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The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,924 ratings  ·  167 reviews
This one volume edition of Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life brings these classics on rural homesteading together. This couple abandoned the city for a rural life with minimal cash and the knowledge of self reliance and good health.
Paperback, 411 pages
Published January 3rd 1990 by Schocken (first published 1970)
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Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Flip the book over. The genre is written there on the top: Nature. "Nature"? This book is about "nature"? Are you kidding me?! See this is why I hate literary genres. Allow me to propose a few more: Philosophy; Environmentalism; Cultural Criticism; Agriculture; Health, Mind and Body; Building; Autobiography; Memoir; Home and Garden; History; Self-Improvement; Activism; American Dream; Food, Diet, and Cooking; Composting and Gardening; Simple Living; Radical Living; Aging, or Aging Well. "Nature" ...more
Sep 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aside from their politics, aside from their philosophy, their ingenuity, their pioneering veganism and their unity of purpose, I was most impressed, and amused even, by the Nearings' regularly interspersed expressions of irritation with their neighbors, and the hippies who descended on their property in the sixties, and the bastards back in the city who excommunicated them, and, really, everybody.

Never were two people better suited to go back to the land. They loved each other and dedicated the
Timothy Finnegan
Feb 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
I went to college in New England. I became aware of the Nearings during the spring of 1972 when my roommate Jim Flagg enrolled in American intellectual history and discovered the Nearings as a research project. He wrote them a letter and received a timely response from Helen Nearing who invited him up to Camden, Maine for a weekend. (Perhaps on reading this Jim will memorialize his experience for posterity.) Scott and Helen Nearing invented the "back to the land" movement. The lifestyle involved ...more
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'd say this was the book that did it: effectively killed that far-off fantasy of procuring a small piece of land, building a little house, and living off mostly what we could do with our hands.
It's funny, because when I saw it one night at a used bookstore in Anchorage, it sang out to me, and I had this idea that all the answers were inside. In a way, they were. I learned that to live in the way described in this book requires just about everything you have, and I realized that the life I've c
Jun 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing

I love this book. It answered all my questions about how one would go about ditching the capitalist game and living self-sufficiently and it is a constant inspiration. The Nearings had me completely smitten until they got to their eating habits, which are basically vegan, raw vegetable, fruit, some nuts and grains and things and occasionally peanut butter. I love them as one can only love people you know as characters in a book, but what seems to me skipping out on a basic function of human soci
Nov 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: agriculture, owned
Recommended to me by my Aunt after talking about reading Joel Salatin. Beyond politics, animal husbandry (which the Nearings avoided) and building with wood (Salatins) vs. stone (Nearings), Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin and Living the Good Life by the Nearings are pretty similar.

Living the Good Life is thought to have inspired a generation of back-to-the-earth types in the 60s accomplish just that. This book seemed to be used as a manual for better living through simple liv
Rogue Reader
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
What a curious, self-possessed narrative of elitism, withdrawal and sufficiency. The two, Helen Knothe and Scott Nearing (who was 20 years older than his second wife, Helen) were perfectly suited to each other. One brings the aesthetic, spiritual aspects of living and the other, the political and economic. 1934 back-to-the-landers in VT and then ME, their days were perfectly ordered: 4 hours working for bread, 4 hours to improve the place and 4 hours for professional work and leisure. Nothing in ...more
Dawn Orsak
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
I didn't actually finish this book... only made it to page 89. I'm really interested in the idea of simplifying, of what technologies and comforts and conveniences are necessary in life and worth the trouble of owning/maintaining. This book seemed right in line with my explorations and it is sporadically. But the Nearings's general philosophy about a simple, useful, life of integrity is mixed in a whole lot of technical stuff about the size of boulders they used for their house and details of ma ...more
Jun 06, 2022 rated it liked it
I follow Shawn James on YouTube and believe this was a book he mentioned.

This is actually two books that were written by Helen and Scott Nearing about their life homesteading in Vermont and New Hampshire beginning in the 1930's I believe.

Feeling at odds with American culture this couple transitioned to a rural lifestyle where they strove to live simply and without debt.

Whether you agree with their principles or not, the Nearing' s were impressive for the influence they had on others seeking a si
Nov 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It sounds ridiculous but I think this book changed my life. I talk to people about it almost every day. Don't know how to recommend other than if you want to read the story of two detail oriented persnickety white city people who decided to go be weirdo homesteaders in the woods during the great depression then this is the book for you! If you weren't already obsessed with building stone houses before reading this book, then just you wait! Easily my #1 book I read this year (and it's only Octobe ...more
Scott Sanders
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
I first read Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World in my twenties, a few months before my wife brought our first child into the world. The title caught my eye, because I was seeking answers to that ancient human question: What is a good life? As a teacher, a writer, a husband, and soon to be a father, I felt blessed but also bewildered by opportunities. Amid so many possibilities and responsibilities, how could I discover what is essential, what gives meaning? H ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it liked it
A homesteading how-to from the Nearings. Having worked on their archival papers and (as an unrelated coincidence) having lived within a mile of their homestead in Vermont at one point, I really should have read this one all the way through a LONG time ago. I admire their drive to live an independent life and follow through with it for the majority of their lives. They lived life as they thought it should be lived, and worked hard at trying to spread the word throughout the U.S. Is it the life fo ...more
heather utah
Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: farm-and-garden
'the good life'? more like 'the hard life'!
as an actual homesteader, i was very much looking forward to reading this book and finding great bits of information and methods of improving our own farm. and while they are there, the terse tone, rigid methods, and military discipline of the nearings is quite frightful, and am amazed that readers find their methods inspiring to 'sell it all and move to the country'. [farming is actually more fun and easier than they make it out to be, and in reality i
Jul 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The ideas presented in this book were both daring and delightful. It was such an appropriate read for the financial scare we've been in (and comforting!. How empowering that two people with no farming experience learned to care for themselves and their community through their studies and just trial and error. I picked up a ton of tips in this book that can help even the deepest city dweller appreciate the world around them and communities they live in. The book also helped me understand why some ...more
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a recap of the experiences of a married couple who moved from New York City to the boonies of Vermont in 1932 and "homesteaded" for 20 years. They wrote it in 1954, and the writing style is kind of quirky. The authors themselves are... unique, to put it mildly. They seem highly intelligent, but more than that, absolutely phenomenal at advance planning and self-discipline. They made every aspect of homesteading work because they planned in advance, educated themselves, learned from t ...more
Private Account
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An honest glimpse into the life and two people trying to live their values. Though I don't have a lot in common with the Nearings, I appreciate so much this kind of book. It reminds me of an adult version of the Little House books, just an accurate portrayal of a human life. In some ways it is more interesting than the Little House books because the Nearings explain why they chose to live how they did. There is nothing arrogant or sell-y about this book. If anything, the tone is wistful and sad. ...more
Mar 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was a re-read. This book is one of the clearest accounts I have read of an average individual (couple really) explaining the major choices they made in life, their values, and why they made their choices. Additionally, how things changing over time has impacted their choices, and led to regrets and lessons learned. For those of you familiar to Thoreau's Walden, think about his explanations of growing beans or building his home, but far more pleasant to read and applied to all aspects of the ...more
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
So . . . supposed to be a classic in "basic living." And it does deal with that . . . 1930s-1950s. But these people are just a little too self-righteous for my taste. So proud that they don't eat meat. Fine. But they won't raise chickens for eggs or cows for milk. Calls them "slaves." Worse, they are down-right proud of how the refuse to make a "profit." If they make something that people want, they keep track of their hours of labor, and refuse to charge more than enough to pay them a basic wag ...more
Bruce Whitmore
Aug 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Being a gardener and past farmer, I was most interested in the wealth of information on organic gardening. I do not have the ability to develop large compost piles for my fertilizer and humus source but some aspects of their program I can adapt.

The large amount of details on how they constructed their buildings where a bit vague at times referring to posts and outcroppings and notching a log or rafter at this point of that point.

Something can be said of their "use economy" or an adaptation of it
Jaime Tollefson
Sep 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-books
The amazing thing about this true tale is they don’t mention their ages when they left the city to start a new crazy difficult life in self sufficiency. She was in her 40’s and he was in his 60’s. Wait what? I heard later in an interview with Helen (89 at the time) that Scott lives to be 100 and at 89 neither of them experience(d) any illness, cancer or difficulty in going on with their Good Life. Just a mere wearing down of the body. It would seem that working hard and remaining as close to nat ...more
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
I can imagine trying to do what the Nearings did—hard physical labor doesn’t scare me—but the austerity of their diet would do me in. Raw veg and uncooked oats?! Like, every day! Even soup every day would depress me. They lived long lives in part because they ate like they didn’t care about food. I think I’m too much a city person to truly embrace this healthful approach.

The one thing I was really craving in this book was to hear about the ways they spent their time when there wasn’t any “bread
Nov 23, 2017 rated it liked it
The Nearings were an impressive couple who truly lived by their principles - a rare trait which makes for a real treat. My only grievances with this book are the, at times, lengthy descriptions of specific topics such as house building. They wrote separate books on these topics for readers who plan to put their philosophy and way of life into practice. But be forewarned, the Nearings were not distinctive in their beliefs but they were in the way they were able to put them into action, without do ...more
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: partially-read
The Nearings embarked on their own Walden-like project during the Great Depression, and at first their account of it seems a bit too quaint. But where’s Thoreau “went to the woods” (Walden Pond was just a brisk walk from town) for just two years, Helen and Scott Nearing never left. This memoir has been a handbook for generations of back-to-the-landers and has tons of practical tools for anyone living anywhere as well. My favorite is their practice of doing “bread labor” (physical work) for the f ...more
David Cohn
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much excellent exploration on the mindset of abandoning a city life in favor of communal self-sufficiency, and plenty of practical advice on challenges and techniques learned on the way. Some chapters are downright preachy, however, and with the hindsight of an additional 50 years of historical context, plain wrong (especially those concerning diet). But overall a valuable book and a remarkable chronicle of a remarkable adventure. Well worth reading for anyone considering adopting a "country lif ...more
Cyndie Tozzo
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Written in 1954 and part 2 in 1979 I swear it is just as vital today! Plant based, health conscious, do no harm to animals and homesteading! Every page is packed with a wealth of information. I mean dense with concentrated information. It reminded me of my Anne Labastille Woodswoman books I read in 2007, 2008. Their extremely rigid work ethic I really admired! I wish I was an adult during those times when people visited and worked on their homesteads. I learned a lot. Although I doubt I will be ...more
This is a dense read and full of amazingly detailed information about living off the grid. Ever wondered how to build a stone house or a composting toilet? Explained from start to finish. Also, how to garden in cold climates, how to live off frugally off your own resources and reject the capitalist life, and how to both have a strict homesteading schedule while finding time for pleasure and bettering oneself. Scott and Helen seem like they would be really great people to know. Full of knowledge ...more
Bobby Jones
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Definitely dated at times, and certain points on which they go into excessive technical detail are not worth the modern reader's time. The walls of quotes that bookend the chapters may have seemed nice when the book was published but here represent a frivolity and an annoyance to the reader. Overall, something I would recommend to anyone interested in self-sufficiency, but here the book's contours matter more than the firm details. ...more
Jan 04, 2019 rated it liked it
The book is actually chock full of interesting and valuable homesteading information, however the heavy handed political and social criticisms do get rather tiresome. The couple’s endeavors are to be admired for sure and there is value and truth in some of what the authors discuss regarding cultural obsession with materialism and wealth building.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This true-life back-to-the-land story began in the depth of the Great Depression. Though a bit dated now, there is still much to be learned (attitudes, plans, techniques) from how an ethically driven, vegetarian couple evolved a way to live that was based on a disciplined work ethic, but included plenty of time for community involvement, artistic & intellectual pursuits, and enjoyment.
May 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Meh 3.5? Useful but a bit boring and since I do not plan to just survive off vegetables and apples, I will be needing more info on homesteading.
However, I loved their mindset of getting away from the city and doing it all themselves. I also love their perspective on health and being outside, growing your own food for sure.
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good life for some 1 25 Jun 24, 2008 01:38PM  

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Helen Knothe Nearing was an American author and advocate of simple living. She and Scott Nearing started a relationship in 1928 and married nearly 20 years later, on December 12, 1947.[3][3] The couple lived in rural Vermont where they grew much of their food and erected nine stone buildings over the course of two decades. They earned money by producing maple syrup and sugar from the trees on thei ...more

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