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Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things (New Report) Paperback – January 1, 1997
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"...A lively and mind-boggling investigation of what goes into the 120 pounds of resources we each consume every day. You can read it and be horrified by the impact of our consumption or read it and marvel at the complexity of modern commerce, depending on your outlook." -- Susan McGrath, The Household Environmentalist, Seattle Times,, 5/11/97
"Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things is a book I always wanted to write. It is a call to explore the possibility that 'less stuff can mean more happiness.'" -- Asta Bowen, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/17/97
"Documenting a day in the life of the average North American consumer, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things deconstructs the American Dream by unraveling the hidden costs behind the objects around us. From our morning cup of Columbian coffee to our South Korean-made sneakers, the book traces the environmental impact of the consumer decisions most of us make without thinking. Authors John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning of Seattle's Northwest Environment Watch tell us greenhouse gases produced in making one burger are equivalent to those emitted in a six-mile drive to the burger joint. Only occasionally verging on preachiness, this readable 88-page book is definitely worth the paper it's printed on." -- Mother Jones, September/October 1997
"Wow! Great Stuff!" -- Bill McKibben, author of Hope, Human and Wild
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Number 4 in Northwest Environment Watch's series of short, hard-hitting books on creating a sustainable society
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However, the book fails in its use of statistics, failing to give the reader a real sense of the environmental impact of different goods. This books barrages us with facts and figures about the production of certain goods. However, most of these numbers are given with so little background that it is difficult to determine how consuming each product is. After reading this book, I don't know whether eating a hamburger or drinking coffee really is that bad for the environment, even if I do know all of the materials necessary and pollution emitted from the production of these products.
If you'd like a more practical book that will help you be more responsible with respect to the environment, I recommend "The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices". This book actually gives suggestions for the most important things to consider to live in a manner that will minimize damage to the environment. If you would just like to learn about the different "ingredients" required for certain products, however, this book is good enough.
The book does become a bit scattered when it struggles to trace the myriad impacts that even the simplest product has. There are so many, the book can't help but touch on some and ignore others. (E.g., in a quick chapter on french fries, the authors digress into the migration habits of salmon and sturgeon on the Snake River in Idaho, as they are affected by irrigation of potato crops. The book does not mention nor discuss the source of the cooking oil the fries are prepared in, which would have seemed more on-point to a french fry discussion than would the lifespan and weight of sturgeon.)
Also be aware that this is a SHORT book! It comes in at a mere 71 pages prior to appendix and notes/resources. I was surprised when I received it.
Still, well worth a read. It's quick and interesting.
A real eye-opener.