "The Encyclopedia of Country Living" when so many other books on country living now are superior to it.
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Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 11-20 of 43 posts in this discussion
Posted on Jul 18, 2008 10:27:54 AM PDT
katlupe says:
There is a BIG difference in "hobby farming" and "homesteading" so based on this review and some of the comments, I'd say you don't understand the difference. There is a whole movement of people out in the world who are "modern homesteaders." We use Carla Emery's book as the answer to our problems as they occur. A normal "hobby farming" book would not help us in any way. We actually do all the things she tells about in her book! I cannot begin to count the times that Carla's book gave me the answer I was searching for or taught me how to do something that nobody else knew how to do.

I love the warmth and friendly manner in the way she wrote her book. So maybe it did not appeal to you, but then again, I doubt the books you read would appeal to me or to the 19,000 members on the Homesteading Today forum, or Backwoods Home Magazine, or Countryside Magazine subscribers. I can't see why you would have bought this book in the first place or wrote a review about it.

Good luck with your hobby farm.


Posted on Jul 23, 2008 7:54:38 PM PDT
M. Baker says:
Wow, I didn't realize homesteaders were so snobish. I guess I'll have to label myself a hobby farmer and cancel my subscriptions to my homesteading magazines.... Really people, this was an excellent review that tells me exactly what I need to know about the book. I can read all the stories I want in my mags, but if I'm looking for an answer to a question I want to turn to it and read my options quickly. I can't always cozy up to a book and tell my kids to let me read for awhile. Bachman has saved me from being dissapointed with this book not being what I thought it would be like. Yet, I will read this when I have more time available. Obviously, if so many people love it, it is worth a reading. Thanks Bachman!

Posted on Aug 1, 2008 5:04:57 AM PDT
Oddzilla says:
I'm sure it would be better to read another book if all you want is straight boring information. But if you read Carla Emery's book, it's homey and friendly and interesting, like getting a letter from a friend. I was one of the people who bought Carla's book when it was mimeographed. I really liked it and thought the pictures of her children and husband were nice. The only thing I don't like now is that in this book, they took all the family photos out, except the one of her and her new husband on the last page. I guess since all her kids are grown that it's not relevant anymore to have their pictures in there, but I liked it.

Posted on Dec 18, 2008 2:47:53 AM PST
M. J. Stark says:
In reading this review and then the follow up comment by the author of this review, it makes me think of the difference in the world Carla first started writing in and the present (if 2006 can be called present) day. It seems everything must be 'consise' and 'to the point' with no time for side trips. I want my information and I want it now, thank you very much. Carla, and many who value this book as one of the great homesteading books, are grateful to have lived in a time when there WAS time.
We can go to the internet and punch up information on just about any subject imaginable. We can buy Farming for Dummies in many formats. But we can't always get the story of the life behind *the life* and that is what Carla gave us.
And just for the sake of accuracy, this from Wikipedia (I looked it up to confirm that my 2nd edition copy wasn't titled this way). Carla didn't call it an Encyclopedia...

"Carla self-published the first mimeographed edition of the Encyclopedia under the title An Old-Fashioned Recipe Book. Although she began intending to write a book, she published it in installments starting in 1970 as she wrote it, as if it were a newsletter. The first complete book was finished in March 1974. By the end of 1975 she had sold 13,000 copies. Around that time the book was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the "largest mimeographed volume in general circulation" (700 pages) and was listed as having sold the most copies of a self-published guide: 45,000 mimeographed copies as of 1977. The author believed that it might set a record for the most typographical errors in a book of its size, but reported that she did not have time to count them."

So as someone said and I paraphrase, we each have different approaches to farming practices. It just seems ironic to me that one of the great joys of this sort of life, taking the time to do good things well, would have to be put in the box of concise information to do so. But then, the term hobby farmer is a concept I don't understand either...

Posted on Mar 8, 2009 8:10:31 AM PDT
John Bonanno says:
Yes, Emery's book has flaws; but one star is overly harsh. I think you misunderstand her intentions. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Posted on Mar 16, 2009 9:47:55 PM PDT
N. Schultz says:
What the heck is a mimeograph?!? ;)
I think this review and the reactions to it are great! Rather than reading through all the 5-star reviews, this detailed 1-star review and all it's comments have described the value, scope and style of this book very well. I always try to read negative reviews first because they can be the most clarifying (when in depth, like this one). I plan to check out all the "modern, concise" books recommended, but after reading the opinions of Emery's fans, I also plan to get this book as well. If it wasn't for all the comments I wouldn't have realised that this is a "real world" living-off-the-land without the convenience of the internet and overnight delivery to rely upon kind of book.
T. Bachman is correct: this is not an encyclopedia. Perhaps "Diary of a Real World Homesteader" would be a better title.
Both types of books have their place. If you actually want to live off the land, then in my opinion you have to read some first-hand source materials that have not been influenced by modernity. If not this, you could always read Virgil's Georgics ;)

Posted on Mar 28, 2009 1:13:36 AM PDT
Ali Rafatjah says:
I especially appreciated your review. I like the reason why you didn't like the book, and the books you recommended, a note of thanks. Besides, there is a "Look Inside" feature so people can check out the book themselves.

Posted on May 1, 2009 9:05:17 AM PDT
onederin says:
Interesting review and replies. The question I asked myself after reading your review is which one book would you recommend instead of this one? You listed several books that you believe cover specific topics from this book better. It seems like you are recommending buying several other books to replace one.

In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2009 5:59:09 AM PDT
kevin says:
I too, thank you for your review.I would have ben dissapointed if I bought this book.I will,(sooner or later)buy it,but I am now looking for what you discribe.

Posted on May 13, 2009 5:46:26 PM PDT
S. Rivas says:
Thank you for your detailed review. As a beginning gardener, with 3 small children, I would never have the time to dig through 900 pages to find the information I need to know right now. Right now, I want to plant an organic garden that will yield fruits and vegetables I can serve to my children. Right now, I want my children to help plant, grow, and harvest their food from the land. Right now, I need a book that I can flip to the page I need and get out there and do it. You certainly have not discouraged me from buying the book in the future, when my children are older and I have more time on my hands. But right now, I need a book I can read quickly and use quickly (hopefully before the baby wakes up) Thanks
ps. Any recommendations I can use right now :)

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