Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review--The Man Who Quit Money

In the modern age, where success is often measured by one’s bank account and financial portfolio, the story of a man who walked away from that version of the American Dream might not resonate fully.... unless that story revolves around Daniel Suelo, whose transition from an average, comfortable existence to a life freed from the restraints of financial burdens reads like a hero’s quest, a quest for redemption, for self-discovery, and ultimately for his own soul. 
Daniel Suelo’s life is eloquently documented in the recent book, The Man Who Quit Money, by Mark Sundeen, whose own fascination with Suelo has spanned 20 years. Daniel resurfaced in Sundeen’s mind shortly after the financial collapse of 2008, when money, and the increasing struggle to manage without it, were on everyone’s minds. In no way a social outcast, Suelo was a presence on the internet, with his own blog, maintained from regular visits to libraries and friends’ homes, and Sundeen found himself captivated once more by this man who had bucked the system in a big way, and  who had come out the other side with a life, in Suelo’s terms, of “abundance”.
Determined to explore this alternative version of abundance, which by any modern measure is the antithesis of the definition of “having plenty”, the author convinced Suelo that the story of his life had resonance in this world of over-consumption and stress. Suelo allowed Sundeen into his world for several months, agreeing to the book project in a manner reflective of his all-or-nothing approach to life...  not a thing would be held back, all the chapters of his life would be wide open, including the painful ones. 
Struggling with faith in a deeply religious family, and reluctantly coming to terms with being gay, Suelo fought the conventional world, always feeling unfulfilled and incomplete, until one day he reached the breaking point, and drove his car off a cliff on the road to Mt. Evans. Having searched throughout the world for his spiritual “center” and failing in his attempt to end his life, Suelo made the very conscious choice to end his dependence on money, meticulously paying off all debts, until, in the ultimate terminal act, he left his final thirty dollars in a phone booth and headed out into the deserts of Moab, Utah.
Like Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, which details Chris McCandless’s own journey of enlightenment, The Man Who Quit Money deftly integrates the before-and-after aspects of Daniel Suelo’s life, clarifying a trajectory that seems inevitable. Living each moment consciously, guided by self-imposed rules of conduct--refusing charity, owning nothing but the clothes on his back and items found while dumpster-diving--Suelo thrives on what the rest of humanity discards. The basic process of living becomes deliberate and meaningful, something many modern people have lost. 
Whether admiring of or critical of Suelo’s chosen lifestyle, one cannot help but be fascinated by the conscious nature of his decision to live without money. The Man Who Quit Money is not just about a life without cash to purchase creature comforts, rather it is a respectful homage to a culture that used to be the norm. Like Chris McCandless before him, Daniel Suelo has managed to live life close to the bone, but unlike the unlucky youth documented in Krakauer’s book, Daniel Suelo continues the experiment, with no signs of giving up. Taking even a page from his well-worn book might just save us all from ourselves in this rat race we call life.


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