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The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (thoughts)

December 21, 2011


I loved this book! It’s the kind of ‘here’s a huge world problem’ nonfiction that’s aimed at a popular audience and actually manages to leave the reader invigorated rather than depressed. As someone very interested in social justice and environmental issues, let me tell you: it’s all too easy to fall into a bleak, overwhelmed mood when reading some of the authors out there. I can’t blame them, since many of the topics are quite entrenched, but it makes me appreciate writers like Leonard all the more. She never sets out to guilt-trip the reader, which makes me happy to recommend this to everyone!

So, the book is a richer exploration of the same issues discussed in the short (twenty-minute) film Leonard published on the internet a few years ago. It looks at the life-cycle of the kind of ‘stuff’ (aka, material objects) that occupy so much space in our modern, developed world lives. For each phase in the cycle (extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal), Leonard mixes general overview information with specific case studies that show the principles in action. As regular blog readers know, this is one of my very favourite approaches to nonfiction, and Leonard pulls it off beautifully!

By the time I’d finished the book, I felt much more aware and knowledgeable, renewed in my commitment to a ‘simpler’ lifestyle (to be honest, a commitment greatly helped by my lack of income!), and inspired about how in the next few years people could change the tide. I can’t recommend this book enough: admittedly, my reading it meant Leonard was preaching to the choir, but I imagine even those who have never heard of/thought about these issues before will come away with a slightly changed worldview. Of course, you can always watch the film first!

Suggested Companion Reads

  • Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben (Another book that looks at current problems and out-of-box solutions that have been developed around the globe.)
  • Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton (de Botton does a good job exploring the relationship between jobs and incomes and status and gives philosophically-based advice to escape that trap. I think it’d be a neat companion because at its heart, Stuff Matters is calling for a change in worldview, so Status Anxiety could inform that.)
  • Food Matters by Mark Bittman (This book takes a similar approach to issues of diet and the food industry in the twenty-first century.)
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14 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 6:34 am

    I would love to read this book. My house probably doesn’t reflect my interest in this, though , unfortunately. But I do want to live more simply and with less stuff. Why accumulate when eventually, you gotta get rid of it? What do we really NEED. :)

  2. December 21, 2011 7:50 am

    I’m new to your blog, but have read quite a few of your posts. I am amazed at by your archive of reviews (I especially liked your review of Sea of Poppies by Ghosh! As soon as I can fit it into the budget, I’m going to run out and get the second in the trilogy, River of Smoke, which came out this fall.) Of course, that’s counter intuitive to living without more “stuff,” but we can agree books do not fall into that category…right? Looking forward to reading more from you.

  3. December 21, 2011 9:41 am

    This sounds like one I would really like (of course, it’d be preaching to the choir for me too). I actually read a book this fall, The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding, that posits that humanity is actually going to let the environment go to the brink–which makes it seem like it’s going to be depressing–but then he spends at least half of the book on an upbeat, why everything will work out great, because we’ll all work together and solve the problem really quickly and will change our habits away from the acquisition of stuff. I’m not sure he’s taken all that seriously by some people because he IS so optimistic!

  4. December 21, 2011 10:50 am

    I want to read this book now! I’m always trying to get rid of the excess stuff in my home- I don’t like clutter or feel the need to own lots of things, but somehow they just pile up and up…

  5. December 21, 2011 11:09 am

    I really must read this soon!!! I’ve watched the film a number of times in the past couple years (envi sci with both Annie and Gray)…it’s just so good. I can only imagine how much better the book will be.

  6. December 21, 2011 2:58 pm

    Never read a non fiction book about ambiental problems before, though I’ve whatched many films about it. This one sounds good :)

  7. December 21, 2011 6:49 pm

    I wanted to read this book a while ago but promptly forgot about it (as I do everything that I don’t add to my TBR list on Goodreads!). Thanks for the reminder!

  8. December 22, 2011 9:44 am

    This looks like the kind of non-fiction I usually avoicd, but the topic (and your review) are both of interest to me. For the last couple of year C.J. and I have been removing stuff from our lives. We both think it’s a stage of life people enter into at our age (late 40’s/early 50’s) when the accumulation of more things holds very little interest and you start to scale down your life overall.

    I’d love to go very very simple. He still has too many things he wants to hang on to.

  9. December 22, 2011 12:25 pm

    I saw the short film back in 2008 when I was out of work and re-evaluating what my next step would be. I was profoundly affected by it and ended up simplifying many things in my life and also donating my large (4,000 book) library to my local library. I will very much look forward to reading the book!

  10. December 22, 2011 1:00 pm

    “Invigorated rather than depressed”, really? Well, with that topic, only a very talented writer could have pulled it off! :)

  11. December 23, 2011 10:46 pm

    I have wanted to read this book for a while, but I haven’t got around to it yet. One of these days…

  12. January 5, 2012 8:19 pm

    Ooo, I’d forgotten about this one: thanks for pushing it back onto my bookish radar!

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