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Mark Sundeen
The Man Who Quit Money
Riverhead Trade / Penguin / Penguin Putnam
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-594-48569-5
Publication Date: 03-06-2012
260 Pages; $15.00
Date Reviewed: 05-11-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Non Fiction

Paradoxically, what proves to be most interesting about Daniel Suelo, the titular "Man Who Quit Money," is not his lifestyle without money. That's pretty straightforward, and while it is certainly pertinent in a world where half the wealth was effectively wiped out by forces nobody claims to fully comprehend, it's not exactly a story. Yes, Daniel Suelo manages to live on onions he pulls from the desert sand, dumpster diving and a sort of evangelical freeganism that is pretty unique, even when more and more families are living in their cars.

But what Mark Sundeen does wisely and well in 'The Man Who Quit Money,' is to tell the story of an itinerant fundamentalist preacher, sometimes car salesman and how his child came to the point that begins the book: standing in a phone booth, Daniel Shellabarger leaves his last thirty dollars behind and resolves successfully to never use money again. THe man who walked away from that booth was Daniel Suelo; his last name the Spanish word for soil.

Sundeen's non-fiction biography is well constructed and compellingly written. The prose is the standout driver of the story. There's a poetic power to his sentences, written in a quiet voice that often slides into sly comedy. The balance that Sundeen strikes is critical in making the book work. He takes his subject seriously enough to explore all the ideas that Suelo's lifestyle implies, but never gets overwrought.

As for the subject, Suelo himself is an American classic, a loner brought up in an extremely religious family who later found himself to be gay. He's smart but unfocused, undone by the confusions the workaday world throws at him. But the further he moves outside of society, the more focused he becomes, the more driven towards his goal of living without money, which he considers to be an illusion. His college years, his time in the Peace Corps, his return and slide into depression are vividly described (with more than a few laughs). Sundeen gives us a man with shades of gray, and the result is a better reading experience.

From that phone booth in 2000 to the present day, from his time as a small child who took his parents' religion seriously to the time he tried to drive his car off a cliff, Daniel Suelo's story is gripping and relevant. Thanks to Mark Sundeen, it's also a good reading experience. You may not want to quit money upon finishing this book, but you'll certainly see it in a very different light. Against all odds, 'The Man Who Quit Money' is well worth what you pay for it — even if you don't get it for free at the library.

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