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Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  49 reviews
Imagine you are first in line at a potluck buffet. The spread includes not just food and water, but all the materials needed for shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education. How do you know how much to take? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you—not just the six billion people, but the wildlife, and the as-yet-unborn?

In the face of looming ecological d
Paperback, 248 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by New Society Publishers (first published August 31st 2003)
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Mattheus Guttenberg
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Radical Simplicity is both a persuasive case for a less-cluttered, ecologically-conscious mode of living and a set of tools to guide the readers toward that end. In this book, you will learn about ecological footprinting, financial footprinting (through Your Money or Your Life), and the benefits that come from living closer to Nature. Merkel lays out a compelling lifestyle: reduce your bloated, unconscious consumer habits and save money and natural resources by learning to live well on less. Wit ...more
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
I have a big ecological footprint (big house, big cars, lots of airplane travel, etc.) and it weighs on me. Firstly, I'm a cheapskate at heart. The idea that I'm paying for things that I can cut out of my life and not miss is irksome. Secondly, I'd like to do what I can to pass on a green Earth to my children. I've made changes to my life without doing anything drastic like gradually switching to CFLs (my house has over 75 light fixtures), cut out the daily commute, combining errands, planting " ...more
Koen de Jong
Liked this book, but more for being inspiring than for the actual goal it had. It's very technical and dry at times, but that also means the theory he lays out is well supported with calculations. Loved the descriptions of nature and life in general, but I would've wanted to see a bit more practical advice and how to implement it instead of just 'you could do this and this to reduce your footprint'.
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Nothing new on the topic: West needs to be less invasive, Westerners should use less resources, cradle to cradle is good, waste is bad. With just the right amount of white savior/noble locals narrative this book provides a deep look into some dude's personal trip towards understanding that "If we continue living like this we're fucked, daymm"
Aug 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature-writing
This is an engineer's practical guide to laying out your most sustainable life path. He has created a valuable reference - we've been pulling it out every time we sit down to make a big decision just to check the stats. A really wonderful compendium, even if you don't buy into the whole spiel.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
According to the description, Radical Simplicity is a "practical, personal answer to twenty-first century challenges". The book attempt to offer answers to the enormous economical challenges that we as a world face - Merkel explains how to calculate your footprint, and gives several examples that show it is possible to live while using less of the world.

The message of the book is great - we are using too much, and in order to preserve the earth, radical change is necessary. However, the solutio
Kevin Shay
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Calls on us all to reduce our consumption levels. It's even more timely today - I wonder what the author thinks about the US getting out of climate treaties and cutting back on car mileage standards, etc. I think we all should drive smaller cars that get better mileage unless you really need a large vehicle for your work.
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I agreed with most of the ideas in this book, but didn't like the ideas of controlling population growth through basically a voluntary one child policy. The calculators were explained well but I would've put them at the end of the book as it was awkwardly in the middle. The connections to YMOYL were wonderful.
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The spirit of this book and information given is definitely five stars. For me personally, all the calculations and charts were too much.
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Had really great information.
Mar 19, 2020 rated it liked it
A bit outdated. This book could easily be re-edited and sell well in this day and age.
May 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is one of the worst books I have read in a long time. The only reason I gave it two stars is because the author presents some good ideas that are worth thinking about. Too bad his way of presenting it is so awful and his ideas are so far-fetched as to be completely unrealistic.

First of all, a good chunk of this book is devoted to figuring out your ecological footprint. I don't know about you, but I have no desire to go around my house measuring my furniture and everything else I own or cons
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm really shocked to see this book essentially panned in reviews below. Having read and re-read this book multiple times since its publication, I find it to be as important and valuable now as ever.

Much of the criticism insists that what he suggests in order to reduce each of our footprints to a sustainable level moving forward is completely impossible for anyone in the real (American) world, especially the suggestion to only have one child.

Seriously? He's not suggesting that it's the usual, ex
Feb 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Imagine you are first in line at a potluck buffet. The spread includes not just food and water, but all the materials needed for shelter, clothing, healthcare, and education. How do you know how much to take? How much is enough to leave for your neighbors behind you—not just the six billion people, but the wildlife, and the as-yet-unborn?

In the face of looming ecological disaster, many people feel the need to change their own lifestyles as a tangible way of transforming our unsustainable culture
Jan 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I've read a number of books on simple living, and this one was interesting. The author recommends three things - discovering your "footprint" on the Earth and taking steps to make it smaller, or at least be more mindful (he has formulas for figuring out your footprint); following the ideas given in the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin; and living more in tune with nature. I found the sections on footprinting to be slower going. The concepts are interesting, but would ...more
Oct 27, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
While the author's journey to a low impact simple lifestyle is impressive and inspiring, I found the very detailed calculations of ecological footprint a tad extreme. Being a person who believes in and practices moderation in most aspects of life, I think the principles and concepts behind the need for simpler living are way more important than the nitty gritty. Of course, the tools are very useful for one to keep track, but one must not get bogged down in details too much. I guess having an eng ...more
Well, this book was a lot more instructive and in-depth than I would have ever expected. Ever wonder what your ecological footprint is? How much bio productivity it takes to eat every month like an American? This book has the formula to help you figure it out. My numbers were staggering and more than slightly embarrassing for an aspiring Eco-friendly minimalist. This book was as times a little high-handed (I swear I rolled my eyes every time he fantasized about this perfect village in India), an ...more
Jul 17, 2015 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book. I liked the general principles, and the underlying motivation, and the objectives. If we would all do what he says, I'm sure the world would be a better place.

But who in their right mind could possibly do what he says?? Seriously, he's so anal about everything, it would be next to impossible to complete the book and all its exercises. He literally expects you to WEIGH everything you own. Literally. Like get someone to help you weigh your stove and fridge and everythin
Sep 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
This person went from being an military engineer to living on $5000 a year. The book is in three parts 1) journey to simplicity; 2) the tools (finding your footprint, your money or your life (yep he's referring to the book) & 3) integration.

The things I learned are my footprint is 197.14. I'm below average on most of the sections but my carbon footprint is higher than average (because of my 18 mile commute & home utilities...although on some of those I guestimated & I tried to over guestimate so
C+ I was excited for this book, but ultimately, I disagree. Living simply is being satisfied with a tiny life, and according to Merkel it involves some things I agree with -- like eating locally, staying within your circles and limits, but then he has this whole thing about saving tons of money and living frugally so you can quit working and...Yeah, that's the question--and do what? Just live simply. I think there are lots of great jobs that give back -- like conservation biologist or teacher or ...more
Jul 15, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting and inspiring book, even if somewhat flawed. The most compelling sections are about the author's own experiences in reducing his ecological footprint. However, there are long stretches of the book that devolve into overly didactic and arcane mathematical calculations for eco-footprinting. Not that these calculations aren't without merit, but I would be surprised if even a small percentage of readers actually go to the trouble of weighing everything they own. However, I still walke ...more
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was ok
I admire that the author has achieved his personal goal of drastically reducing his ecological footprint but I don't like his two-part solution for "saving the planet"- part one, reduce your footprint and part two, have only one child. He reasons that since, in the industrialized world, we no longer have to worry about children living to adulthood, we "do not need to have more children to ensure the survival of the family's next generation." Who (other than Jim Merkel and other ecological extrem ...more
Challenging at times because it hits close to home and makes you realize that you need to not just talk about living simply, but you have to act radically NOW. I thought I was living incredibly environmentally compared to a lot of people, but I took the in-depth footprint quiz and found out my footprint is about 17 acres. The average American's is 24. The earth is only big enough for everyone to have an average of 4.something acres. This book helps you to get under 1 acre if you want, or at leas ...more
Jennifer Miera
Aug 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I admit that I skimmed much of the book, my postpartum brain not willing to deal with equations in order to calculate my ecological footprint. Overall, it was a decent book, though more about the author's personal experience, rather than how-to. I do feel he idealized Kerala, the community he studied to come up with ideas on sustainable and local living. And, I would question some of his cited statistics and generalizations: "Every time you turn on a light, you take the life of an indigenous Ari ...more
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was ok
It's good, but a little basic. If you've already studied ecological footprinting and have a good awareness of the resource-impact of your daily life, it's a little simplistic. And the plan for sustainability goal-setting just didn't seem that practical somehow - partly because of the heavy reliance on footprinting, which can be frustrating to use as an individual because of all the variables (I think it works better on a large scale).
Emily Mellow
May 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
I don't know. I honestly just skimmed it, and found a bunch of equations for calculating your eco footprint, bla bla bla, and a dry narration of the author's path to simplicity. Not that inspiring. I feel bad whenever I give one star for a book I didn't actually read, but I want to remember in the future how strongly I feel about not wanting to pursue this book.
It could be useful to others. It could be an awesome book. I wanted it to be.
Jan 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book taught me a lot about our earth, its resources and that we should be changing. It also shows it can be done. However, I am totally overwhelmed. I think I need to know someone who lives on 6 or fewer acres and can live life while watching and learning from them. Some interesting ideas, and I like that the author acknowledges it's hard, especially in the US, but doable. I like, also, that he says it can take years to get to where you want to be.
Sep 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Truly inspiring. Though the data is a little out of date, the concepts and themes are just as pertinent and urgent today as when it was written. This is a great book for both reflection and action if you desire to decrease your footprint and strive towards a more sustainable life. My only wish is that he could discuss how to do these things as a college student, who is often working with limited resources and looming debt.
Phil Grupe
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt one of the most influential books I have ever read. I can't think of another book that so redefined the perspective from which I look at the way I live my life. Suddenly my environmental concern had an actual, tangible goal, in living lightly, and I began to realize that living simply doesn't always mean living poorly.
Feb 15, 2008 added it
The author admirably attempts to quantify the environmental impact of all consumer activities one engages in with this book/workbook. I haven't run my life through the algorithm but the basic ideas have stuck and influence some of my decisions.
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