The term "self-sufficiency" often conjures images of gun-toting non-tax-paying militiamen in an Idaho compound on one end, and docile unlettered Foxfire-penning Appalachian hillbillies on the other. For the folks at Skyhorse Publishing (and others in the growing movement), self-sufficiency is less radical because it's adherents manage to maintain their sanity, and more radical because it requires a lot more self-discipline. It's easy to rely on your own wits and resources if you abandon civilization altogether, less so if you simply try to reorder your life in its midst.

There's a green element here—conservation is key to maintaining healthy levels of energy and resources. And there's a communal element—cutting oneself off from all human interaction is unfulfilling and makes becoming self-sufficient (somewhat ironically) much more difficult. But this isn't some free-love psychedelic anti-authoritarian head trip; while there are certainly neo-hippie aspects to the movement, its proponents are primarily pretty even-keeled people who simply want to be able to do things for themselves....and then do them.

Probably the self-sufficiency bible (at least among the Skyhorse canon) is Self-Sufficiency edited by Abigail Gehring, a compendium of actually useful information to help you achieve a measure of independence from the crushing modernity of contemporary existence (manifesting itself in ever more insidious ways, like store-bought bread, genetically-altered vegetables, and furniture you might have assembled but in no sense made). Full-color photographs, drawings and diagrams make doing these things for your self achievable.

Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre and The Self-Sufficiency Handbook are perhaps lesser scriptures, but no less helpful in converting your house and whatever land you have at your disposal into food- and energy-generating resources. Animal husbandry, gardening, small farming, butter churning, waste disposal, solar power, geothermal heating, organic crop production, preserving and pretty much anything else you need to know are covered concisely yet comprehensively.

Then there's the Self-Sufficiency series, a collection of single-volume explorations of everything from Home Brewing to Household Cleaning to Beekeeping and Cheesemaking. Each book is illustrated with full-color drawings and takes you step-by-step through each skill in clear language that explains technical terminology and difficult procedures rather than simply (as is the case with so many similar treatments) avoiding them. These are the kind of guides that, when carefully read and followed, can make anyone an amateur expert in the particular skill addressed.

Of course Skyhorse isn't the last word on self-sufficiency. Other publishers have been producing similar manuals for a long time, like Rodale and Cumberland, and many of them are of similarly high quality. What makes those offered by Skyhorse particularly welcome is their up-to-date information helping people in the Digital Age achieve a level of independent living. While not everyone will end up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, anyone can break the bonds of consumerist slavery that have rendered many (most?) of us unable to fend for ourselves. These books will not only encourage and inspire you—they'll tell you what to do and how to do it.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.


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