Last August, I reviewed The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading. In a similar vein, but with some differences, is another volume in the "Idiot's" Series, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living. Author Jerome Belanger, a farmer who's written six books on country living, has written a straightforward manual for those who'd like to become more self-reliant, and less dependent on the government and big business to supply their needs, even as those entities extend their reach into more and more corners of our lives.
On the surface, this may sound a lot like the Urban Homesteading book, but they're different enough to complement each other with little overlap or redundancy. Where Urban Homesteading focused on the nuts and bolts of running what amounts to a small farm in an urban environment, Belanger takes a broader view. He does discuss homesteading and raising your own food - of both the animal and vegetable variety - but he also covers such topics as reducing waste at home, energy conservation, and low-cost "green" housing. His discussions are packed with practical tips and easy-to-follow instructions on everything from making compost to milking a goat.
Belanger also goes beyond simple DIY, how-to stuff, though, by placing his concrete advice within a larger philosophical framework. Literal self-sufficiency in the 21st century, he explains, is virtually impossible on an individual level. Even the most ardent homesteader, or even a hermit, will own and use tools, clothing, and other articles that were manufactured by somebody else.
Self-sufficiency, then, for Belanger, is not about withdrawing from society; it's about refashioning society, or the individual's place in society, one person at a time. That attitude makes this book a good fit in the current trend toward green living, but Belanger is no bandwagon jumper. He founded and edited Countryside magazine for 30 years, and has been practicing a simple, self-sufficient lifestyle for decades.
As between The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, and the Guide to Self-Sufficient Living, there is of course no reason that you necessarily have to pick one the other.
My wife is trying to create a more self-sufficient household, and she
loves and uses both volumes.
But if you only want one, or at least one to start with, which one to get depends on your interests, or those of the person you're buying for. I'd recommend the Urban Homesteading guide for those who are primarily interested in raising their own food, particularly in an urban environment or at least on something other than a full-blown, traditional farm. If your interests include, but extend beyond, simply growing your own food, to living a simpler or more ecologically responsible life in general, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Self-Sufficient Living is the book to get.