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Book Review of: The Story of Stuff

How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health-and a Vision for Change

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Review of The Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

The author presents some good concepts and has ideas and ideals worth exploring. But unfortunately, she relies too heavily on disinformation and logical fallacies in making some points and prescribing some solutions. The book isn't rife with such things, but it contains more of them than it should.

This does two things. First, some people are going to zero in on the errors and go sour on the whole book. Second, the book falls fails to realize its potential in being a persuasive work that motivates and empowers readers to do something about the problems presented.

In short, her approach weakens most of her message. This is a shame, because she makes several points that I feel need to be heard. She characterizes our "consumer culture" with pretty fair accuracy, and correctly hits on a core problem (television). She talks about reducing waste by reducing it at its source. This is really the best way.

An example of "reduce at the source" is aluminum cans. These are most often used in the USA to package a toxic brew known as "soda," but which I prefer to call osteoporosis in a can. The junk inside the can serves no purpose except maybe as an industrial solvent. The can itself has value, but gets thrown away after only a few minutes of use.

When people are passionate about something, it's easy for them to lose healthy skepticism about "facts" and arguments that support their viewpoint. And they are also more likely to be swayed by logical fallacies. I saw evidence of this throughout the book. What Ms. Leonard states as fact is, in some cases, simply not true. And in some cases, the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow. I had to keep reminding myself that she's generally got the right idea.

Some of her points reflect a narrow world view derived from statist propaganda. Sifting those out of the book requires some patience.

On many points, I think she's right on. I'm fairly in synch with her ideas of how people can live in less slavery to material items and the consumer culture.

I especially appreciate her take on the brainwashing machines that many people voluntarily install in their homes. These machines are euphemistically referred to as "televisions." Brainwashing via these machines has something in common with washing wool in your clothes washer: shrinkage. Chronic television watching significantly atrophies the reasoning structures of the brain, and in fact a medical examiner can tell the brain of a reader and a typical television watcher apart just by looking.

As I'm partial to my brain (we've been together a long time), I don't expose it to the ravages of television. I'm always delighted when an author provides yet another reason or three to avoid this mentally damaging activity.

But just when I was thinking she must have taken the red pill (allusion to The Matrix), she would to revert to blue pill thinking on some issues. On several points, there is a big gap between what she sees and what is. The statist propaganda and Democratic Party talking points did more harm than good to this book. If she publishes a second edition or a sequel, I hope she will replace those bits with real information and thus be more persuasive to thinking people.

This book is about 300 pages long. It consists of 5 chapters, an epilogue, 3 appendices, and end notes. The five chapters each address a different aspect about the flow of "stuff" that is trashing the planet. These are:

  1. Extraction.
  2. Production.
  3. Distribution.
  4. Consumption.
  5. Disposal.

In each of these five areas, there are problems ranging from significant to insignificant. The author's discussion of each would be better if she stuck to what she can address accurately. Where she's right, it's not necessary to add material that's questionable (or worse).

My recommendation is to buy the book and seriously think about the major points Annie Leonard makes about "stuff." If you want to pursue things further, the extensive end notes will help you with that.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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