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A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  2,366 ratings  ·  443 reviews
A tiny American town's plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.
Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved roa
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 15th 2020 by PublicAffairs
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Start your review of A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears)
K.J. Charles
Absolutely amazing. The story of a tiny remote New Hampshire town that has prioritised not paying taxes and avoiding state interference over everything in its history including, crucially, a functional fire department and bear control. This place naturally gets swarmed with libertarians attempting to demonstrate Randian principles by smoking a lot of weed and suing the government a lot, also unfettered open carry. Things go poorly.

It's terrifically written, hugely readable and extremely funny,
Donna Davis
How much would you pay right now to laugh out loud, and laugh hard, about something that has nothing whatsoever to do with current events? Exactly. My thanks go to Net Galley and Perseus Books for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

The author is a journalist who caught wind of a tiny hamlet in New Hampshire that was taken over by libertarians:

“The four libertarians who came to New Hampshire had thinner wallets than…other would-be utopians, but they had a new angle they believed would h
Paquita Maria Sanchez
In pursuit of the ideal community, a chance to show the inherent superiority of their beliefs, a ton of internet-buddy libertarians force themselves on a small New Hampshire town, taking over and gutting the local government in a community surrounded by a forest teeming with bears. As trash piles up and forestry service funds and regulations run dry, things go about as you would expect, give or take a bear mauling a human, and a bunch of ostentatiously armed humans shooting up bears like they're ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-politics
This book – in which libertarians have literally a title role – was researched, written, fact-checked, edited, probably re-edited (if it's like most other books), and generally endured all the torturous gyrations that any book must go through, all long before the current COVID-19 pandemic came along to blight our lives. But now the pandemic is here, and, try as I might, I see now everything through the lens of pandemic. So, even though this well-written and entertaining book was formed without r ...more
Dec 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, a journalist from Lebanon, New Hampshire, has written a fascinating account of the Free Town Project's forage into rural N.H. And could there be a better state than the home of the "Live Free or Die" motto? This fringe group of libertarians thought the small town of Grafton would be the perfect place for a settlement. It would attract other like-minded eccentrics: no laws, no taxes. What could go wrong?

The Free Town settlers make Rand Paul look like a progressive. They
David Wineberg
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
What would a town run by libertarians look like? Wild, happy freedom? Prosperity for all? In Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s A Libertarian Walks into a Bear, the answer is much more uncomfortable. Libertarians have issues – with every one and every thing. They are miserable in their “freedom”.

Grafton, New Hampshire has always had a libertarian streak. Before they completed the US Constitution, Grafton was already trying to secede from the USA. Any hint of tax or authority set the residents off. It ha
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Very well researched book by the author. You can really see how much work he put into the research and interviews for the book. It was highly entertaining and even funny at times but some of the stuff rubbed me wrong (especially the shade thrown at Fish and Game). I will say for a book with libertarian in the title it did not overreach in the political aspect. Overall an interesting book that is well researched.
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A hilarious story and great premise for a book. I think it could have been shorter and I also really want to see this made into a satirical miniseries for TV
Mind-boggling that this is a real place, with real people (and real bears). How does one begin to describe a book like this? I don’t know. If it wasn’t so early in the year, I might be tempted to review amnesty out of it and just point you in the direction of the many great reviews that have already been written about it.

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling is a long form journalist who spent a lot of time in the small town of Grafton, New Hampshire, learning about the collision of weirdness that occurred t
Oct 01, 2021 rated it it was ok
A disorganised mess that read like the transcript of a particularly smug and incoherent podcast run by a centrist white man who's very into plaid shirts, artisanal beard oils, and IPAs.

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear has a great topic—an investigation of a libertarian-led takeover of a tiny New Hampshire town and a contemporary rise in bear attacks in the area—but Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling is nowhere near a strong enough writer to actually make anything compelling of it. He didn't even convince
Mar 23, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I refuse to believe America is a real place.
Iona Sharma
Dec 18, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020
This is the sort of story that would be unbelievable if it were fiction: in the early 2000s, a group of American libertarians decided to take over a small, remote town in New Hampshire, eliminate the government, and create a tax-free libertarian utopia. Things did not go to plan, although they did manage to slash all public amenities including and especially the fire department. Then the bears moved in. The author can't resist editorialising at various points, but mostly makes the libertarians l ...more
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Oh you wacky Libertarians.
This is a highly entertaining and yet terrifying look at when “liberty” runs amok.
It’s the story of a small group of men, including an accused pedophile, who through various chat groups and forums fantasized about starting their own “freedom town” where they would not have to pay taxes, support communistic things like libraries or schools, and be able to have duels and consensual cannibalism.
Seriously. Because who hasn’t felt the cold and repressive hand of the go
I grew up in Harrisville, New Hampshire -- a tiny town located just east of Keene. From what I can remember from my childhood, there wasn't a lot to do in Harrisville. I do remember there were a lot of dirt roads, fields, and moose. Today the population of Harrisville is still under 1000 people, and there is only one school -- an elementary school servicing grades K-6.

So reading Hongoltz-Hetling's book about a similarly small town a bit farther north felt familiar. I recently visited a college
Conor Ahern
This is the story of Grafton, New Hampshire, and the unlikely redoubt of libertarians it has become. The author wryly recounts this tale, focusing distinctly on two issues libertarians grapple with, one famously ("Everyone's a libertarian until their house catches fire") and another less so (bears: libertarians believe that one should be able to do what one wants on one's property, including as concerns wildlife; when one woman began undertaking superhuman efforts to feed a colony of lay-about b ...more
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was ok
The structure of this book is a mess - lots of short chapters that have a tendency to jump around in time and in terms of characters and themes. Many chapters seemed fairly superfluous to the main story: sometimes because they were and sometimes because the links between chapters were pretty tenuous and hard to sort out in your mind as a reader. This made it hard to keep track of and identify with the people he reports on, and made the book a bit of a slog. Aside from that he also seems to repor ...more
Clay Daneker
May 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book.

End of review.
Angie Boyter
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
A honey of a tale!
The title of this book raised three expectations in my mind: I will hear about rather committed libertarians; I will learn something about animals, particularly bears; and I will have fun doing it. I am pleased to report that A Libertarian Walks into a Bear met all three expectations!
New Hampshire, with its motto of “Live Free or Die” and town meetings where all the residents make major decisions for the town, sounds like fertile ground for an experiment in libertarian living.
Dec 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook
3.5 stars. There was one huge howler of a mistake (so much for local journalism & editors!) where Bernie Sanders is called the Governor of Vermont. HA, I WISH.

Also the shade thrown at Hanover & its economically upscale citizens over the whole Mink the Bear clusterfuck/freakout was hilarious.

She died of old age two years after being one of the biggest stories in the Upper Valley for her dumpster-diving and long-distance traveling, outwitting even the most determined game wardens & giving a furry
Cait McKay
Something this dire - a town of people so opposed to paying taxes that they become a country-wide hotspot for bear attacks - should not be this funny. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling carefully walks the line between Bill Bryson and a VICE documentarian while spinning this wild story of a Free Town and the beasts- man and animal alike, within. This collection of people, carefully and deliberately documented by Hongoltz-Hetling, shoot themselves in the foot so many times and with such ferocity that it is ...more
This book is a little hard to characterize, but was a thoroughly enjoyable read that I didn't want to put down. It's part humor piece, part non-fiction novel, part political science, part nature study, part memoir, and part history. The writing is mostly great, though the prose is sometimes ambitious to the point of purple and borderline overwritten in a few spots. It's the story of a small town full of colorful characters coming and going, most of whom are libertarians who participate in varyin ...more
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
This is an absolute mess of a book, the structure is infuriating and overwrought, the emphasis on gun ownership is bizarre (no one is actually injured by a firearm in Grafton, this scary gun toting town), the "problem solving bears" nonsense, the completely unsupported wild claims of all kinds of random events...just a total mess. Sort of amazing this is getting published.

Despite that it is well written. The actual prose is excellent, it's just a shame Matthew has nothing particularly interesti
May 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Overall a really good book about the intersection of two topics that may not seem related at first glance: libertarianism and bear-human relations. As a decidedly left-of-center liberal who values community funded services, and who believes in the power of reasonable taxes (among other things) to provide crucial financial support for worthy projects, I'm inclined to view most brands of libertarianism with heavy skepticism at best. This is not a book that was written to change my mind, ...more
Jan 06, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humour, non-fiction
Gloriously sardonic and genuinely funny, the most notable feature of this book is effectively how much fun Hongoltz-Hetling has with describing the decisions and mindsets leading to the issues covered herein, as well as the occasional more straightforward joke which genuinely made me laugh out loud at several moments.

That isn't to say that a supporter of the free town movement might not find this patronising, but overall most of the mockery and fun seems good-natured, and coming from a place (at
Farah Mendlesohn
Good book to read the day the election results concluded.

Died laughing. Turns out that taxes pay for things you might need.

But in between the levity this book has fascinating things to say and I learned things about the state of New Hampshire.
Miroslaw Aleksander
Certainly an entertaining read, but I think I expected something more. At times the author goes into speculation that seems purely circumstantial or based on conjecture (the chapter about Toxoplasmosis being the prime example). Some passages seem to be padding, and do not introduce anything of major interest to the book, though they read ok. Another issue us the general tone of the book, which veers from satirical to serious in a manner in a way that at times left me uncertain whether the author ...more
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What do you get when you cross a group of libertarians intent on eliminating government, a small New Hampshire town with seemingly plenty of space for new residents, a steadily increasing bear population, and doughnuts? One of the best books of the year.

Quirky characters. Furry animals. A woodsy backdrop. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear would have all the making of a fictional bestseller if it wasn’t all true … and just plain bizarre. Journalist Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling explores the fascinating
What happens when libertarians try to take over a tiny town in New Hampshire and run it according to their principles and values? Well, eventually bears in Grafton, New Hampshire, get so used to eating humans' garbage that they begin entering homes and attacking people. People there rarely call the fish and game department because they don't want to deal with statists, and they don't buy bearproof garbage cans because they (the people, not the cans) aren't interested in being told what to do.

Pat Higgins
Jan 20, 2021 rated it liked it
An interesting non-fiction book about bears and the rise of the Libertarian Party in Grafton, NH from 2002 to 2019. My husband and I owned property in nearby Dorchester, NH which is located in Grafton County, so I am familiar with the isolation of this rural, forested part of the state. However, since we sold our property in the late 1990s, i was unaware of the Free Town Movement and the bear problem in the area. In fact, we never spotted a bear on our 100 acres of forest in the 15 years we owne ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My dislike of this book is 100% the writing and, based on articles about this book, not even a little bit about the material of the story. How did this author take something so interesting and make it so insufferably dull? That takes a certain kind of talent.

When you pick a topic - like libertarians or cats - you can either end up with Tiger King or you can be Cats the Movie based on the Musical. He could have been the Tiger King. With BEARS built into the story.
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“The four libertarians who came to New Hampshire had thinner wallets than…other would-be utopians, but they had a new angle they believed would help them move the Free Town Project out of the realm of marijuana-hazed reveries and into reality. Instead of building from scratch, they would harness the power and infrastructure of an existing town—just as a rabies parasite can co-opt the brain of a much larger organism and force it work against its own interests, the libertarians planned to apply just a bit of pressure in such a way that an entire town could be steered toward liberty.” 2 likes
“Cynthia Dusel-Bacon, by all accounts a rugged thirty-one-year-old geologist, was conducting a land survey in the Alaskan bush in 1977 when she saw an aggressive black bear beelining toward her. Dusel-Bacon waved her arms and shouted, right up until the moment the bear knocked her down, after which she decided to play dead so the bear wouldn’t see her as a threat. That was a consequential error in judgment, experts said afterward, because the 170-pound bear likely never saw her as a threat. It was just hungry. When she stopped resisting, it dragged her into the trees and began to eat her alive. Even as some parts of her body disappeared down the throat of the bear, other parts of her body, quite heroically, accessed a communication device and alerted a partner in the area as to her emergency. Other geologists arrived in a helicopter and scared the bear off in time to save her life. The never-say-die Dusel-Bacon went on to post instructional YouTube videos in which she demonstrates how to chop carrots, wash dishes, and get dressed with two prosthetic arms.” 2 likes
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