Book of the month
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Date: 03 April, 2006

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Click on the book cover to buy a copy and raise money for Christian Aid projects.


'Even growing one tomato plant in a window box on the twelfth storey, chips away at the consumerist culture.'

Charlotte Haines Lyon considers 'the good life' in this updated classic.

In 1978 my dad gave the original edition of this classic to my mum to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Not particularly romantic but it did set our family off on the road to the good life. Despite in the middle of a small town, at our peak we had eight goats, 6 turkeys, 12 ducks and numerous bewildered chickens rescued from the battery farm.

Last year the battered book was handed down to my husband for his birthday. Living in a busy London street with a handkerchief garden, dreams of goats and chooks are just that. Seymour’s exhortations of using horses to plough seem from another planet let alone age.

However it was extremely exciting to discover the 'bible' of self-sufficiency was updated shortly before Seymour died at the age of 90. Not only has he given a nod to city living but the language is much more sustainable living than self-sufficiency. Both are pretty similar if not the same but he has rightly tweaked the book to catch the current agenda for sustainability.

Yes at times, the book can seem worthy but if you give yourself permission to pick and mix it is truly inspirational. Seymour himself realises that not everybody can do everything but exhorts the use of the motto: 'I am only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do, I will do.'

Contemporary additions

As I said this edition includes city dwelling; alongside the five and ten acre plots, he looks at what people can do in small gardens and allotments. Recognising that many don’t even have these luxuries he insists that even growing one tomato plant in a window box on the twelfth storey, chips away at the consumerist culture.

Contemporary additions also include credit unions, ethical banking, creating a 'Thunderbox' (composting toilet) as well as, albeit briefly, composting nappies.

Alongside practical help Seymour shares his philosophy which stems from 'husbandry over exploitation' and includes the sage: 'A true home should be the container for reviving real hospitality, true culture and conviviality, real fun, solid comfort, and above all, real civilisation.'

Regardless of your acreage (or lack of) this tome is a valuable asset to anybody even considering a sustainable lifestyle.


On a different note, Joanna El Mir of Lebanon has won this year’s International Young Publisher of the Year (IYPY) award. A collaboration between the British Council and the London Book Fair, the award celebrates publishing’s entrepreneurial spirits from around the globe.

All too often entrepreneurs are associated with the quick buck; publishing currently seems to be guided by the likes of Oprah and Richard and Judy in the quest for global sellers. Joanna at the other end of the spectrum, is passionate about getting children and teenagers to read. So it’s great to see a Lebanese children’s book publisher be rewarded It goes to show that John Seymour is right, apparently small actions can make an indent to the world of fat cats.

More information can be found here.

John Seymour’s biography has also been recently published and be bought here.

The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency
John Seymour
Dorling Kindersley

Click on the orange link to buy a copy and raise money for Christian Aid projects.