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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Before reading this book, I thought it would be a nice outlet for my anger about the current political situation.   I had never read any books by Bill McKibben, the author of Radio Free Vermont.  I downloaded it for free from Net Galley and read it now because one of the groups that I participate in on Goodreads selected it as the Book of the Month for January.


Although I really hadn't taken the premise of Vermont's secession from the U.S. seriously before reading this book, let me say that the advocates for Vermont secession in this novel were very persuasive.  McKibben tells us that it wasn't his intent to encourage secession of Vermont or any other state.   His purpose is to argue for sustainability and small scale economic activities.  Both of these are excellent goals.

Yet in the process of making his case, he brings up the existence of some really small countries with lower populations than Vermont.  San Marino  provides  an example of a small republic with the oldest constitution in the world which relies on another country, Italy, for its defense.   This hasn't always been the best solution. During WWII San Marino's constitution was suspended, and it became a fascist dictatorship.   A better approach might be to build a web of alliances with larger countries with treaty obligations to render assistance when needed.  Ideally, this would allow for a choice among one's allies when a specific need arises.

One important objection to Vermont secession got demolished easily.  It's not true that current Vermonters would lose their social security since Americans who choose to retire abroad can still collect social security.   On the other hand, future generations in an independent Vermont may not qualify for social security.  They would need to have applied for a social security number and have worked in the United States at some point in their lives.

Radio Free Vermont is fiction.  The secession premise can be viewed as a thought experiment.    As a thought experiment it looks more workable than it did at first glance, though there would be many details to iron out if it were ever to become more than a thought experiment.

I enjoyed finding out more about the Vermont revolutionary war hero, Ethan Allen.  Allen's more controversial writings reminded me of Tom Paine, who is one of my favorite founding fathers.

There are also some wonderful fictional characters in Radio Free Vermont.  I particularly loved Trance, the female Olympic bi-athlete.  

This is my idea of a fun read.   I got to consider some important issues and read some very effective satire of what I consider to be ripe targets for satire.  This is also a good sign for 2018.  I don't usually read a five star book right out of the starting gate,  but this is definitely five stars for me.


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