Whole Earth Catalog: A roadmap to humanity

I found this volume at a tag sale some years ago and thought it was just a curiosity at the time. I bought it for a few dollars and took it home only to forget about it until recently (moving does that to you sometimes).

After getting another chance to go over everything I’ve been missing, I have to say… This is by far one of the best resources on simple living, sustainability and even our own peculiarities (I.E. there is no censorship). The Whole Earth Catalog should be in everyone’s library. If anything it can really open some eyes that are sewn shut with self-centeredness these days.

It’s one of the more revolutionary publications that will sorely be missed today.

Subtitling this "Access to Tools" has to be one of the biggest understatements in publishing. It's oh-so-much-more


The catalog is a year older than me! And it really does cover the Whole Earth!

Published October 1981


The map has changed a bit since this edition, but the topics it covers — vast in breadth and depth — goes from “Understanding Whole Systems” which include Laws of form, Space, Eco-ethics, Evolution, Natural history, Plants as well as “Community” which includes Recycling, Rural emergency, Home nursing Women’s health, Childbirth (in graphic detail), Sex (also in “detail” of sorts), Consumer reports and everything in-between. It’s a who’s who and what’s what of basic and enhanced living.

The list of topics covered is copious as it is astoundingly fascinating.


While browsing through this time, I came across an article on Sri Lanka! Specifically the concept of “Shramadana” which is a contraction of Sarvodaya Shamadana Movement in Sri Lanka. The article goes into a specific example at work, however considering this was published before the civil war, I don’t know how many of these people are still around. Hopefully many. Their example will be one of the few things that will keep the country going.

"It does not require oil, gas coal or nukes; it empowers people not machines; it is shramadana. Literally meaning the giving (dana) of human energy (shrama)"


The concept can best be summarized as using human equity toward completing projects for the community. Anyone can grab a tool and participate provided you’re of able body and sound mind. It doesn’t matter what your social status is; a banker and farmer are equals in terms of what they can contribute in human energy.

Habitat for Humanity is probably the closest Western counterpart


What really got me interested are the aspects of environmental consciousness that and examples of “better” and “wiser” living that we could really use right now. It really drives home how much this was ahead of its time as only now are we starting to understand the consequences of our actions.

"The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness" - Brilliant!


Then there are the creative aspects of what we can actually do about this. The sustainability pointers in this are, I think, invaluable today more than ever.

Building a house using telephone poles as raw material. How creative is that?


The book is full of examples like these for simple, sustainable living as well as creative solutions to real world problems that are oddly still applicable by and large today.

Then there are also aspects of humanity that some of us still wouldn’t dare discuss openly or honestly. It’s amazing testament to how much popular publications censor themselves on real issues while advancing pointless topics. Talk about being hypocritical prudes.

I had to cover the naughty bits. This being a family-friendly blog and all ;)


Did I mention there’s no censorship in this book? Can you imagine a popular publication making mention of something like this today?

And that, boys and girls, is why I keep thinking I was born a few decades too late.


9 thoughts on “Whole Earth Catalog: A roadmap to humanity

  1. Pingback: I just discovered the Internet | This page intentionally left ugly

  2. …I was just reminiscing about Elzéard Bouffier and the story, “The Man Who Planted Trees…” appearing in Whole Earth many years ago, the story and accompanying artwork have always stayed with me…so I did a search and found your page, seems you’re the only person on the internet with an image of this resource!…thanks for posting!…


    • Hi, Jimmy. Thanks for dropping by.

      I’m glad you found this nostalgia as enjoyable as I did. The pictures, I don’t think, were uploaded elsewhere, but I did find the text here.

  3. Hi eksith,

    …yeah, the story, itself, can be found around the internets (thanks for the link!)…but it was the associated artwork, as appeared in WEC, as shown in your image which made it that much cooler!…thanks, again!…


    • Jimmy and eksith, the “accompanying artwork have always stayed with me” as well. It seemed that it was pin and ink, and perhaps progressed over many pages, as an evolving forest, perhaps in the bottom margin of the WEC. The illustrations were beautiful and more refined than the woodcuts in the book version(s). I would love to find that original source. Even this posting seems to have a “final” forest, and not the evolving, growing, series of illustrations that I remember. Can anyone cite the original source? Thanks. and hey- Peace.

  4. My first year in college (1988), I bought my first issue of Whole Earth Review, which just so happened to be the 20th Anniversary issue! I’ll never forget how reading it opened my eyes to a whole new world. I’ll never forget the R Crumb cartoon tryptich on the back cover: it portrayed three alternate visions of the future. There was “Ecotopia”, where everyone was riding bicycles and going to love-ins, “Technofix”, where we all fly around in our personal skycars, and Apocalypse, where we end in a world that lay in waste from our own acts of destruction.

    I became a regular subscriber to the bitter end. Years later, I went looking for that first, treasured issue, and was crushed to have lost it…

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