A youngish couple, disenchanted with America’s work-and-spend treadmill, leave New York City with their newborn for an unlikely place: a subtropical town where the Andes meets the Amazon, in Bolivia. They’re lured by the potential of the “Sweet Life”—or suma quamaña—a Bolivian philosophy positing that happiness is only achieved in deep human community and in balance with nature.
Initially, the family discovers a blossoming Transition Town—with a miniscule carbon footprint, organic farms, community work parties, and a lifestyle reflected in unconventionally high indicators for longevity and happiness. They build an adobe eco-house beside a prolific orchard and discover time-richness as they deepen into a creative community of Bolivians and foreigners, while fostering a bilingual and bio-centric childhood for their toddler.
But before long, insects ravish their organic garden and carbon-neutral Transition initiatives sputter. Meanwhile, U.S.-inspired capitalism—mines, malls, Big-Ag—ramps up, weakening Bolivia’s pioneering Law of Mother Earth.
Joining the battle is a motley crew of permaculturists, bio-constructors, artists, bread-makers, beer brewers, creative business people and public officials who, against all odds, struggle to forge a Global South model of self-sufficiency and sustainable happiness. Can one family overcome the obstacles—both inner and outer—to "living well"? Can a town, in the face of fast corporate globalization, find Slow economy and community? Can the Bolivian nation, in the end, find a workable “sweet” alternative to inspire an endangered planet?
Born and raised on Long Island, William Powers has worked for over a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Native North America, and Washington, DC. He is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and is on the adjunct faculty of New York University. A third generation New Yorker, Powers has also spent two decades exploring the American culture-of-speed and its alternatives in some fifty countries around the world. He has covered the subject in his four books and written about it in the Washington Post and the Atlantic. An expert on sustainable development, he is a freelance writer and speaker. More information on his work can be found at www.williampowersbooks.com.
Praise for William Powers’ Writing
“His account of this experience offers an enlightening and eloquent look at the challenges of living off the grid.” – The Washington Post
“He is right: the earth talks to us, shows us, nurtures us, just as Powers prose would do.” – Chicago Sun-Times
“The beauty of the book lies in Powers’ generous intimacy…Twelve by Twelve makes a huge bow to Thoreau, but it is far more spiritual… We watch Powers rethink his entire approach; we watch him relax into himself, become himself, carve himself out of a dream that was not his own.” – LA Times
“A penetrating account of what it’s like to move to the margins in our particular time and place. It will make you think, hard.”
— Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy and founder of 350.org
“There is something that all of us sense: that we could live better, kinder lives. But Bill Powers has the courage to try to change and then — ever so artfully, without the slightest wag of a finger — to show us how.”
—Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man
“Bill Powers has done it again — taken us on an honest, touching journey into living lightly and intelligently in a distracted world. And he’s such a good writer that we don’t even know we are being educated, challenged, and changed.”
—Vicki Robin, author of Your Money or Your Life
“The re-enchantment of urban life — so compromised by the accelerated techno-industrial culture — takes work, and William Powers saves us a lot of time on the learning curve. Hats off, especially to his courage.”
—Douglas Tompkins, founder of of The North Face clothing company