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Review of The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It: The Complete Back-to-Basics Guide by John Seymour with Will Sutherland (First American Edition)


Coverage: Farming, Dairying, Cooking, Brewing, Energy, Crafts, and other subjects

Date: 2003

ISBN: 0789493322

Pages: 311 with index


This is an excellent introduction to self-sufficiency, but has a bit of a British-bias, given that the author is British. There are a few spots throughout the work where an American is going to go “huh?” but in general, the editors have done a good job of making the text international rather than purely British.

The book’s publisher is DK, which is known for its well-illustrated books, which are generally considered good introductions to a subject, but not necessarily exhaustive treatments. This holds true for this book – it’s very well illustrated and covers much of the information needed to get started on self-sufficiency or homesteading, but it should not be considered the only guide you’d ever want. Frankly, Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living is probably a better “first” purchase if you’re looking to get into homesteading.

That said, the book isn’t without a lot of merit. The illustrations are, as mentioned earlier, excellent, and well worth the purchase price alone – as they illustrate subjects quite well. There is an excellent coverage of common garden fruits, vegetables and herbs with basic information on sowing each. A very nice chart covers what vegetable will need to be sown, cultivated or harvested during each month of the year. There are detailed illustrations of butchering pigs, milking cows, killing and butchering a chicken, and lambing.

The section on fencing includes a quick discussion of the English hedge-as-fence, which is illustrated well. This is a topic not often covered in American works on homesteading – and anyone who has ever seen an English hedgerow can understand that they are an excellent alternative to board or pipe fencing.

The rest of the book is good, but skimpier and less exhaustive. Although crafts such as woodworking, plumbing, construction, basketry, pottery, spinning, weaving, tanning, etc are covered, they are generally dealt with in two pages and should not be considered anything but a general introduction to the subject. The same applies to the cooking and energy-creation sections of the book – good for what is covered, but certainly not enough for someone to go out and start living on a homestead without other instruction.

Overall, the book is good, and there are certainly some excellent points, but it cannot be considered an exhaustive treatment of the subject. It covers much of the same ground as Gehring’s Back to Basics, but not to the depth of say Emery’s work, so no one should consider using just this work to start homesteading. Worth purchasing if you can get it at a fair price, because of the treatment of some of its subjects, but not something to rely on exclusively.


Usefulness to the beginning prepper: 7 of 10

Usefulness to the advanced prepper: 4 of 10

General type of work: Homesteading/self-sufficiency guide