Billed as a Whole Earth Catalog for the new millennium, Worldchanging is a megalithic merger of sharp design and progressive ideology. Endlessly hyped around the blogosphere, this compendium of green technologies and ideas has been called "the seminal resource guide for anyone concerned about today and the future," and environmental author Elizabeth Kolbert says that "it may change your life." Having pored over Worldchanging's 600 pages of "innovative solutions for tackling the world's biggest problems," I regret to report that I feel about the same as I did before reading it.
Worldchanging is comprised of hundreds of appetizer-sized chapters and essays about progressive solutions to pressing problems. The topics should be familiar to most Portlanders: Greenwashed Food, Reinventing the Refugee Camp, Reshaping the Burbs, Amplifying Your Voice, Effective Philanthropy, and Sustainable Ranching. If it's a buzzword, Worldchanging has a subchapter on it.
(Not surprisingly, it's high as a hippie on Portland, with glowing praises for everything from Free Geek's computer recycling programs to our urban growth boundary to the Rebuilding Center.)
So why isn't Worldchanging more satisfying? For starters, it's written with all the passion of a college textbook. If a book is packed with 600 pages of supposedly life-changing ideas and information, one would hope that it would be written with more zest than a nonprofit mission statement.
Also, much fanfare has been made about Stefan Sagmeister's book design. Sagmeister is possibly the hottest designer in the country right now, but aside from the gorgeous slipcase, Worldchanging is pretty ho hum visually. It's packed with photos of labor camps and solar panels, but otherwise it's fairly unremarkable. Also, a cinderblock-heavy book is a real pain in the ass to casually read, which seems like a pretty rudimentary design problem to this reader.
But most of all, Worldchanging feels like little more than a lifestyle-as-book. It's pretty, it's informative, it's progressive, but most of all, it would look fabulous on your refurbished coffee table next to the circuit board-lamp that you made after receiving the latest copy of ReadyMade. It's an expensive, overstuffed primer on pressing issues, but thanks to its pre-release hypefest and big name buzz (Al Gore contributed a throw-away foreword), Worldchanging feels like the literary equivalent of shopping at Urban Outfitters: pretty, hip, and ultimately unsatisfying. CHAS BOWIE