Book Review: The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan & Gill Bridgewater

This book is extremely concise – somehow they’ve managed to cram the basics of all the varied self-sufficiency topics into teeny little chapters (some topics take up just one page).  The interesting thing about this quick read is how in addition to teaching you a thing or two it gets you to ask questions of yourself.  These two jumped into homesteading head first in their early twenties (in the 1970s) with two small children (“. . . in a tumbledown house in the middle of a field with no running water, no electricity, no mortgage . . . “) and had to learn everything the hard way, so they know the value of asking yourself some hard questions before proceeding with something that will change the way you live.
This is definitely a book I would recommend to someone who is just starting to think about self-sufficiency, but it is not one I would try to live off of in the States, for two reasons.  1) The concise nature of the book gives you a good idea of costs and workloads involved in various energy systems, livestock, planting methods, and procedures such as soapmaking, but lacks more in-depth necessary information (such as pest management and troubleshooting) are missing. 2) This book, more so than most I have read by UK authors, takes a significant amount of “translation” into American terms.  For example, there is a somewhat misleading chart in the section on using wood as fuel in which various trees are listed by their British common names – cedar is listed as a good choice for firewood and hemlock as a poor choice.  I’m sure this is true of whatever trees are known as cedar and hemlock in Britain, but here in the Pacific Northwest, cedar (Thuja plicata), while undeniably aromatic, is suitable only for kindling because it burns almost as fast as paper, and hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) is not tops (arguably, that’d be maple) but it is plentiful and it will keep you warm through the winter.

— Amanda

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