Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities

CTsample3Neither Al Gore nor the US Government invented the internet. The team behind the Whole Earth Catalog, published between 1968 and 1998 are the true inventors of our electro-global village. The Whole Earth Catalog was a thick book of crowd sourced reviews that, in terms of its content, felt a lot like a print version of what we used to call the World Wide Web.

Catalog editors included NoCal luminaries Stuart Brand, Kevin Kelly and Lloyd Kahn among many others. In addition to inventing the interwebs, they also managed to define the eclectic topics contained within the urban homesteading movement. A confession here: when it came time to write our two books, Kelly and I leafed through our old copy of the Whole Earth Catalog to make sure that we didn’t leave any topic out.

Kevin Kelly kept the Whole Earth Catalog ethos alive through his Cool Tools review website. That website has morphed back into print in the form of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. This new book is just as addictive as the Whole Earth Catalog.

The gadgets, books, websites and ideas that qualify as Cool Tools are carefully chosen, useful and often inexpensive or free. Some things I picked up from thumbing through this book for just a week:

With both Cool Tools and the Whole Earth Catalog, there’s also a lot of stuff that fits into the fantasy category: fun to read about but I’ll probably never do. I’d include igloo making, boat living and camouflage here. But you never know . . .

And, thanks to Cool Tools editors Elon Shoenholz and Mark Frauenfelder, you’ll find a few Root Simple reviews tucked into Cool Tool’s 463 pages. And, yes, one of the first items mentioned in Cool Tools is a book on decuttering, perhaps as a caution to use Cool Tools as a guide to what is useful, not an invitation to collect stuff.

How many of you spent the 90s (or an earlier decade!) like I did, thumbing through an old copy of The Whole Earth Catalog?

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  1. I got “The Last Whole Earth Catalog” as a birthday gift when I first went away to college at seventeen, back in the early 70’s; though battered and worn it is still on my reference bookshelf, if nothing else as a reminder of that era of hope. Though truly, the ethos of being able to find information and DIY has been a lifelong companion of mine, so it was one of my guideposts in my formative teenage years

  2. Many, many copies of the WEC. The Cool Tools book isn’t quite as exhilarating as the WEC was, because there’s so much information out there that wasn’t in the 90s, but… it’s still great.

    And I really miss the Whole Earth Review…

  3. For me, it was the Goodfellow Catalog of Wonderful Things, which was like the ultimate hippy craft market put into a book, or Etsy decades before anyone thought of Etsy. I came across an old copy in 1989 when I was all of seventeen. It opened a whole bunch of doors into a world that I hadn’t even known existed, and one I still reach for today.

  4. My concern with articles and books like this is that they encourage us to keep consuming more stuff that we really don’t need and that further depletes our resources. I think the path to living more simply is to reduce our consumption as much as possible.

  5. loved the catolog for the stories written in the margin. my mom and dad got whole earth for years.

  6. I love this book! Such fun to read! My husband and I have bought several books we found in this book. Thankfully used books are readily available!

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