1976 revolutionary book – ‘The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’
He was a one-man rebellion against modernism
The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It
Complete book now online here. Large PDF.
In 1976 The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency was published, a guide for real and dreaming downshifters. Published shortly after E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered (1973) and, more mundanely, The Good Life’s first showing on British television (1975), the sales of the new book exceeded all expectations. (Wiki)
Excerpt from Seymour’s obituary in 2004
By Herbert Girardet
In the late 1950s, taking his wife Sally, a potter whom he had married in 1954, and their three young daughters, John moved to five acres of land near Woodbridge, in Suffolk. In BBC radio programmes, and in such books as The Fat Of The Land, he celebrated the concept of self-sufficiency, which he saw as an antidote to the emerging dependence culture that robbed people of dignity and self-respect. He wanted people to declare their independence from industrial society, emphasising that there was more to life than a 9-5 job.
None the less, although John was not fond of urban life, some of his best friends, among them the poet William Empson, were city-dwellers, and he was thus at the heart of many a London party, and loved a lavish Chinese meal in Gerrard Street.
His greatest success was The Complete Book Of Self-Sufficiency, which came at a time when doubts first set in about a way of life entirely dependant on fossil fuels – the 1973 oil crisis and the miner’s strike. The title helped launch a new publishing phenomenon, Dorling Kindersley. The highly illustrated work sold more than a million copies in some 20 languages. Its appeal was to those who wanted to learn about such skills as growing their own vegetables and making their own cheese.
John and his family had, by now, moved to Pembrokeshire, west Wales, and readers streamed to his farm near Newport. All were given a meal and a bed, sometimes in the hay barn. The royalties from the book were spent as quickly as they accrued – on hospitality, on rebuilding the barn after it was burned down by careless guests, and on repairing farm equipment wrecked by clumsy visitors. Yet in the middle of this turmoil, John kept on writing, producing on average two books a year on aspects of rural living.
In the 1980s, John and I made a BBC series, Far From Paradise. This took us to many parts of the world – the ancient city of Ur and the salty wastes of Mesopotamia, the last remaining villages in Europe where people still farmed without tractors, the acid-rain damaged forests of Germany, the eroding farmlands of Kansas and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The series was a first attempt to take stock of the ever- increasing impact of an industrialising, urbanising humanity on its host planet.