Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, the book that changed the world

From an article (long one) in yesterday’s The Observer, by Carole Cadwalladr, here. Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images

“…But then, it’s almost impossible, to flick through the pages of the Catalog and recapture its newness and radicalism and potentialities. Not least because the very idea of a book changing the world is just so old-fashioned. Books don’t change anything these days. If you want to start a revolution, you’d do it on Facebook. And so many of the ideas that first reached a mainstream audience in the Catalog – organic farming, solar power, recycling, wind power, desktop publishing, mountain bikes, midwife-assisted birth, female masturbation, computers, electronic synthesizers – are now simply part of our world, that the ones that didn’t go mainstream (communes being a prime example) rather stand out.…

“It changed the world, says Turner, in much the same way that Google changed the world: it made people visible to each other. And while the computer industry was building systems to link communities of scientists, the Catalog was a ‘vernacular technology” that was doing the same thing.…

“John Markoff, who wrote What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, says, simply: ‘Stewart was the first one to get it. He was the first person to understand cyberspace. He was the one who coined the term personal computer. And he influenced an entire generation, including an entire generation of technologists’.…


“Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired magazine, tells me how he first came across the Catalog when he was still in high school ‘and it changed my life. But then it changed everybody’s life. It inspired me not to go to college but to go and try and live out my own life. It was like being given permission to invent your own life. That was what the Catalog did. It was called “access to tools” and it gave you tools to create your own education, your own business, your own life’.…”

Sent us by Vic Long

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

5 Responses to Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, the book that changed the world

  1. I found the Whole Earth Catalog as a southern Indiana high school sophomore. It was just laying around the Ecology Lab so I took it home. I didn't sleep that night. That was forty three years ago. It was something special, in a cosmic (yet earthy) way. Everything about it was right. It gave me…hope.


  2. Wish I'd met you when I worked @ Phelan's! Stewart was photographing reused buildings during my time with Phelan's. Will miss seeing you at Marketing Meetings, Sales Conference, etc.

  3. I first picked up The Whole Earth Catalog one evening in 1972, and my mother and I were at a friend's house for dinner. I was 11 years old. Our friend noticed I was a bit bored, and suggested I "look through this neat book I have" with a knowing smile…. And that was it. My mind was blown. Expanded is the better word, actually. I spent the whole evening glued to that thing. She wouldn't let me take the catalogs home with me, but invited me to return whenever I wanted to read some more. I did, often. For my 16th birthday, she GAVE them to me. What a wonderful gift. Years later I passed them down to another young boy, remembering that first evening with the same knowing smile.

  4. I was in College when I first saw it at the campus bookstore. Being broke I had to help a guy unload a truck to get the money to buy it. It changed my Life

    Mike the Librarian

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