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The Man Who Quit Money Paperback – Mar 6 2012
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"This is a beautiful, thoughtful and wonderful book. I suspect I may find myself thinking about it every day for the rest of my life." - Elizabeth Gilbert
"Mark Sundeen's astonishing and unsettling book goes directly to the largest questions about how we live and what we have lost in a culture obsessed with money. Sundeen tells the story of a gentle and generous man who sought the good life by deciding to live without it. What's most unsettling and astonishing is that he appears to have succeeded." - William Greider
"Maybe it's just this odd, precarious moment we live in, but Daniel Suelo's story seems to offer some broader clues for all of us. Mark Sundeen's account will raise subversive and interesting questions in any open mind." - Bill McKibben
“Suelo isn’t a conflicted zealot, or even a principled aesthete. He’s a contented man who chooses to wander the Earth and do good. He’s also someone you’d want to have a beer with and hear about his life, as full of fortune and enlightenment as it is disappointment and darkness… At its core, The Man Who Quit Money is the story of a man who decided to live outside of society, and is happier for it.” –Men’s Journal
“Sundeen deftly portrays [Suelo] as a likeable, oddly sage guy… who finds happiness in radical simplicity [and] personifies a critique that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt remorse on the treadmill of getting and spending." –Outside Magazine
“Captivating… Suelo emerges as a remarkable and complex character… Sundeen brings his subject vividly to life [and] makes a case for Suelo's relevance to our time.” –The Seattle Times
“Exquisitely timed… The Man Who Quit Money is a slim, quick read that belies the weightiness underneath. The very quality that makes us see a “man walking in America” (Suelo’s words) and be simultaneously attracted and repelled is exposed here in beautiful detail.” –The Missoula Independent
“In America, renunciation breaks the rules, but, as everyone evicted from Zuccotti Park or bludgeoned at Berkeley or just steamed in-between knows, the rules require breaking. Sundeen… sets out to understand the process and logic behind a money-free lifestyle while tracing the spiritual, psychological, physical, and philosophical quest that led this particular man to throw over our society’s arguably counterfeit-yet-prevailing faith in money, or, more precisely, in debt.” –The Rumpus
“A fascinating subject… both resonant as a character study and infinitely thought-provoking in its challenge to all our preconceptions about modern life—and about the small and large hypocrisies people of all philosophies and religious paths assume they need to accept.” –The Salt Lake City Weekly
“Thoughtful and engrossing biography that also explores society’s fixation with financial and material rewards...Although few readers will even consider emulating Suelo’s scavenger lifestyle, his example will at least provoke some serious soul-searching about our collective addiction to cash.” –Booklist
About the Author
Mark Sundeen is an award-winning writer whose nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Outside, National Geographic Adventure, and The Believer. He is the author of Car Camping (HarperCollins, 2000) and The Making of Toro (Simon & Schuster, 2003), and co-author of North by Northwestern (St. Martin's, 2010), which was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. He has taught fiction and nonfiction in the MFA programs at the University of New Mexico and Western Connecticut State University. He lives in Montana and Utah.
Top Customer Reviews
A quick enough read, recommend to anyone fed up with the rat race or who is looking towards spiritualism and in need of an escape. Lots of references to research if you so desire, although you don't need to to follow the story in the book.
Biographical in nature.
I handed it off to my daughter to expose her to an alternate life path.
If you liked Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild", you will like this.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is an honor to be called "Daniel's best friend" in this gripping book about him. The author, Mark Sundeen, recounts how Daniel Suelo learned to live abundantly by rejecting our cultural beliefs about money. Daniel and I were roommates at the University of Colorado 25 years ago and have remained close ever since, living in the same tiny town in the desert. So the stories in this book are familiar and dear to me. Sundeen describes Daniel's many adventures with vivid detail and incredulous mirth, letting the reader decide if he is a Prophet for our times or just a lovable, amusing and interesting bum. In my opinion, Sundeen makes a serious case for how Suelo contends for the Dos Equis beer title of "the most interesting man in the world," as he barely wins all-out fistfights with Death and personal demons on glaciers in Alaska, in a monastery in Thailand, high in a redwood tree in Oregon, in a remote village in Ecuador, and finally atop one of Colorado's highest peaks.
Sundeen also captured the highlights of each major stage in Daniel's spiritual life, showing his growth from an enthusiastic fundamentalist to a serious Old Testament scholar to a mystical cultural anthropologist to a gifted student of world religion to a disillusioned social worker to a desert naturalist to a beloved hobo to a profound visionary in our troubled economic times. Moreover, Sundeen paints Daniel's portrait against the canvas of recent social and financial trends in America. He interrelates trickle-down Reaganomics, the rise of neo-Conservatism, the Religious Right and multinational corporations with the Occupy movement, the Rainbow gathering, environmental activism, social welfare programs, the growing rich-poor gap and "freegans" around the world. Before reading this book, it never occurred to me how Daniel's life has consistently reflected the zeitgeist of our age.
Sundeen's compact writing style captures with elegant detail and juicy phrases the experiences, people, emotions and philosophies that have guided Daniel's lifelong quest. To summarize Teilhard de Chardin in a page or two is a feat of literary genius. Similarly, the influence of Professor Brian Mahan on our mutual spiritual development, evidenced by the reading list for his Psychology of Religion class, cannot be overestimated. Sundeen artfully portrays him and the other characters I know, illustrating their dignity and wisdom with appropriate humor and their foibles and frustrations with kindness.
For readers interested in picayune details, here are the few inaccuracies related to my role in Daniel's life, none of which detracted from the story: 1) The Russian chess player Igor Ivanov who spent the whole night drinking vodka and arguing politics with Matthew was not just a master but an international grandmaster, the strongest chess player ever to live in Utah. 2) I was living in California when my ex-girlfriend Linda awoke at three in the morning with a house full of smoke and a small fire burning through the floor where Daniel and Matthew left a candle unattended. She was livid the next day, especially because the imported rug had been a very sentimental gift from my mother. Expecting an apology from Daniel, instead she received a rebuke about being too attached to material objects. To this day she accuses me of taking Daniel's side over hers, so the emotional tension portrayed by Sundeen is quite accurate, showing the reader that some rough spots existed in Daniel's path toward becoming the compassionate sadhu he is today.
But 3) Linda and I did not split up over this incident. Also, 4) the coffee-table that covered the hole in the rug was not Daniel's attempt to hide his mistake, as the text implies, but my own humorous solution for "fixing" the whole situation several weeks later. Finally, 5) the verb "to hump" is not in my vocabulary, according to my wife, and I am embarrassed by the quotation attributed to me. If I said something like it in our whirlwind 3-hour interview I apologize to the reader and to Mark. But again Sundeen's main point is completely correct, highlighting the awkwardness between two sensual young men, one gay and one heterosexual, who truly love each other after many years of deep friendship and intentional celibacy through college.
The remainder of this review adds details to the book, filling out little parts of Daniel's story that feel important to me, thus completing Sundeen's nearly perfect book.
1) We had a third college roommate who committed suicide two years after leaving Boulder for California. His completely unexpected death had an enormously painful impact on both of us, as well as others in the circle of friends like Dawn and Rebecca. In dark and mysterious ways his suicide contributed to Daniel's own deep despair about life, especially because it had undercurrents of emerging homosexual feelings against a protestant belief system. For many of us in the Boulder community, Daniel's later attempt was a second sign that American society had become too poisonous for beautiful, complex souls to endure.
2) I had hoped to see some of Daniel's original artwork reprinted in the book, because his images are even more moving than his words. Especially his pen and ink renderings, and the drawings he created while in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. Maybe somebody will take them out of my guest room closet, scan them, and with Daniel's permission put them online for the whole world to see.
3) The music and poetry of the Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn was a big part of our college years, and in many ways Suelo's adventures -- mental, emotional, spiritual and physical -- have paralleled Cockburn's. The rock band U2 was also important to our spiritual development.
4) Because of his keen mind and scholarly background, Daniel has been asked to edit the works of other authors in fields like anthropology, archaeoastronomy, sociology and religion. He perceives, thinks and talks much like the mystical anthropologist Joseph Campbell, and so his feedback is cherished.
5) My wife Dorina Krusemer-Nash observed, "When I first met Daniel we didn't get along and frankly I didn't like him. He was depressed, sullen and bitter. But when he came back to Moab, after finally quitting money, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off of his spirit, and he was light, energetic and funny." Dorina's perspective brings up an enormous social issue: What is the relationship between rampant, clinical depression, our mass addiction to anti-depressant medications, and economic injustice in a capitalistic society? What toll does it take on each of us, and on our world, when so many of us feel forced into a lifetime of near slavery wages to pay for groceries, health care and (if lucky enough) a mortgage?
The book is great! Buy it and enjoy it. Regarding Daniel himself, my personal conclusion was published on the Matador Change website in 2009, after an article that openly wondered if Daniel was a "mooch" on society. Although the question raised my hackles, the posts on that article were noticeably less hostile and more thoughtful than posts to other online articles, so Daniel and I both contributed to the thread. Because the "mooching" question is the first reaction so many people have when they read about him, I conclude this review with a heartfelt response:
"Although Daniel tries never to barter, at one level he does participate in the same kind of barter system known for centuries to Franciscan and Buddhist monks. His mere presence in our house adds rich value to the quality of life that my wife and I enjoy. He brings peace with him wherever he goes. We adore him, and so do all of our animals, whom he often 'babysits' when we travel. You could even say our many dozens of organic fruit and nut trees adore Daniel. He has helped prune and cultivate them over the years, thoroughly enjoyed long afternoon naps in a hammock in their fragrant shade, and savored their bounty with a kind of deep, mystical appreciation that few of us humans ever really feel.
"If anyone could call Daniel a 'mooch' it would be me and Dorina because our home (and refrigerator) are always and unconditionally open to him. Yet we have never felt mooched, or taken advantage of. Quite the opposite, we look forward to his arrivals, feel enriched during his stays and, like our dogs, we are saddened by his departures. After wiping a few counters, we often find extra food he left behind. Daniel is not a weight on society, holding us all back, making us work harder to support his loafing, as the word 'mooch' implies. Instead, he is more like a quiet angel who asks for nothing, but lifts us all up gently with his peacefulness, kindness, cantankerous humor and nature-based wisdom.
"Maybe it's time to turn around the question of 'mooching.' How many people in the world who enjoy great material wealth also have an endless supply of love, wisdom, inner peace and happiness that they share freely with everyone around them? Daniel has made many brave decisions and great personal sacrifices in his life to follow Christ's teachings and trust the Holy Spirit to guide him. As a result, he has become a visionary and saintly person, a humble hobo who happens to have direct, broadband access to God. Now the rest of us get to 'mooch' off of his free internet wi-fi connection to heaven whenever he is around."
Besides the interest of reading about a man who gave up money, I also have ties to the Moab area. I have friends and family there and have spent many days hiking, biking, and floating. I can understand why one would choose this as a place to "find oneself".
Unfortunately, I never got into the story. I found myself halfway through the book and not really caring about the character, I couldn't get behind or into his struggles. Although his problems weren't mundane, I know of others who have overcome much greater struggles and inner turmoil. And yet there are no books about them.
As one reviewer put it, the author lets us decide if "he is a Prophet for our times or just a highly amusing bum". Unfortunately, I came down on the side of the latter. I suspect he's very endearing and engaging in person, but to me that didn't come across in the book. I got the impression he's a well traveled and intelligent freegan, hardly a worthy subject for an entire book.
One thing that continually grated me: money is not the evil, greed is. Money is just a tool. A pitchfork in the hands of a farmer is good, in the hands of an angry mob, a weapon. They're both the same tool.
Finally, it's not a bad book and I don't feel cheated by the time spent. I learned that I have a lot to learn about world religions. Also, I'm going to find out more about William James (he's come up in my last two reads). But as far as any resonance in my life afterwards, this book didn't do it - and to me this is the delineation of a good read and a great one.
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