What happened to Whole Earth?

Earlier in the week I wrote about Whole Earth magazine, and mentioned that it had “given up the ghost.”

As any regular reader of Whole Earth, or its predecessors the Whole Earth Review and Coevolution Quarterly will remember, the magazines were always on the edge of financial collapse, and it was a rare issue that didn’t include a plea for financial assistance (like this one), or a story about how “we’re out of the woods now that we’ve found a new generous benefactor.” I remember seeing Marlon Brando’s name in the list of the most generous benefactors that ran at the back of every issue, and wondering how that donation happened.

It seems that this time the magazine has actually really died. There’s a blog post about this, which includes many comments from those involved that tells at least part of the story.

There’s a sort of obituary on the Utne website. Selected articles from the never-published last issue, Spring 2003, are available online as PDF files.

I remember back many issues — maybe it was the late 1980s? — when the magazine had a deal wherein if you made a substantial donation ($5000?), your gift would be an invitation to spend time in the magazine’s library in Sausalito. I remember seriously considering selling all my stuff and taking them up on their offer. I kind of wish I had. Apparently all or some of the library is or will be relocated to the Thoreau Center in San Francisco.

My old friend Bill Kimball had, I think, close to an entire collection of back issues of the magazine on a bookshelf in his living room on Union St. in Peterborough, all the way back to Coevolution Quarterly issue #1. I was very jealous. I wonder if he still has them. For my part, I’ve got a pretty complete collection of the various editions of the Whole Earth Catalog, and a good chunk of the Whole Earth Review from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

Whole I mourn the magazine’s passing, it’s remarkable how much of the back catalog still has relevance, even though we’ve gone through one, two, three technological revolutions since much of it was written. If you see a copy of of the Catalog or the magazine at a flea market, pick it up; still a good read.

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