Whole Earth Review


| May / June 2004

Our family tree here at Utne includes a long line of distinguished dissenting publications going all the way back to Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense and the abolitionist newspapers that published Frederick Douglass. Among our more recent ancestors are I.F. Stone's Weekly, the underground papers of the '60s, Mad magazine, and -- because we reprint a lot -- Reader's Digest. But the publication that exerted perhaps the strongest influence on our birth and early upbringing was Whole Earth Review, which ceased publication late last year.

Founder Eric Utne kept a complete run of the magazine within arm's reach as he launched Utne Reader, frequently grabbing a copy for inspiration and repeatedly quoting editor Stewart Brand. Whole Earth, which emerged from the best-selling Whole Earth Catalog in 1974 but was titled CoEvolution Quarterly until 1985, was a bible of sorts for alternative thinkers of many stripes. It was a place in print where Luddites and computer zealots, ecological radicals and mossback conservatives, renewable energy technicians and spiritual searchers could mingle and exchange ideas. Whole Earth's breathtaking breadth can be seen in the contrast between Utne and another publication that it spawned more directly, Wired. (Whole Earth's publisher-editor from 1984 to 1990, Kevin Kelly, helped launch the high-tech mag in 1993.)

Appropriately enough for a magazine born from a catalog, each issue of Whole Earth was chock full of recommendations for tools, books, organizations, Web sites, gear, ideas, and anything else that might be useful or interesting to someone somewhere. Yet it also published some of the most outlandishly visionary articles ever to see print. In the midst of the Cold War flare-up of the early '80s, Whole Earth offered an earnest manifesto calling on American and Soviet leaders to merge their peoples into one nation. It even offered suggestions for what the new nation's flag might look like. Whole Earth was also famed for hurling itself headlong into topics that few other magazines thought to cover. A case in point is the 1985 special issue on Islam, published at a time when few Americans gave the religion any thought except as a bad influence on faraway countries.

The world is a little poorer in fresh ideas, bold initiatives, crazy schemes, and eminently practical suggestions with the loss of Whole Earth.

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