The Whole Earth Catalog



I was first turned on to the Whole Earth Catalog by my friend and old boss, John Wackman. He described the catalog as the sort of "Sears Catalog of cool and interesting things" as well as "the first blog." He couldn't have been more right.  According to Wikipedia, "The Whole Earth Catalog was an American counterculture catalog published by Stewart Brand between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998. Although the WECs listed all sorts of products for sale (clothing, books, tools, machines, seeds -- anything for a self-sustainable ""hippie" lifestyle) the Whole Earth Catalogs themselves did not sell any of the products. Instead the vendors and their prices were listed right alongside with the items. This led to a need for the Catalogs to be frequently updated. Apple Inc. founder and entrepreneur Steve Jobs has described the Catalog as the conceptual forerunner of the World Wide Web."

The catalog featured brief, blog-like entries on weird stuff that you would now find in selective, curated stores and websites around the city. These entries were written by the likes of: The Black Panthers, Walter / Wendy Carlos, William S. Burroughs, Peter Coyote, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Buckminster Fuller, Ram Daas, Wavy Gravy, Ken Kessey, Paul Krassener, Dalai Lama, Timothy Leary, Alice Waters, The Yippies, and so many more.

Some of the more notable article titles included:

The Global Mushroom Trade
The Double Bubble Wheel Engine
Left Handed Bears and Androgynous Cassowaries
Poets on the Bum
The Ultimate Swiss Omni Knife
Son of Man Temple
What are People For?
Computational Chemistry
A Witch's Manifesto
Do It Yourself Eclipse Prediction
Obeying Chogyam Trungpa
Outside the Yuppie Zoo
The Living Water Garden
God is a Verb
Tiptoeing Out of Real Estate
Dr. Seuss: Architect of Social Change
Death Does Not Exist
Am I Psychic Yet?
The Beauty of Disconnection
Organizing Programs as Mind Extension Tools
Juggling and Performing Mathematics
Big Foot No Longer Fair Game
A Hard Look at Soft Woods
King Kong Died For Our Sins
Model Rockets

From the opening page of the 1969 Catalog:


The WHOLE EARTH CATALOG functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting. An item is listed in the CATALOG if it is deemed:

       1. Useful as a tool,
       2. Relevant to independent education,
       3. High quality or low cost,
       4. Not already common knowledge,
       5. Easily available by mail.

    CATALOG listings are continually revised according to the experience and suggestions of CATALOG users and staff.   


We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory—as via government, big business, formal education, church—has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.


Categories: Reading List, Hippies, Books