These “unsettlers” aren’t unsettling at all, but how do they do it without TIF bonds?


Who’s doing it here?


A few hour before I met the author Mark Sundeen, he went for a five mile walk alone through downtown St. Louis.

Of course, I didn’t find out about this until I interviewed him later, weeks after I’d first sat down to watch him give a presentation at one of my city’s independent bookstores. When I’d first heard the title of Sundeen’s book — The Unsettlers — I thought I was in for a fun nonfiction read about doomsday preppers or backwoods survivalists. But as Sundeen flipped through Powerpoint slides, I realized I had it wrong, and I was in for something better.

As the author of the bestselling biography The Man Who Quit Money, Sundeen initially thought his next project would be about Americans who decided to remove themselves from other basic institutions of our society—the Wall Street bank, the grocery store filled with aisles of industrial-farmed and processed food, the corner gas station and the streets we drive to get there. But along the way, he’d become more interested in what the “Unsettlers” lived for, rather than what they resisted against.

“I thought I’d be talking about people who dropped out,” he said. “But I ended up writing a book about people that plugged in, who chose a different, more connected and joyful way of living.”

To my eye, the people in Sundeen’s book are called Unsettlers because their way of living is intentionally disturbing to the normal order: they’re not just packing up and heading for the woods, but working to actually remake American culture, from squarely within their own communities. The people Sundeen profiles are incredibly diverse in their tactics and their settings, ranging from homesteaders in Northern Missouri to urban farmers in downtown Detroit.

And, Kirkus Reviews on Sundeen’s book.

… These unsettlers’ early backgrounds vary from privileged to poor to hippie, but Sundeen shows how all take “true joy in work,” seek constructive ways of living in society, and reap considerable rewards in their simple lives of voluntary poverty. The author is especially good at showing the difficulty of raising children in a connected society while wondering, as one iconoclast says here, “how do we fight the Man if we continue to buy his cheeseburgers?” He places these often inspiring, sometimes self-righteous families firmly in the American utopian tradition and traces the pervasive influences of authors from Tolstoy to Helen and Scott Nearing to Wendell Berry.