Good Reads: Better Off by Eric Brende

Eric Brende and his brand-new wife decided to do something radical: they gave up their car, electric stove, refrigerator, running water and everything else motorized or electric and moved into a very primitive community as an 18-month experiment to see how technology affected their lives, negatively or positively.

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology chronicles the Brendes experiences, hardships and victories in living a life without modern technology. You’ll groan along with them as they adjust to no air-conditioning in the blistering heat of summer harvest. You’ll cheer for them as they succeed in gardening, canning and living off their land.

Ultimately, this book will likely make you stop and consider your own use of technology and how it is impacting your life. The author’s conclusion is not that all technology is wrong, but that excessive technology may be robbing us of deep relationships, time and energy, invigorating work and the rich joys of a simple life. This book challenged me to think “outside the grid” and look for ways to make more things from scratch while not expending a lot of extra time and energy to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Better Off and would highly recommend it for anyone interested in simple living. You should be able to find it at your local library.

Discovered any Good Reads recently? Tell me about them in the comments and I’ll consider adding them to my long and ever-growing book list!

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  1. Sarah says

    If you liked that one, also try, “See You in a Hundred Years,” where a NYC couple with a small child do a similar rural experience for one year on a farm in Virginia. Their self-imposed rule: if it didn’t exist at the turn of the (last) century, it doesn’t exist for us.

  2. says

    I was just thinking of this yesterday. My mom said “I was surprised you got married and had 4 kids.” She didn’t say that in a bad way. All through high school all I wanted to do was buy a cabin and live alone in the mountains with no electricity or anything.

    She just thought it was funny that I was a housewife with kids in the sorta suburbs now! :-)

  3. carla says

    Just read the book and found it thought- provoking. Loved the birthing section. I guess my only “negative” comment would be about the theology in it, but then again, it is under the label of Christianity.


    • Rachel Haugaard says

      @carla, Are you saying you disagree with their theology, or you’re just opposed to the fact that there is ANY theology in it? Sorry, I was just a little confused as to what you meant by that…

      • carla says

        @Rachel Haugaard,
        What I meant was that I am so used to reading only Christian books, that it seemed different (for me) to be reading a book that is not Christian based. I am not opposed to there being theology in it. But with that said, I was not reading it as a theology book, but one to learn about the lessons they learned in the lifestyle they chose for the period of time they did.

  4. Jenny says

    I read “See You in a Hundred Years” and found it very thought provoking. It also made me realize how much our lives have changed and gave me some sympathy ofr the trouble my 88 year old mom has with electronics! Wonder what it will be that is incomprehensible to us when we are older?

  5. says

    Plugging into electronics totally makes you unplug from the rest of the world – even your kids and spouse. I realized I was retreating into my iPod, listening to podcasts and audiobooks too much.

    My original reason was to tune out the bickering. But then realized I was missing out on hearing their happy chatter too. I cut back and we’ve also cut our cable. Now instead of vegging in front of the TV my husband and I spend our evenings on the hammock, talking, looking at stars and laughing together.

    It’s truly priceless!

    • Aimee says

      @Ella, I found your comment stopped me in my tracks. Tuning out the bickering also tunes out the happy chatter. Great thing to remember as a mom!

      • says

        @Aimee, Definitely! I am enjoying my kids so much more and delight in being their mommy – which means taking the good with the bad and focusing on the good :)

    • Becca says

      I actually love to watch TV in the evenings after the kids go to bed. I don’t watch network television but only stuff from Netflix that I consciously choose. As a computer geek, I can’t really complain about people being “plugged in” — but I do try to choose carefully how I spend my precious free time. E.g. I try not to just compulsively “surf” online because I find that sucks the time away — kind of like eating potato chips. Pretty soon the whole bowl is gone, but you’re not truly satisfied.

      I also like to watch movies/shows with my husband. We have the same sense of humor and can also laugh together at whatever we’re watching. We also talk while we’re watching — so I haven’t really found that “vegging” is incompatible with spouse-time!

  6. Becky in KY says

    I love the book God’s Greatest Passion: Every Christian, Everywhere, Sharing Jesus. The author, H.L. Hussmann, does a great job explaining why sharing our Christian faith is important, telling very motivating stories, and providing practical ideas for reaching people with the gospel. I think it’s a must-read for any Christian who shares their faith or who wants to but either is scared or isn’t sure how. It’s available on Amazon.

  7. says

    This is exactly the kind of stuff that my family is trying to do. We are learning to live off of the land, and working on replacing electric items with hand cranked and solar appliances. We are tired of having to depend on everybody else to supply our most basic of needs. I’d be interested in reading this book. Thanks for the recommendation, Crystal! If you guys haven’t read “Henry and The Great Society” you really should!! It’s along these lines. I found a free pdf of the entire book online:

  8. Jeannine says

    Here is one similiar book I enjoyed, “How to Live without a Salary.” I must warn though as the author is NOT A CHRISTIAN. He uses foul language at times throughout the book, but I found the book to be thought provoking and challenging as well as hopeful as to how one could survive without a salary.

  9. Kris says

    Thanks for the recommendation!! If you can get a hold of the pbs special 1900′s house I highly recommend it. A modern family moves into a house that has been made to be just like an early 1900′s home with no electricity. I was shocked with how hard life was for 1900′s folk. It was a really interesting look at how our ancestors lived without electricity. I think they missed the mark though a little on how people entertained themselves. I’m reading a book on Gutenburg called Stepping Heavenward by Mrs. E. Prentiss thas written in the 1800′s that I think touches on that more. She talks about her characters reading together as a family, etc.

    • Becca says

      I especially liked “Frontier House” which is a similar PBS series that follows three modern-day families living in Montana in conditions close to the 1880s.

      I found “Better Off” an interesting read, but I was disappointed not to read more of the author’s wife’s viewpoint. I think the book would have been so much more interesting if they had co-written it about both of their experiences, since the society they were living in was divided so strongly along gender lines.

    • Heidi says

      I second Kris’ recommendation of “Stepping Heavenward”. One of my favorite books. I’d also recommend:
      “God Knows My Size” by Harvey Yoder (True Story about Sylvia Tarniceriu & the persecution of Christians in Romania)
      “God Knows My Path” (Sequel to above)
      “The Escape” by A. Van der Jagt (Historical Fiction about the Huguenots)
      “The Weed with an Ill Name” (From Grace & Truth Books–A great read-a-loud for your children)
      Anyone who is a Christian and loves to read will love these books!

  10. Liz says

    I love that book! I would highly recommend it as well. I found it very inspiring and thought provoking. It made us look at our lifestyle and look for ways to live more simply self-sufficient.

  11. says

    I am partway through The Backyard Homestead. It teaches you how to produce a lot of food on just 1/4 of an acre. It’s quite inspiring! While we won’t be getting chickens and goats due to where we live, it’s definitely made me re-think my gardening plan to produce more for us. We are seeking out good deals on fruit trees and thinking about planting some edible flowers in our landscaping that can be used on salads and such. So far, the book is a good one. :)

    Last month I read More with Less and it’s a good one for homemade recipes.

    • Michelle M says

      @Jaycie Tallon,
      Sounds like a good book. I’m not interested in raising livestock either but would like to have a space effective plan for a garden like you mentioned.

  12. Amanda Greubel says

    I highly recommend the book “In Praise of Slowness:Challenging the Cult of Speed” by Carl Honore. Live a simpler life at a slower pace by making little changes in our lives (we can’t all move to a cabin in the mountains!).

  13. lynn says

    My Silent Generation parents, who both grew up in rural Kentucky *before* “rural electrification” are often amused by books like these, of naive city-folk discovering life without electric conveniences, LOL. You don’t have to go Amish, or even move to the countryside, to experience a sustainable, non-electric lifestyle. Buy a house built pre-1950 and get an electrician and a plumber to come in and restore it to its pre-grid state. Before the grid, almost everyone lived without electricity and indoor plumbing. Sewing? it’s called a “treadle machine”. Coffee? Get a 1930s grinder with the little drawer and use the old fashioned aluminum coffee pot with the little basket to heat the water on your gas or wood stove. Bathing? Get a tub or basin, set it out on the porch, fill with hot water from the stove. Toilet? It’s called an “outhouse”. Yes, you will need lime (not the kind of lime you eat). Drinking water? It’s called a well. Winters were cold. You needed a special pan with a lid and handle to put hot coals in, then stick it under the bedcovers to get the bed warm enough before you got in. Summers – hot. You needed hand fans, plus homes were built with deep, long windows you could open to create a breeze through, and high ceilings, plus the covered front porch is an African folk-architectural design that provides natural “air conditioning”, which is why most homes in the South had them before the grid brought us “electrification.”

    Most of these things could be done without living in the country. If you’re in the city though, you won’t be able to get off the city water grid, you’re pretty much stuck with that. Also, it’s hard to heat your home with a woodstove if you haven’t any nearby woodlot. So, you could go non-electric in the city, but you’d still be on the grid for water, plumbing and heating (either natural gas or coal-powered electric). As hot as this summer has been, I would be scared to go without air conditioning right now, but in milder summers it is totally doable.

  14. lynn says

    Pre-grid entertainment: My grandparents went to events in the community. There were church socials, spelling bees and high school football, baseball and basketball games. My mom says she envied her mom’s generation, who had something called “moonlight fetes”, which were some sort of parties? I’m not sure what they were, but I think they were popular in the 1920s, since mom was born in the late 30s. In the summers guys went skinny dipping in local watering holes. I suppose girls had their own watering holes elsewhere, too. My grandfather met my grandmother at a debate team tournament at their local high school. My grandmother was on the debate team, and said something very sharp or witty to a member of the opposing team, which got my grandfather’s attention, and he asked his friends to introduce him to her. Their first date was at a tractor and farm equipment show (so I guess farm equipment shows and agricultural expositions were another form of entertainment). Women also had sewing and quilting bees.

  15. Pam says

    I am about half-way through Healthy at 100 by John Robbins. It is excellent, and has inspired and motivated me to healthy living like nothing else before. It is well-researched, and well-written. I highly recommend it to everyone, at all ages.

  16. Erin says

    The most thought-provoking and truly inspiring book I’ve read lately was Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. It is a true story about two men from different races and backgrounds and how they became friends. I would highly recommend it.

  17. Del says

    I just finished the book “Radical” by David Platt last night. It is an excellent, thought-provoking book about what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I know many of the men and women who read/comment on this blog are trying to be frugal and live as others don’t, etc. I think this book is a great accompaniment to that lifestyle, but in a way that honors God and brings the millions of unreached people to a saving knowledge of Him. Below is a video of David as he explains his book.

  18. Olathe Mom says


    One Dave Ramsey book recommendation that I enjoyed was “Scratch Beginnings.” It chronicles the life of a young man who hosts his own social experiment– he moves to a new town and attempts to “start over” with only a bag of personal belongings and five dollars. It is interesting to follow his progress as he lives for a stint in a homeless shelter and then “claws” his way up to a job with a moving company, etc. It is eye-opening to read about the practices of day-labor companies, etc., and yet inspires a belief that America really is the “land of opportunity” for those with conviction, passion, and a strong work-ethic. He is a single man with no wife or family to consider, but makes some lovely choices near the end of the book to come to the aid of his mother, who is gravely ill.

    • brookeb says

      @Olathe Mom, It’s a good book to inspire discussion, as well. You mention how he’s a single man, but also young, able-bodied, and White, which all can make a difference from time to time when you’re trying your best to rise up from nothing. There’s also the fact that he saw this as a temporary experiment, from which there was a book deal coming. Sometimes it’s a lot easier for people to sustain great efforts when they know they’re temporary. This isn’t to say I don’t think it’s a great perspective, but it does give us a lot to consider about what dynamics might affect others’ similar experiences.

  19. says

    I can’t wait to read this book! Thanks for posting a review, Crystal. My recommendation is actually for a magazine. I, myself, am not brave enough to actually let go and leave-it-all-behind but I am completely fascinated by reading the stories of others have done it and a few years ago I discovered a wonderful magazine called “Countryside.” It is basically a magazine written by homesteaders (or homesteader-wanna-be’s). I have found it to be very informative and very entertaining. It really makes me long for a more simple lifestyle. A one year subscription costs $18.00 and it is published every other month. This is one magazine that I can sit and read from cover to cover!

  20. says

    I’ve been going through the Bible study LORD, Where Are You When Bad Things Happen? by Kay Arthur and learning so much.

    It focuses on the book of Habakkuk and has really helped me understand God’s sovereignty and grace in a whole new way.

    I’m not sure how long I would last in the Brende house:)

  21. says

    The Birth Order Book is a book that has impacted my life. Dr. Kevin Leman explains the only, oldest, middle, and youngest. He talks about different sized families, and he also shares how you can’t cookie cut a birth order. After reading it, it helped me as a teacher. Since you have three kiddos, you would probably LOVE it.

  22. says

    I second More With Less – it is, I believe, a Mennonite Cookbook and is so down to earth. Each section has an introduction and there’s lots of wisdom throughout.
    The recipes are simple, hearty and yummy. Nothing gourmet about them.

    My grandma, who is 85 yrs old and has been a missionary in Nigeria, West Africa, for all of her married life (60 years) uses More With Less all the time. It was the only cookbook I requested when I got married and I was delighted to have been given a copy.
    I am heading to Nigeria in November for 5 weeks and have secret desires of swapping my copy with my grandma’s old, weathered, note filled copy :)

  23. Whitney says

    I recently read “Radical” by David Platt. The cover says,”Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.” I was very convicted by the book. I hope I am forever changed by it.

  24. jan says

    In Defense of Food- An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan- pretty much changed my life. I can’t eat anything pre-packaged any more.

  25. says

    I just finished Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard. Basically kid straight out of college leaves his “life ” behind with 25 bucks, a tarp and the clothes on his back to see if he can make it from the bottom up as an experiment. He originally wrote it as sort of a response to Nickel and Dimed (another similar book), but found out some interesting things along the way. Really cool book.

    Also, A Voice In The Wind by Francine Rivers is an EXCELLENT read (and so is the book that comes after that). EXCELLENT. :)

    • says

      I just discovered Scratch Beginnings today when someone here recommended it. Sounds exactly like my kind of book; can’t wait to read it!

  26. Rita says

    I just finished reading this book. The author is self-centered and has disdain for any religion other than his own. I’ve read better books on self sufficiency and managing technology in your life.

    I say pass on this book as there are far too many really good books to waste time with this one, sorry.