The Whole Earth Catalogs preached the hacker/designer approach to life starting in 1968, decades before this lifehacking became the norm. The Catalogs were a paper-based database offering thousands of hacks, tips, tools, suggestions, and possibilities for optimizing your life.
Like fine wine, the back issues of the Whole Earth Catalogs and its offspring, the CoEvolution Quarterly improve with age. One can read 20-year-old back issues and they will inform and astound you. They feel as if they were written yesterday. I’ve noted previously that much of their charm comes because they were blogs created in newsprint, written before the internet.
One could read back issues if you could find them. I had the privilege of producing many of the issues of CoEvolution Quarterly and some of the Catalogs, so I had my own personal library of them. (Therefore you should also discount my enthusiasm for them.) I can’t tell you how many wonderful evenings I have spent sitting in my reading chair re-exploring the fantastic worlds captured in these back issues. It is impossible to pick one up and not be mesmerized, thrilled, amazed, and informed by at least two stories or reviews. There is a timeless nature to this work that is due to their anti-fashionable status. The Whole Earth Catalogs and CoEvolutions were idea-based journalism, rather than event-based. Instead of reporting on top of things, they liked to get to the bottom of things. These issues zagged while the rest of the culture zigged, only to zag later.
The good news is that all this goodness is now online. Danica Remy and the last holdouts of the old Point Foundation, publishers of the Catalogs and magazine until its last issue in 2002, have given a second life to this gold mine of material by arranging them to be scanned and posted online. The entire 35-year archive of Whole Earth Catalogs, Supplements, Reviews and CoEvolutions are all up and ready to be studied. You can read them for free, or download them for a fee. Go here.
I am not thrilled by the interface or format. The pages are clunky to navigate and worse, the proprietary format goes against the essential open system that Whole Earth both preached and practiced. The scans are analog. I could not find anyway to copy and paste text from them. The pages would have been far more useful and easier to use and share as plain old PDF docs.
But, oh! The richness! There are some very are early Whole Earth Catalog Supplements that in all my time at Whole Earth I never saw or read. They are here online now. For those unfamiliar with the wisdom of the Catalog, this archive will serve as a wonderful start. There are more than 100 issues of CoEvolution Quarterly (later called Whole Earth Review) and dozens of Whole Earth Catalogs to keep you up for years.