Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America

Overview

The grid is everywhere, sending power to the light switch on the wall and water to the faucet in the kitchen. But is it essential? Must one depend on it and the giant corporate and government infrastructure behind it? With energy prices soaring, the housing market in shambles, the financial institutions collapsing, and unemployment looming, more and more Americans are choosing to free themselves from dependence on the grid.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen ...

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Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America

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Overview

The grid is everywhere, sending power to the light switch on the wall and water to the faucet in the kitchen. But is it essential? Must one depend on it and the giant corporate and government infrastructure behind it? With energy prices soaring, the housing market in shambles, the financial institutions collapsing, and unemployment looming, more and more Americans are choosing to free themselves from dependence on the grid.

Journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen traveled across the United States meeting some of these people. They are millionaires and foreclosure victims, paranoid survivalists and saintly environmentalists, retirees and marijuana growers, and plenty of ordinary families-all chasing their off-grid dreams. As varied as this collection of characters is, they all share the belief that the grid-and everything it represents-has let them down, that they're better off taking care of themselves. As Rosen reveals, it takes tremendous dedication and determination to live off the grid, but for them, it's worth it. This is essential reading for anyone who's ever thought about going off the grid.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fed up with "the hyper-consumption of the past thirty years, the pointless acquisitions, the hopeless materialism, and the obsession with celebrity trivia," British journalist and filmmaker Rosen sets out across the U.S. to find the perfect off-the-grid community "beyond the reach of the power cables and water lines that intersect the modern world." His journey brings him into contact with a colorful collection of rebels and outcasts--aging hippies, anarchist kids, a middle-aged couple with an "off-the-grid McMansion" in Colorado--and he sprinkles his tale with the sorts of practical tips likely to appeal to anyone considering a similar adventure: the Clivus Multrum is "the Hummer of composting toilets." What Rosen lacks is a knack for storytelling; he would have done well to step back and let his subjects speak for themselves. Instead, he constantly inserts himself into the frame and insists on passing humorless judgment on nearly everyone he meets (and a fair number of people he doesn’t), and even whole cities are roundly dismissed (Boulder is "the smuggest town in America"). His curmudgeonly asides are off-putting, and it’s disappointing to see the book’s idealism and noble reach devolve into grousing. (Aug.)
Mother Jones
Journalist Nick Rosen profiles the brave souls who live sans electricity bill, from the predictably fringe-ish (9/11 Truther survivalists, old-order Mennonites) to the surprisingly ordinary: A Colorado mom explains that off-grid living is the only way she can afford to raise her kids "where neighbors are neighborly, and there is plenty of clean air." Thoreau couldn't have said it better himself, and luckily Rosen knows it. Off the Grid makes a convincing case for living deliberately, without too many Waldenisms.
The Los Angeles Times
Nick Rosen sees going off the grid as a political choice. In "Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America," he writes that corporate greed, massive layoffs, healthcare wars, ecological disasters have caused many true believers to question the American Dream. "Most of the people I met on my tour of America," writes the British Rosen, "are losing faith in the grid, both in its literal and metaphorical sense. They don't feel a sufficient advantage to being inside the fabric of society." … He travels across the U.S. visiting individuals, families and communities that have chosen to live free of the "Meter Man." He distinguishes between the back-to-the-landers, the hippies, the anarchists and the survivalists and writes about the issues they face as they go off-grid — zoning problems, permits and social ostracism.
Kirkus Reviews
A British journalist's account of Americans who have fled the mainstream to pursue marginal lifestyles. Rosen initially defines off-gridders as people who are not connected to public utilities, estimating that there are now some 500,000 off-the-grid houses in the United States. He then expands his definition to include anyone fleeing "the system" as a whole, quite apart from their connections to local power grids and water supplies, and even includes individuals without online or cell-phone access. The author's wishy-washy debut celebrates the unusual lifestyles of a bewildering variety of individuals, including middle-class environmentalists, right-wing survivalists, victims of foreclosure, long-term marijuana growers, people living in cars and vans and business executives with their own islands. In a cross-country trip, Rosen visited dozens of off-gridders, including a couple in Springfield, Mass., who light their mortgaged home with candles, grow their own fruits and vegetables, sell honey and home-school their children; an 80-year-old New Mexico pothead who owns a cabin, a solar panel and an outhouse; an award-winning former PBS cameraman who works part-time in a thrift store and leads a contemplative life; and residents of solar-powered communities like No Name Key, Fla., and Earthaven ecovillage outside of Asheville, N.C. The author provides vignettes on such well-known individualists as impoverished Maine author Carolyn Chute and outdoorsman Eustace Conway, subject of Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man (2002). Tracing the popularity of simple living to the 1970s back-to-the-land-movement, Rosen says off-gridders share "a fierce resistance to convention and a pioneering spirit." They are generally motivated by one or more concerns: distrust of government and bankers; fear of an impending economic collapse; desire to flee the rat race; and anger over pollution, consumerism and traffic. The author writes that people living off the power grid can now generate electricity cheaply and safely with the help of new technologies and low-energy appliances. Briskly written but scattershot.
Lisa Bonos
…[Rosen's] book functions more as a documentary than a soapbox, bringing readers of all stripes into a quirky subculture in which people cut themselves off from more than their utility companies. For all its rejection of traditional American society, this self-reliant entrepreneurial existence is genuinely American.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143117384
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/27/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 295,314
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Rosen is the editor of the Web site off-grid.net. He lives in London but spends many months of the year in an off-the-grid cabin in Majorca.

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Table of Contents

1 Another Way 1

Joining the Freedom Movement 8

2 How the Grid Was Won 17

Dawn of the Grid 22

Down-home Electric Co-ops 33

The Edison Electric Institute 36

Central Water and Conflict 39

3 My Other Place Is on the Grid 47

For the Man who Has Everything 52

No Name Key 55

No Math Island 75

4 Stepping Away 83

Writer in the Woods 85

The Polite Anarchists 93

Virtual Springfield 96

A Walden Wedding 100

5 Reinventing the American Dream 103

The Wild, Wild West 104

A Sad Tale 111

Anti-nuclear Family 116

Ranch Styles of the Rich and Famous 122

6 Coping with the Crash 127

A Better Life 127

Genius or Charlatan? 138

This Way Madness Lies 149

7 Running from the Rat Race 155

The Mountain Hermit 164

8 Post-consumer Society 171

The Gift Economy 173

Local Currencies and Car Sex 176

Max's Pot 182

The Sultan of Scrounge 184

9 Power and Freedom 193

The Last American Man 200

On the Road Again 212

10 Closer to God 219

Stairway to Heaven 221

Howling in the Woods 232

The Neo-Pagans 237

11 Under the Radar 241

Sacrament Stories 242

Take Back the Land 246

Rainbow People-NO2ID 250

Pot-growing Neighbors 253

The Valley Girl 256

Building Without a Permit 259

The Non-identity 261

12 Fear 263

Life's a Beach 265

The Bugout Palace 272

Only Disconnect 276

13 Getting There 281

Why It Matters 281

Acknowledgments 293

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Informative and Interesting Read

    There have been some semi-bad reviews on this book - non-professional reviews none the less - and also some readers expecting the book was going to be different to how it actually is. Off the Grid by Nick Rosen isn't about HOW to live off the grid - if you want that, read his other book, How to Live Off-Grid - but instead about his encounters with people whom already live off-grid and why they decided to ditch the rat race and lead a simpler life. Nick Rosen is a writer and award-winning documentary filmmaker and he wrote this book as he would direct a documentary or comprise an informative news article. The first part of the book informs the reader of the history behind the grid - the electric, water and sewage companies - and how these companies are creating ways for consumers to be dependent on the grid. While the intro - what the grid is and the different examples of how it's "taking advantage" of consumers - was interesting, I did find reading it was quite tedious at some points. However, those who are interested in learning a bit before diving into the story will thoroughly enjoy the beginning. I, on the other hand, become bored when things aren't "happening". I picked up this book because I knew it chronicled the author's travels and encounters with "off-griders" so I was happy when finally, after all the mumbo-jumbo of the beginning, we got to meet some of the people whom live off-grid and learn how and why they decided to lead a more plain and idle lifestyle. The "characters", and some of them definitely are characters, range from an eccentric writer who lives on a Mexican beach (the only person he visited outside of the United States) to "The Last American Man". The wide range of people and the experiences Nick Rosen had with them, is what definitely makes up the entire book and the reason why it was sometimes hard to stop reading. As Nick Rosen's opinion and voice is very present throughout the book, it is hard not to form a judgement of the author himself. For me, I felt that, while he shared different stories from different people, he was a little biased. Maybe it was because he lives half-time off the grid himself or because he just truly believes in living away from mainstream society, but he seemed, especially in the beginning, to find evidence that repeatedly bashed living on-grid and things related to the "grid". Of course, the book is called Off the Grid and I realize that, but as informative as this book was, it would've been great to have a more fair look at the grid. All in all, I do recommend Off the Grid by Nick Rosen. I think he created a wonderful book that is both "travel" and "history", and he shows his readers WHY people choose to live off-grid. It's definitely an informative and interesting read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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