Review: Self Sufficiency: A Complete Guide to Baking, Carpentry, (etc.)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you might recall that I received a couple of books to review. I’ve previously reviewed The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants (paid link). I now turn to Self Sufficiency: A Complete Guide to Baking, Carpentry, Crafts, Organic Gardening, Preserving your Harvest, Raising Animals and More, edited by Abigail R. Ghehring (paid link) (check your local independent bookstore, or Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.).

As before, we’ve used the book for a while, evaluating it in a couple of different ways. While I’ve been looking at their layout and content in general, Michelle has consulted it for reference, keeping track of whether or not the book has been able to answer her questions.

Self Sufficiency (Image:

When I first saw Self Sufficiency, I immediately pulled another book from the shelf to compare, as it appeared that this volume might be an updated version of the older Reader’s Digest Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills, (paid link) (ask your local independent bookstore). Physically, they are similarly bound and formatted, making the new addition fit well with the three Reader’s Digest books we keep on our reference shelf (the others being repair manuals). Self Sufficiency’s content is similar to, but different from that of Back to Basics.

The first feature that struck me in opening the book is the artwork. With a few exceptions, the book’s illustrations are lush photographs, worthy of any major magazine. Almost every page offers beautiful, seductive images of homestead life: succulent garden produce, contented farm animals, and lots of gorgeous, happy children actively engaged in activities. Conversely, some of the line drawings found throughout the book are jarringly simple, sterile, and in some cases, enlarged to the point that pixelation almost makes the subject shown unrecognizable. Captions are minimal, which is not a problem except in certain sections. Edible Wild Plants would have benefited from labeling. Most of us can identify an apple or a pear, but might not be clear whether the photo of reindeer moss belongs to that nearby description (across the fold) or the ones that immediately surround the photo. In another chapter, one photo appears by itself on the page preceding its reference; a simple caption: “overleaf” or similar might have easily cleared up confusion.

The content of the book covers many aspects of a self sufficient lifestyle, with heavy emphasis on gardening, animal husbandry, and country crafts. There’s a good section on woodworking, with some excellent home project suggestions. Each section offers sidebars for children, “The Junior Homesteader” and “Homeschool Hint.”

I liked the information the book provides on community involvement, including how to start a community garden and how to grow produce for the needy and homeless. These along with the inspiring section on rooftop gardening and others make the book accessible for the self-sufficiency minded city dweller as well as country folks.

Michelle found that while Self Sufficiency offers good information, it often is not complete enough for her needs. She usually found what she sought, but it generally augmented the knowledge she already had of the subject. Most wholly unfamiliar topics didn’t provide enough detail.

What surprised me about the book is what it does not contain. Alternative energy, the heart of our homestead, is relegated to an appendix, and makes no mention at all of either solar panels or wind generators! To me, this is inexplicable. It raises the question of whether or not I am the best judge of such a book. It may not be as much help as it could be to our situation, yet be wholly adequate for someone pursuing self-sufficiency in a less aggressive manner.

I see Self Sufficiency as an excellent gift for one’s spouse, child, or other family member one hopes to enlist in a more self-reliant lifestyle. It’s certainly inspiring! And, if one should put its information into practice, it’s likely that most of the contents will be enough to help one do so, and guide one toward more detailed information if needed.

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2 Responses to Review: Self Sufficiency: A Complete Guide to Baking, Carpentry, (etc.)

  1. Joe says:

    I might be overlooking it, but do you have a ‘must have’ book list that aspiring homesteaders should start collecting? Also, what are the best resources for books/websites on energy production and preservation for the homestead? I’m sure insulation and building techniques play a key role in making the most out of the energy you use which most of us never think about.


  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Joe, you raise a good point, I should write a definitive post on this topic.

    In the meantime, many of the books we have found useful are listed on our book list page under pertinent categories.

    I’ll try to get something useful going on this soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

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