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The off-grid reader
on 4 November 2008
There are lots of ways of living off the grid. The most familiar ones are narrow boats on our urban canals, caravans, and traveller or gypsy communities, and of course remote farms. Less well known are the communes, the renewable energy pioneers, the backwoodsmen and hermits. In his own off-grid converted bus, Nick Rosen travels the country to interview these various types. He meets a man with seventeen children, an armed survivalist community in an old manor house, gypsies, horse breeders, millionaires and subsistence farmers. Most of the book details this adventure. In fact, over half the book is one long chapter called 'meet the people'.
The diversity is fascinating, and there are different things to learn from each. Unfortunately, the author gives more or less equal amounts of time to each project. I found myself skimming ahead over more hippies in the woods, and wishing there was more on some of the more practical social experiments. A little editing wouldn't have gone amiss, choosing the best cases from the thirty or so here and exploring them in more depth. The book could stand to lose some of the travel detail too - some sections narrate little anecdotes, like how Nick got his van stuck in a ditch on the way to see someone, leaving only a paragraph at the end to talk about the project itself when he finally gets there.
After meeting the people, the rest of the book deals with more specific issues. There are chapters on generating your own electricity, sections on water, toilets, and buying land, and some good advice on planning permission. There are asides too, into foraging, the pros and cons of living in a commune, and histories of the grid.
If you're after a practical manual for off-grid living, this isn't it, despite the title. This is more of a source book of ideas, an inspiration for off-grid living. For the detail, see Rosen's extensive website, off-grid.net.