The Whole Earth Catalog, first published in July, 1968, then published regularly until 1972 and irregularly until 1998, is a catalog of tools, with information about how to order them directly from the manufacturers.

Fall 1969 cover

Fall 1969 cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its founder, Stewart Brand, believed that information about the best tools would help people achieve independence in their lives.

I have a yellowed copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools, published in November, 1971.

It won the first U.S. National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs, the first time a catalog had won such an award.

I also have a copy of “The Next Whole Earth Catalog: Access to Tools”, published October 1981.

They are considered the essential guidebook for what you need for sustainable living.

They are the precursor to the environmental movement, while, at the same time, giving hippies permission to join the commercial and modern technical worlds.

Gatherings of people learning how to build dome houses and yurts and domes made out of foam, as well as explore sustainable energy techniques, like solar and wind, were photographed and quoted in the pages of the catalog.

“The mike is a ploy to create structure. It doesn’t have to be plugged in.”

Brand reinvented how people lived and worked in community.

“If you want to find out about tape, don’t ask 3-M; find a man who’s taping something together.”

“Manufacturers are the last to find out about their products.”

“Once you’ve tried something you can sell the information back to them.”

This is a profound insight. I found it to be the same for software.

“Money is the way that I can easily transfer my energy to you.”

“Economics is the study of transfer of energy in the society.”

The catalog reviews books on topics ranging from engineering design to knots to The Mind of the Dolphin, an exploration of how dolphins, and, potentially computers, communicate.

“We are often asked, ‘If the dolphins are so intelligent why aren’t they ruling the world?'”

“My very considered answer to this is – they may be too wise to run to try to rule the world.”

Some of the other recommended books in the catalog:

  • Introduction to Engineering Design
  • Science and Civilization in China
  • The Way Things Work
  • The Engineer’s Illustrated Thesaurus
  • Jigs and Fixtures for Limited Production
  • The Ashley Book of Knots

Many of the book reviews include long excerpts, like this from Baby and Child Care, by Dr. Spock

“More babies are overdressed than underdressed.”

“Best guide is the color of his face.”

“If he is getting cold, he loses the color from his cheeks.”

“A two-year-old shouldn’t be worrying about the consequences of his actions.”

“Better to remove and distract him than just to say, ‘No, no!'”

Much like Gandhi wanted to break his country’s economic dependence on Great Britain by manufacturing his own crude cloth and taking salt from India’s salt flats, until then both industries in India monopolized by Great Britain, the editor and publisher of The Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand, wanted to remind his audience that they were not dependent on big corporations to build their homes, power them, raise their food and make their own tools.

Brand was inspired by the inventor, Buckminster Fuller, but he also harassed NASA until photographs of earth taken from space were released to the public, then used those photographs as covers for his catalogs to remind his readers that earth is finite and we are responsible for it.

He alerted his readers to resources, like the Clearinghouse for Federal Scientific and Technical Information, which describes all R&D done for the government in white papers.

It is still available.

In his commencement speech to Stanford, Steve Jobs described The Whole Earth Catalog as Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google.

Click here to order a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog from amazon.

Have you ever read The Whole Earth Catalog?

Do your grandchildren ever ask you what you did before the Internet?

Do you know how to build a yurt?

To you and teaching your grandchildren how to find information.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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