Books by Briars About the Briarpatch

Our "Journal"

In 1973, the first or “proto” issue of the Briarpatch Review—what would become our quarterly magazine for several years—was assembled by Gurney Norman using the layout studio at the Whole Earth Catalog between issues. 

You may recall Gurney as the author of “Divine Right’s Trip,” a novel serialized in The Last Whole Earth Catalog.

In the Spring of 1975, Michael Phillips recruited a new team to restart the Review—to be by and for the members. It was a revolving team of volunteers; whoever was ready, willing, and able to contribute to the process of organizing, writing, editing, and publishing each issue.

Eleven issues were published between 1975 and 1978. Added to Gurney’s first issue that made an even dozen total.

We plan to publish excerpts from them here as blog posts. You can visit our blog page to find the latest postings.

Page 1, Cover Image. Issue 2, Spring, 1975

The titles of several of the books described here are linked to individual pages which provide more information about that particular book. Click the title links to learn more.

Our Book

The first book in the list that makes up The Briarpatch Bookshelf is a collection of the first eight Briarpatch Reviews published by the teams of volunteers mentioned above.

The Briarpatch Book edited by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry.

The Briarpatch Book, published in 1978 and still widely available, is a compilation of the first eight of those final eleven issues. This community “journal” served as our “house organ,” documenting our efforts to cooperate and support one another in doing business in a different way.

Cover Briarpatch Book

The Briarpatch Book and the books described below constitute a kind of “codex,” if you will, of Briarpatch knowledge and wisdom—collected, evaluated, and reported back to the community and the world through the magic of the printed and bound word.

We don’t propose that our approach will work for all people or circumstances. However, in these books we do a pretty good job of describing who we are and what we tried and what the results were.

We invite you to use our stories as inspiration for your own projects.

This book was first published in 1972 as “Living Poor with Style.”

It includes how to save money in eating, getting around, dwelling, furnishing, clothing, staying fit, raising children, fun and games, dying, and more.

Cover Living Cheaply with Style

It’s really a beginner’s handbook for putting the guidance from “Voluntary Simplicity” into practical action.

Interesting zeitgeist: especially since the first edition of this book was published 10 years prior to the release of Voluntar Simplicity (below).

Being frugal, one has abundance.


From the beginning, our slogan has always been:

Briarpatch: A Network of Friends Aspiring to Right Livelihood and Simple Living

The subtitle of The Briarpatch Book was “experiences in right livelihood and simple living.”

Our quest for right livelihood always included the parallel pursuit of tips and tools for sustainable living. 

In the Summer, 1977 issue of Co-Evolution Quarterly an article entitled “Voluntary Simplicity,” with an accompanying survey form, caught widespread attention. It was an effort at data collection for Duane Elgin’s book Voluntary Simplicity.

One of the most essential questions that Voluntary Simplicity (the book) helped us to answer was: “Do I have the flexibility to adapt to a period of prolonged energy shortage and economic depression?”

We quickly recognized that “Briarpatch” and what we were discovering about “living with joy in the cracks” of a broken culture and economy could well be among the best answers to this question.

Voluntary Simplicity became a bible for self-reliance and simple living, helping us “muddle toward frugality” and success in creating our right livelihood businesses.

Briarpatch First Principles

In addition to the Briarpatch Review, we also hold regular parties, monthly lunch meetings, and weekly consultations with member businesses. These and other points of contact provide opportunities for regular observation and feedback about what seems to be working for Briars.

What we learned along the way was then reported back to the members through those same venues, as well as by publishing several books that summarized our in-the-moment understanding across the years.

Among the many things we learned about success for right livelihood businesses were nine primary principles that seem essential for establishing businesses that can deliver “right livelihood.”

Michael and Salli reported on these principles in the three books described next, including detailed explanations and examples. In summary, the nine principles are:

  1. Passion for one’s work.
  2. Honesty and Openness
  3. Diligent Bookkeeping
  4. Tradeskill
  5. Openness (again)
  6. Capital
  7. Measurement
  8. Listings
  9. Generosity

The three books are:

The Seven Laws of Money by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry with Dick Raymond, Stewart Brand, and Jug ‘n’ Candle.

Cover Seven Laws of Money
  • Principle 1: Passion for one’s work.
    • People do better at their work when it’s personally and deeply meaningful.
  • Principle 2: Honesty and openness.
    • Honesty and openness are superior strategies for economic success.
  • Principle 3: Diligent bookkeeping.
    • People who value accurate accounting records and regular reviews of detailed financial statements find it easier to steer their businesses where they want to go. They also avoid cash flow surprises.
  • Principle 4: Tradeskill.
    • Running a successful business requires unique attitudes and skills. You usually acquire these as a child.
  • Principle 5: Openness (again).
    • Business openness has community, customer, and managerial advantages.
  • Principle 6: Capital.
    • Capital is not central to business success. Too much capital can be even worse than not enough.
  • Principle 7: Measurement.
    • The only way to know what’s going on is to measure it. In advertising, always use metered ads.
  • Principle 8: Listings.
    • Listing ads (in appropriate directories, for example) are superior to interruption ads (billboards, TV, for example). Metering will tell you whether this is true for your business.
  • Principle 9: Generosity.
    • Generous marketing, such as freeware, share ware, generous licensing fees, generous affiliate commissions, generous warrantees that go the extra mile will garner a larger market share than advertising.

"Clientry," Relationships, and the Gods of Commerce

The following three books are successive explications of the full “Planet Briarpatch” approach to commerce as observed and thought through by Michael Phillips.

Transaction-Based Economics by Michael Phillips.

Transaction-Based Economics is the earliest, shortest, and easiest to digest. It’s emphasis is on a change of focus from business as a set of exchanges to the details of the components of each transaction. Learn more here.

Image of Michael Phillips wearing a hat.

Gods of Commerce by Michael Phillips.

Gods of Commerce weighs 10 pounds and covers everything in detail but is a little challenging for those unfamiliar with economic theory.

Gods of Commerce is Phillips most definitive explanation of several more of his original ideas, including:

Gods of Commerce
  • The social sorting principle.

    • The Flag.” What attracts you to a group, organization, or institution

    • The Screen.” What the group, organization, or institution uses to determine if you’re a good fit

    • The Overflow.” What happens to make you see that you no longer feel right within that group, organization, or institution, leading to your exit.

  • The tri-level structure of commerce:

    • Trade
    • Industry
    • Clientry
  • Clientry:

    • Businesses whose central organizing principle is the maintenance of lifetime relationships with clientele (aka clients, customers, constituents, members, voters, citizens, etc.)

  • Money as language

Commerce by Michael Phillips.

Commerce – Condenses the ideas from Gods of Commerce into a more accessible form and strongly makes the point that, in commerce, meritocracy and honesty are superior strategies to inheritance, nepotism, and deceit.

Check out this interview with Michael Phillips on the topics covered in “Commerce”. It’s one of his “Social Thought Radio” programs. It’s free but is behind a “pay wall” that requires you to submit your email address. 

If it’s still working the way it did in the past, it will be worth the exchange of your email for the ability to listen to it.

Cover of Commerce

Handbooks for Right Livelihood

These next five books (along with Marketing without Advertising) represent key handbooks for business as right-livelihood. They contain down-to-earth, practical actions and case examples of many successful enterprises.

Small-Time Operator by Bernard “Bear” Kamaroff.

Cover: Small Time Operator

Bear Kamaroff is a long time Briar and early contributor to the Briarpatch Review.

In clear, easy-to-understand language, STO covers:

  • Getting permits and licenses
  • How to finance a business
  • Creating and using a business plan
  • Choosing and protecting a business name
  • Deciding whether to incorporate
  • Establishing a complete bookkeeping system
  • Hiring employees
  • Federal, state, and local taxes
  • Buying a business or franchise
  • Dealing with—and avoiding—the IRS
  • Doing business on the Internet
  • Handling insurance, contracts, pricing, trademarks, and patents

In the latest edition, STO features a section on surviving the Global Information Grid or GIG economy. The great majority of these on-demand workers have zero experience or knowledge about self-employment. If you’re a GIG worker or thinking about becoming one, STO gives you everything you need to know about being self-employed.

STO includes Bear’s take on tradeskill.

Needless to say, it’s an ideal guide for a small, really-small, or one-person business of any kind.

Running a One-Person Business: Business as Lifestyle, Second Edition, by Claude Whitmyer and Salli Rasberry (with Michael Phillips).

Cover Running a One-Person Business

ROPB covers the Briarpatch concept of “tradeskill” in detail. It also includes:

  • Business as Lifestyle
  • Bookkeeping
  • Financial Management and Control
  • Financial Strategies
  • Information Management
  • Time Management
  • Setting Up Shop
  • Choosing Office Equipment
  • Grassroots Marketing
  • Emotional Support Systems
  • Staying a One-Person Business
  • Start-Up and Legal Matters

Simple Living Investments for Old Age Second Edition, by Michael Phillips and Catherine Campbell.

Cover Simple Living Investment

Phillip and Campbell’s SLI focuses on practical preparation for retirement. They cover five key areas of concern for those of us getting older and provide investment recommendations for each issue (though they are not all about investing money):

  • Coping with a rapidly changing world
  • Realities of old age
  • Health
  • Friends
  • Traditional investment issues

Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well, Fourth Edition, by Ralph E. Warner. 

Cover Get a Life

Ralph “Jake” Warner is a long-time Briar and co-founder of the self-help law publisher Nolo Press.

In this book, Jake gives his view of the investment savings that is and isn’t necessary for retirement and, like Simple Living Investments, he discusses options such as maintaining good health, having friends and close family ties, and enjoying varied interests and activities.

How to Run a Thriving Business: Strategies for Success and Satisfaction by Ralph Warner

Cover: How to Run a Thriving Business

Jake Warner has also written a book tackling alternative strategies for starting a successful small business. He shares the principles and practices he learned from Briarpatch and his own practical experience running Nolo Press, the self-help law publisher.

This is a “remarket” of Drive a Modest Car, updated, expanded, and released under the How to Run a Thriving Business title.

Warner includes both business philosophy and nuts-and-bolts advice for anyone wanting to create their own meaningful work through entrepreneurship. This time, however, he offers a slightly different set of principles from those in Modest Car. These include:

  • Build a Meaningful Business
  • Choose a Business You Care About
  • Understand How You Make a Profit
  • Start on a Shoestring
  • Get and Keep a Competitive Edge
  • Innovate Now and Forever
  • Target Your Customers
  • Market Your Business Creatively
  • Hire and Keep Good People
  • Drive a Modest Car
  • Don’t Work Overlong Hours
  • Learn to Live with Luck
  • Pay Your Bills Early
  • Embrace Your Best Competitors
  • Don’t Buy a Franchise
  • Sell Services, Not Goods
  • React Quickly to Bad News

From the Cover: How to Run a Thriving Business is the perfect read for anyone who’s interested in starting a new business, or could use an infusion of practical advice to get back on track with a current business.”

Nolo Press

Nolo Press published the above two books by co-founder Jake Warner as well as Marketing Without Advertising by Salli Rasberry and Michael Phillips. Nolo is a leading publisher of legal self-help books, ebooks, and other resources.

Noren Visits Briar Jake Warner at Nolo Press
A Briarpatch visit with Jake Warner at Nolo Press.

Not every author at Nolo was or is active in the Briarpatch. Jake, however, imbued the business with a lot of Briar spirit which became an integral part of company culture.

Nolo offers among the best selection of guides for small business including from choosing your legal form (sole proprietor, partnership, corporation) to taking business deductions and filing taxes, handling small claims court, repairing your credit, negotiating leases and most other legal and tax issues doing business brings up.

Community, Mindfulness, Meaningful Work

Creating Community Anywhere: Finding Support and Connection in a Fragmented World by Carolyn Shaffer and Kristen Anundsen.

This book by long-time Briar Kristin Anundsen and friend of the Briarpatch Carolyn Shaffer provides a detailed description of the community movement, discusses new ways of living together, and offers practical advice on improving one’s own community.

Cover: Creating Community Anywhere

Excerpt from the book:

The emerging affiliations that we call conscious community incorporate many social and survival aspects of a functional community but also emphasize members’ needs for personal expression, growth, and transformation. Conscious community nurtures in each of its members the unfolding from within that allows them to become more fully who they are-and it nurtures its own unfolding as well.

Gently, Kathleen slips out of bed and pads into the next room, where she switches on her computer and logs onto SeniorNet, an electronic network for people fifty-five and over which spans the U.S. and Canada . . . . These people, most of whom she has never seen or even talked to on the phone, will respond with empathy and concern when they log onto SeniorNet and see her message.


In our relentless pursuit of independence, many of us have lost our connections to something larger than ourselves. Creating Communities Anywhere looks at the current structures that connect people (or don’t) and proposes ones better adapted to the framework of contemporary society. These chapters are the tools for creating community within the many spaces we occupy. An insightful how-to manual, this book is as much about communication and interpersonal dynamics as it is about community building, be it with family and friends, neighborhoods, workplaces or even electronic communities. I found myself rethinking my own definition of community and past periods of self-imposed isolation. The alternatives here describe a brighter and much broader way to experience life. – From The WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women; review by Ilene Rosoff


This book convincingly shows how new webs of support are springing up all over the place in the form of social clubs, intellectual salons, spiritual groups, electronic networks, and visionary residential associations. Shaffer and Anundsen offer various recipes for community building and maintenance with special attention given to running effective meetings, creating meaningful rituals, and resolving conflicts.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice: Resources for Spiritual Journeys (

In the Company of Others: Making Community in the Modern World by Claude Whitmyer. Editor and contributor.

From the Cover: “There is something about being human that makes us yearn for the company of others, to be members of a family of the spirit, a team, or a clan in which we are fully seen and understood. Stuck inside our own skins, we often feel alone and cut off; we want to be with others who share our problems, challenges, and hopes. Today people everywhere are finding ways of ending their sense of isolation by joining together in loosely and tightly structured communities of peers.

Cover In the Company of Others

In the Company of Others explores how people are solving the dilemma of separation and building deep community through:

  • business support teams
  • neighborhood service clubs
  • addiction recovery programs
  • food co-ops
  • men’s and women’s ritual groups
  • intellectual salons
  • intentional spiritual communities
  • artists’ groups
  • electronic networks
  • AIDS and cancer survivor groups

“The book brings together a range of voices singing the praises of the human dream of community in its many forms. It offers guidance for starting a community, and practical solutions for the economic and emotional difficulties that may arise when we live or work with others, involving communication, authority, membership, decision-making, and purpose.

In the Company of Others is full of profiles of successful groups and communities. It offers a fresh vision of human life in creative togetherness.”

Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations in Right Livelihood by Claude Whitmyer. Editor and contributor.

From the Cover: Mindfulness and Meaningful Work deepens our understanding of the Buddhist concept of “Right Livelihood,” shows us how to go about overcoming the obstacles in our path so that we can find and maintain meaningful, satisfying work, and encourages us to live in a way that increases our inner peace, self-worth, and purpose.

Cover Mindfulness and Meaningful Work

“In this superb collection of writings on the integration of mindfulness and ethics in the workplace, some of the leading thinkers and oers of our time–Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy, Sam Keen, E.F. Schumacher, Gary Snyder, Shakti Gawain, Shunryu Suzuki, Robert Aitken, Tarthang Tulku, Marsha Sinetar, Rick Fields, Ellen Langer, and many others–share their insights on the practice and value of working and of finding work that is meaningful, life-affirming, and non-exploitative.”

From the Foreword by Ernest Callenbach (author of Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging): “The essays in this book offer many important insights about attitudes through which work can become an important spiritual discipline. And they suggest strategies by which we can arrange our individual work lives so that they are less demeaning and more productive of solid satisfactions and joys.”

Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson. Translated into nine languages with an audiobook version in English.

Life is something we all makeup as we go along.

Lighten up, look around, and live an unscripted life. Those are some of the steps long-time Briar and master of improvisation Patricia Ryan Madson encourages us to take to bring more growth, fun, and adventure into our lives, just like artists, musicians, and actors have done for millennia.

No matter how carefully we formulate a “script,” it is bound to change when we interact with people who have scripts of their own.

Improv Wisdom shows how to apply improvisation to real-life challenges—whether it’s dealing with a demanding boss, a tired child, or one of life’s never-ending surprises.

Improvisation helps you get comfortable with making more mistakes, laughing more often, and filling your life with adventure.

Improve Wisdom includes 13 maxims to guide you in enriching your life by adding more improvisation to it.

Examples include:

  • “Say yes” with the ecstasy of Molly Bloom: it will open up new worlds.
  • “Don’t prepare.” In focusing on the future, you might miss the present.
  • “Start anywhere.” Take any entry into a problem, and once you get inside you’ll have a better perspective.
  • “Make Mistakes, Please!” It helps you to loosen up, think on your feet, and take on everything life has to offer with skill, chutzpah, and a sense of humor.

The book includes exercises drawn from improv acting that are easy and eye-opening, such as

  • Look at a familiar environment and notice something new in it.
  • Make a list of important places in your life.
  • Put down the book and just go to one of them.

Improv Wisdom is about the joy of living and the pleasure in taking things as they come.

Going Mainstream

The following three books served to spread the principles of life on Planet Briarpatch even further into the public eye.

By 2005, when Dave Smith’s To Be of Use appeared, many of the Briarpatch “alternative” practices had become almost “normal” in the view of a small but growing minority of mainstream thought leaders.

This was especially true among millennial authors, community organizers, and political candidates. For example, honesty, openness, sharing, and cooperation over competition were trending. So too was distrust of advertising, as well as environmental sustainability, the practice of mindfulness in business, and the idea that meaningful work is not an accident or a gift, but a right.

Over the last decade or so, knowledge about what it takes to take advantage of the Internet as the Great Equalizer for the small, really small, and one-person businesses has led to the widespread rediscovery of many of the Briarpatch First Principles. This is likely because small business success on the Internet, as in the street, is highly dependent on relationships or community building.

Growing a Business (The companion volume to the Public Television series) by Paul Hawken.

Cover Growing a Business

The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability by Paul Hawken.

Cover Ecology of Commerce