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Introduction to The Essential Whole Earth Catalog

ON PAGE 152 of The Essential Whole Earth Catalog is an essay by editor J. Baldwin titled "One Highly-Evolved Toolbox." It could have been the title of the whole book. In an earlier printing of the essay (it itself has evolved through four editions), J. wrote:

"Our portable shop has been evolving for about twenty years now. There's nothing very special about it except that a continuing process of removing obsolete or inadequate tools and replacing them with more suitable ones has resulted in a collection that has become a thing-making system rather than a pile of hardware,"

Just so with the Whole Earth Catalog. Though the book has been made wholly new five times now since I started the process in 1968, it was the constant daily research for our magazine Whole Earth Review (formerly CoEvolution Quarterly) that kept and keeps us current. What started as a kind of precocious-kid operation has had maturity thrust upon it - partly through the hard knocks of business survival, partly through the maturing of its audience and its makers, partly through the refining of the fields it reports on.

We've seen enthusiasms like communes come and go, enthusiasms like solar energy come and stabilize, and enthusiasms like el'.-clronic communications come and keep coming. We've always pushed self-publishing; now we can push desktop publishing (p. 316). Right up to the 1981 Whole Earth Catalog, all the how-to books we reviewed were books. Now there are 1,000 how-to video cassettes on the market (see p. 331). The original Whole Earth Catalog got a somewhat inaccurate reputation as a back-to-the-land bible. All this edition has to offer rural life is primarily urban tools. The prevalence of satellite dishes on the countryside suggests that urbanity has less and less to do with clusters of tall buildings and ever more to do with global perspective.

My name is on the cover mainly as an indication of continuity. I had a hand in selecting items to repeat from previous Catalogs and participated in renaming the sections, but my role with Whole Earth these days is one of richly enjoyed emeritus. Kevin Kelly runs the place with a far more capable hand than mine, and J. Baldwin made production on this Catalog sing like none before. You can see the ever-growing skill of old hands like naturalist/ reviewer Peter Warshall and designer Kathleen O'Neill. You can also see the fresh perspective brought by a generation of newcomers. The production and research crews are about half and half of each.

The original core idea is intact. Instead of trying to review everything that exists, the Whole Earth Catalog only recommends what it finds to be the best available across the widest spectrum of usefulness it can discover. The reviews are written and excerpts selected as if they were advertising written by customers, the way you tell a friend about something you found that you've come to love. We know we haven't identified everything wonderful, but since excellence leads to excellence we can trust the reader to keep up the search beyond these pages.

The "Whole Earth" in the title refers to planetary perspective, not to the range of our coverage. Some day maybe, but I hope not - the world might gain by seeing itself whole, but it should forever elude coverage by anybody.

Of the 1962 items recommended here, 1086 are books, 297 are magazines, 579 are mail order sup-phers. Each is an opportunity to learn a skill. In times even more in transition than the times that were a-changin' in the '60s, there is no safer and more rewarding strategy than the routine acquiring and use of new skills.

"Live and learn" is a redundancy. Live is iearn.