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Originally published Saturday, September 18, 2010 at 7:10 PM

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Book review

'Off the Grid': The lonely freedom of living an unplugged life

A review of "Off the Grid," by British journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen. The author seeks out Americans who have retreated to an off-the-grid life, whether by choice, conviction or economic necessity.

The Washington Post

'Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America'

by Nick Rosen

Penguin, 292 pp., $15

Tired of cutting a check each month to the water and power companies? Journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen knows the feeling. A part-time off-gridder in Britain, Rosen toured the United States during the recent recession, looking at how and why people chose to live disconnected.

Some were middle- and upper-class folks who retreated to off-grid vacation homes while others were forced into austere lifestyles after falling into foreclosure. These were liberals and libertarians, hard-core environmentalists and Sept. 11 survivalists, atheists and the religiously devout, medicinal-marijuana growers and former urban professionals looking to escape the rat race. And their experiences were just as varied. It's an existence, Rosen shows, that can just as easily be lawless and lonely as it can be freeing and community-focused.

"Like many millions of Americans," he writes, off-gridders "are losing faith in the ability of the state to fulfill its basic functions — to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to regulate the markets."

And yet, despite Rosen's fascination with the lifestyle, his book functions more as a documentary than a soapbox, bringing readers of all stripes into a quirky subculture in which people cut themselves off from more than their utility companies. For all its rejection of traditional American society, this self-reliant entrepreneurial existence is genuinely American.

Lisa Bonos can be reached at bonosl@washpost.com.

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