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Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

3.59 of 5 stars 3.59  ·  rating details  ·  1,709 ratings  ·  374 reviews
What is the least we need to achieve the most? With this question in mind, MIT graduate Eric Brende flipped the switch on technology. He and his wife, Mary, ditched their car, electric stove, refrigerator, running water, and everything else motorized or "hooked to the grid," and spent eighteen months living in a remote community so primitive in its technology that even the...more
Paperback, 234 pages
Published August 2nd 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 2004)
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While it had an interesting premise, it didn't come close to living up to my expectations. A naive city boy decides to go "off the grid" for a year, but rather than try it on his own (a la Helen and Scott Nearing), he throws in the kitsch of moving into a community of religious folks akin to the Amish or Mennonites. He drags along some chick he knows (and marries for whatever reason) and spends 200 pages poorly documenting their experience. The style was bland and tedious, though the story could...more
A good concept - one of those silly experiment for a year, back to nature books - that was pretty frustrating in the end. Very little about the actual work involved in living on an off-the-grid farm, and a terrible relationship with his wife where she was essentially disregarded throughout the book, made it much less good than I would like it to be. Sure, it made me more interested in living off the grid and growing my own food and not having a car - but I don't think I'd want to live in the sam...more
I didn't finish it. The author took a potentially interesting subject and ruined it with trite, cloying, overwriting. His descriptions of his girlfriend/wife are totally ridiculous/insulting/annoying. Dude sounds like a boring jerk, the worst kind.
The author, a graduate of Yale and MIT, moved with his newlywed wife to an Amish-like community (that he calls “Minimites”) and lived for eighteen months with no electricity or running water. They plowed their field and grew and sold crops, helped the Minimites (but much less than they got help from the community, of course), and learned about themselves.

Brende has written a fairly interesting book about the experience. As Jon Krakauer said in a blurb, he certainly does not come off as a “sancti...more
Better Off is as close to a contemporary 'Walden' as I've come across. And it's author, Eric Brende, is the real deal. This Yale, Washburn, and MIT grad is an expert on the interaction of society and technology. As part of his graduate research, he (and his new bride) takes a sabbatical to live among and study the lifestyle of an Old Order Anabaptist community that limits their use of technology. What he discovers there is told with excellent, evocative writing. With themes like the value of wor...more
Lisa Lewis
I have recently learned that this kind of book is called "stunt nonfiction." The stunt, in this case, was author Brende and his wife living in an Amish-like community for 18 months and writing a book about it. The idea was to explore Brende's mixed feelings about technology by trying out life with little or no modern conveniences. It was all a little pat: their supportive community helped them avoid any real suffering as they learned how to live off the land, their experiences were almost entire...more
Man, this guy is an insufferable prick! That would be my first impression of this book. The second would be that it is false advertising. Just from the cover blurbs, and the description on the back, I was expecting some kind of scientific study that showed how to live on zero net watts, meaning they used some kind of alternative energy source to offset electricity use or something. As a scientist, this kind of thing would have interested me. However, this is not what the book was about. And in f...more
Ongoing Debacle
When did 3 paragraphs of "what I did on my summer vacation" turn into a genre of "goofy stuff I did for a year"? Mix a year (or 18 months) of finding one self and a word processor gets a autobiographical / self help / travelogues all in one. I'll admit, I usually mop it up and this was no exception. Take Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. A lovely, in depth, well written exploration of a year creating new life patterns. In general, the substance Better Off was addressed living off...more
Jody  Julian
I'm an easy audience to please when it comes to 'this is what I did for one year' accounts. I love reading about these forays into completely different worlds and how the author was affected. Heck, someone could write a book about "a year of living off tag sales" and I'd pick it up. So, given that I'm a target audience for this book, I came out of it questioning the author more than enjoying his journey from the MIT campus into an Amish-like existence. (He never names the community he joins 'out...more
5/18/07- Purchased during a book bender at Powell's a few weeks back. Oddly enough, my profession is in information technology (although I'm more interested in the information side than the technology side when it comes to improving business performance.)

Looking forward to the read.

A review will follow...

6/30/07: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in contemplating their use of (addiction to?) modern "conveniences" and the personal, emotional, spiritual, physical and environmental e...more
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This book fails on almost every level possible. Author Eric Brende's poorly-executed experiment in simple living results in a boring, oft-insulting, and almost non-informative record about his time in an anabaptist community.

I wanted to like this book. The premise seemed simple and charming: take a person out of the typical 20th century American lifestyle and test their ability to live and work in a quasi-Amish community. But Mr. Brende manages to dodge every opportunity to provide actual insigh...more
I am a fan of this new "a year in the life" movement among memoirs. I get to satisfy my voyeur-like tendencies without having to leave home.

In "Better Off," the author and his wife leave technology and the city behind and live in a Menonnite community for 18 months. I must say, I enjoyed the first half of this book much more than the end. Eric Brende's journey to live with an Amish like group and his trials and discoveries are enjoyable at first. The changes in his life style and the consequenc...more
To be fair and give full disclosure, I didn't finish reading this book. As I was reading it, I supposed there might have been a few things of worth to pull out of it, but I was so overwhelmed by how arrogant it was that I was done with it long before the book was over.

Eric Brende struck me as having such a 'me first' attitude that he didn't even write about other people like they were real. He was the only person who was described as having serious or complex thoughts and everyone else was descr...more
Mo Tipton
I blazed through the first fifty or so pages of the book, loving the premise, and initially, loving the author's take on the subject of self-sufficiency. I felt inspired to try a hand cranked washing machine and seek out other ways to minimize my dependency on electricity and unnecessary mechanization, but then things started to head south.

Perhaps it was the discussion of religious doctrine, which was interesting from a cultural standpoint at first, but soon began to make me feel claustrophobic...more
I am choosing a more & more sustainable, less consumerist life, so books like this interest me a lot. I am discovering that systems for doing necessary tasks sustainably in an urban techno world are often what's lacking -- and then each person/family has to re-invent the wheel in their own home. That was the big attraction for me in reading Better Off. Eric and Mary are joining a community that already has many of these systems figured out. Too much milk from your cow? Get a pig. Canning, co...more
While it's an interesting book on the joys of simple living, I found that there were some things that were either not mentioned or very "off" in Brende's description. He mentions Catholic vs Anabaptist leanings, but talks about religion as a component of living off the grid -- while he has questions about the orthodoxy of the church and boring church sermons, he doesn't have a problem with the basic concept of religion as an integral part of life there. I do. Every time I was interested or found...more
Brende raises some interesting points about the nature of work and community and how technology can take away our time rather than contributing to it. Overall though, I was disappointed. I had hoped the book would be more of a reflection about the thoughtful incorporation of technology into our lives (which he does get into in the last two chapters). Instead, Brende seems unquestioningly in favor of the "Minimites"'s philosophy and the refusal to use automated machinery. I wish he had been more...more
To follow up the book Ecocities w/ Better Off at first seemed like it would be too much 'reality' reading for the summer, but Better Off was a surprisingly light read focusing on the people's story - then interweaving the less technology ideals.
The writing and story was good, but the ideas better. The highlight for me was the final chapter and epilogue. Especially since it had so many references to which I am familiar, "one night it was Henry Louis Gates going to a Spanish restaurant on the Camb...more
Feb 21, 2008 Steve rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Steve by: Dan
Billed as a story of a couple who "flipped the switch" on technology and moved to an Amish community, giving up electricity, running water, and everything else that comes along with it. This book is an interesting look into the Mennonite community and, without question, caused me to stop and think about my day-to-day consumption of technology.

It is, however, predominately from the perspective of a man, with little mention of his wife's experience. I really would like to have heard more about Mar...more
This could have been a really interesting memoir about living off the grid with an Amish-ish community, but the narrator was so smug and self-satisfied that it left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. I don't expect these kinds of books to tiptoe around the readers' feelings for fear of making them feel guilty about their own very-on-the-grid lives. But Brende could barely get a chapter out without congratulating himself for the lessons he was teaching us. And now he's a richshaw driver in S...more
Hmm, I guess my response to this is: not so much.

The premise – to spend a year and a half disconnected from the grid – held promise, and it was interesting, and at times amusing, to read about the Brende’s education-by-immersion in a ‘back to the land’ subsistence lifestyle, but ultimately this was a disappointing read.

Perhaps I misconstrued the author’s intent, which I took to be an experiment to determine the minimum amount of technology needed to live comfortably. Instead, his endeavor struck

I'll be honest, I didn't finish this book. I'm giving it two stars only because I love the concept and message, and there are a few gems buried in the pretentious writing, endless waxing philosophical, and cultural voyeurism. That last one never really sets well with me, but in books where there's no disputing that that's what it is, I try to be a little more patient with it. This book, however, is described and marketed much more as a personal experiment in living off the grid and less as a few...more
Jacqueline West
A fascinating premise, but written in such an arrogant, stuffy, egocentric, patronizing way that it is almost impossible to stomach. Brende's writing - and thinking, apparently - is full of over-generalization, assumption, and hypocrisy, mixed with occasional descriptions of his neighbors or the natural world that read like passages from a terrible 19th-century novel. Boo.
The subtitle of this book is "two people, one year, zero watts." This book isn't really about the process of escaping modern technology (though it definately covers it). It talks more about the comraderie involved in living in a "minimite" community. This lifestyle isn't a hardship at all, but more like freedom than being a slave to your belongings.
Although I thought the premise for this book was intriguing, Eric Brende really went into very monotonous detail, to the point of making me want to scream, "I get it!!" I found him a bit off-putting. If this book had been edited to half of its current page count I might have found it more appealing. I'm rating this book fair, at best.
I found Eric's book rather thought provoking. In his book, Eric states "our automated labor-saving machines are creating more labor than they save". One example he gives is "people driving to the gym to recapture the exercise they miss by driving".

Although I am not going to totally shed myself of technology, I do see the relevance of using less technology in certain situations.

Today, I walked to town (about 2.5 miles), cashed a check at the bank, and bought a few groceries. I always walk in the...more
I devoured this book in about 24 hours. Definitely a must-read if you have any curiosity about living off of the grid and/or Mennonite and Amish ways of life. It was (overall) a very good book, and I love the conclusions that he drew about the way that we work with technology vs. with our hands.
Jul 07, 2007 Wilson rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: dudes with beards
Shelves: energynerdbooks
Guy decides to move in with a religious sect that doesn't like technology in order to prove that the simple life can be lived with no electricity. Girl moves with him and they marry on a whim. The cross-cutting theme is how totally awesome they are. Oh yeah, and its an autobiography.
pretty sweet book, the author and his wife joined a mennonite (amish) community and tried to live without technology, as a sociology experiment. it's a pretty interesting story, and makes a good point that we shouldn't rely on technology if we can help it.
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