Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times by Stephen J. Lyons

An admiring profile of the successful, low-impact communities in a little-known region of the Midwest.


Stephen J. Lyons (A View from the Inland Northwest) muses on a remarkable region of the U.S. in Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times. “The Driftless” spans a small area of southwest Wisconsin, northwest Illinois, northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota. A distinctly unglaciated history defines certain geographic parts, and a network of streams provides variant topography. In these pages, Lyons explores that landscape and the cultural experimentation born there.

The remote hills and valleys of the Driftless are uncharacteristic of the Midwest, and these steeper slopes have sheltered alternative lifestyles for decades, from the back-to-the-landers who arrived in the 1970s to naturalists, traditional and organic farmers, artists, musicians and other singular souls living there today. Over several years, Lyons visits various Driftless communities, chatting with their leaders as well as others encountered by chance. He surveys farming and dairy cooperatives, families living off the grid, small business owners, food co-ops, a Zen monastery and successful planned communities. For example, Lyons outlines the history of Seed Savers Exchange, located near Decorah, Iowa, which curates a collection of more than 20,000 seed varietals from around the world in the public domain. The region attracts those interested in getting back to basics, hoping to build communities.

Going Driftless comprises a series of sketches of people, places and organizations, and steers clear of judgment or conclusion in favor of quiet contemplation. Lyons gently suggests near the book’s end that these unobtrusive lifestyles have something to offer in unstable times.

This review originally ran in the May 12, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 apples.

One Response

  1. […] unfair stereotypes.* In these ways, it reminded me a little of the Driftless region I read about in this book, which is a less artful piece of literature than McPhee’s, but a similarly fascinating […]

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