Could there really be people in the 21st century who don't need money to live? If so, how do they do it, and why? What do they know that the rest of us have forgotten?
Hewitt (author of The Town that Food Saved and Making Supper Safe) attempts to answer this question by observing his friend, Erik, a thoughtful backwoodsman, educator, artist, and occasional dumpster diver who has been living on a very small income for years and thriving.
Here's where I admit that I know Erik personally, and admire him deeply, much like Hewitt. (Erik teaches at a wilderness school here in central Vermont and has been an important part of my son's education for the past several years.) And also like Hewitt, I'm unlikely to build a cabin in the woods by hand, or live without running water and indoor plumbing. And yet, I wonder sometimes if this lifestyle is what's behind Erik's gentle guidance of children, his ability to pay exquisite attention to the needs of the moment, and his extraordinary nature drawing talent. There are lessons here.
Hewitt approaches these lessons in a humorous, self-effacing style that makes even intricate analyses of economic policy (almost) painless. It's a tricky business, profiling a friend and analyzing his lifestyle for all the world to read, but Hewitt approaches the project with clear affection for his subject and also the clear-eyed skepticism of a journalist trying to get to the bottom of things. He might be out hunting the elusive morel with Erik in one chapter and turn to considering the usefulness of the gold standard in the next. Throughout it all, he seems mildly amused, and sometimes truly awed, by what humanity is capable of creating. This means he avoids the preachy tone that sours purist "back-to-the-land" for those with more modest ambitions. He never says he's found the right way to do things, only that he's found some things worth serious consideration.
I would have enjoyed a deeper look at Hewitt's own life, and what may or may not have changed as he explored this alternative to the monetary system. He touches on these things, but perhaps in the end is wise to leave ample room for readers to draw their own conclusions.