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Book Review: The Man Who Quit Money

Karina Wetherbee
Special to the Daily
Special to the DailyIn 'The Man Who Quit Money,' Mark Sundeen (pictured) tells the tale of Daniel Suelo, who gave away his life savings and began to live.
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In the modern age, where success is so often measured by bank accounts and financial portfolios, the story of a man who walked away from that version of the American Dream might not resonate fully. And yet, Mark Sundeen’s story of Daniel Suelo, whose transition from an average, comfortable existence to a life freed from the restraints of financial burdens, is a captivating one. It reads like a hero’s quest – a quest for redemption, for self-discovery and ultimately for his own soul.

Daniel Suelo’s life is eloquently documented in Sundeen’s recent book, “The Man Who Quit Money.” The author’s fascination with Suelo has spanned 20 years, resurfacing shortly after the financial collapse of 2008, when money, and the increasing struggle to manage without it, were on everyone’s minds. In no way a social outcast, Suelo has been a presence on the internet, maintaining his blog during regular visits to libraries and friends’ homes. Sundeen found himself captivated once more by this man who bucked the system in a big way and came out on the other side with a life, in Suelo’s terms, of “abundance.”

Determined to explore this alternative version of abundance, which by any modern measure is the antithesis of “having plenty,” the author convinced Suelo that the story of his life had resonance in a world of overconsumption and stress. Suelo allowed Sundeen into his world for several months, agreeing to the book project in a manner reflective of his all-or-nothing approach to life – not a thing would be held back and all the chapters of his life would be wide open, including the painful ones.

Struggling with faith in a deeply religious family and reluctantly coming to terms with being gay, Suelo fought the conventional world, always feeling unfulfilled and incomplete, until one day he reached the breaking point, and drove his car off a cliff on the road to Mt. Evans. Having searched throughout the world for his spiritual “center” and failed in his attempt to end his life, Suelo made the very conscious choice to end his dependence on money, meticulously paying off all debts, until, in the ultimate terminal act, he left his final $30 in a phone booth and headed out into the deserts of Moab, Utah.

Like Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” which details Chris McCandless’ journey of enlightenment, “The Man Who Quit Money” deftly integrates the before-and-after aspects of Daniel Suelo’s life, clarifying a trajectory that seems inevitable. Living each moment consciously, guided by self-imposed rules of conduct including refusing charity and owning nothing but the clothes on his back and items found dumpster diving, Suelo thrives on what the rest of humanity discards. The basic process of living becomes deliberate and meaningful, something many modern people have lost.

Whether admiring of or critical of Suelo’s chosen lifestyle, one cannot help but be fascinated by the conscious nature of his decision to live without money. “The Man Who

Quit Money” is not just about a life without cash for creature comforts; rather it is a respectful homage to a culture that was once the norm. Like Chris McCandless before him, Daniel Suelo has managed to live life close to the bone, but unlike the unlucky youth documented in Krakauer’s book, Daniel Suelo continues the experiment, with no signs of giving up. Taking even a page from his well-worn book might be enough to save us from ourselves.


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