Non-fiction audio book: The Way Home

Another of my semi-random picks from the library's digital audio books. 


Title: The Way Home: Tales from a life without technology
Author: Mark Boyle
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, 2019. 8hrs 40 min. Original hardcover, Oneworld, 2019, 288 pages
Source: Library

Publisher's Blurb:
"It was 11:00 pm when I checked my email for the last time and turned off my phone for what I hoped would be forever. No running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio, or light bulb. Just a wooden cabin, on a smallholding, by the edge of a stand of spruce."

The Way Home is a modern-day Walden―an honest and lyrical account of a remarkable life lived in nature without modern technology. Mark Boyle, author of The Moneyless Man, explores the hard-won joys of building a home with his bare hands, learning to make fire, collecting water from the stream, foraging, and fishing.

What he finds is an elemental life, one governed by the rhythms of the sun and seasons, where life and death dance in a primal landscape of blood, wood, muck, water, and fire—much the same life we have lived for most of our time on earth. Revisiting it brings a deep insight into what it means to be human at a time when the boundaries between man and machine are blurring.

My Review:
I'm not 100% sure what Mark Boyle is trying to accomplish, either with this book or with his unplugged life carried to extremes. I admire like hell what he accomplishes, and I think he's probably all wrong on several points. He's not wrong, though, about how much technology is a part of our lives, though defining "technology" isn't as simple as it sounds, a problem he does give a nod. At the very least, he is clear about dropping fossil fuels and other things based on extractive industries.

One thing that bothered me from the start was how little he acknowledged what his girlfriend contributed. More telling (and something that may contribute to a not-so-surprising development) is that there is no talk of them discussing this plan. It felt very much designed in the 1st person singular. His decision. His smallholding. Only once or twice mention of what she is doing, and an equal number of mentions of her lack of satisfaction with their life.

I'm also stuck on the problem that always arises when someone does a total back-to-the-land thing that doesn't use any modern tech/resources: the land won't support 7 billion people doing this. Nor is he entirely honest about rejecting technology. When he wants to visit his parents, he hitchhikes. In other words, he won't own a car and burn petrol, but he's willing to piggyback on someone who does. It's more efficient than separate vehicles, but highlights a problem at the heart of the project (and to me a much greater issue than his decision to borrow a laptop and electricity to type up the book, since publishers won't take a hand-written MS): he can't maintain his lifestyle unless others continue to maintain their own modern lives.

Despite my issues with Boyle's choices, we may take away from the book some thoughts about our impacts on the Earth, and for sure some thoughts about how much technology dominates our lives. For me, it's a question of picking and choosing, trying to remember to be mindful about using the things that make life easier. For him, the decision was to dump it all. His choice, as long as he wants to live alone.

My Recommendation:
Thought-provoking, but there are probably better books that address our place in the world more realistically. Maybe I'm just holding a grudge because in the end he felt to me, if not precisely sexist, certainly self-centered. I think that conclusion would shock him.

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Way Home from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
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  1. And the ultimate irony that you were listening to an audio book of it...
    What was the girl friend doing? The washing, the non-macho bits of the cooking? beating the dirt out of the clothes on a flat stone in the river?? I bet she enjoyed that. Sounds dreadful.

    1. That's it exactly! He intimates at one point that she did most of the cooking, he did most of the hunter-gatherer stuff, and claimed that was because they gravitated toward those jobs, not that it was inevitable. But since he never talks about them, well, talking about any of it, I have my doubts.

      And yes, the irony that I was listening to the audio book--on my iPhone--didn't escape me!


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