Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman--Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual by Yvon Chouinard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Yvon Chouinard's Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman is a powerful - but challenging - examination of humanity's complex relationship with the environment. Though I'm not a Patagonia fanboy (I own exactly one piece of Patagonia apparel), I'm incredibly proud that this forward-thinking organization was founded (and still has its headquarters) in my hometown of Ventura, California. Regardless of my biased hometown pride, I'm still massively impressed by the unique and "unusual" business practices discussed in Let My People Go Surfing: Yvon Chouinard has created a successful business model that simultaneously maintains exceptional profit margins while keeping its promise to heal the environment.
Throughout the book, Chouinard recounts his personal exploits and adventures, going to great lengths to examine his failures as well as his successes. Though his writing lacks the poetry of Rachel Carson or John Muir, Chouinard's personal history is fascinating enough to drive the narrative forward like trout in a raucous river. I admit that I'm a layman when it comes to the private sector (and to the magnitude of humanity's destruction of the environment), so this book was absolutely revelatory for me. Hopefully, Let My People Go Surfing will inspire others to examine the global economy's environmental impacts - and to make the kinds of dramatic changes necessary for the Earth to survive.
Recently, well after the publication of Let My People Go Surfing, Chouinard made the bold move to transfer ownership of Patagonia to non-profit organizations that are designed to preserve the environment. As the company's website now proclaims, "Earth Is Now Our Only Shareholder." While it's easy to dismiss the pie-in-the-sky goals of a rich entrepreneur who has more money than 99% of the population, this dramatic action illustrates just how much Chouinard practices what he preaches. Chouinard's integrity is on full display now, adding further credence to the environmental visions outlined in Let My People Go Surfing.
This hybrid biography/business textbook, while not for everyone, is a true catalyst for change. I might not have enjoyed Chouinard's writing as much as my usual literary fare, but I feel like the life lessons in Let My People Go Surfing might be among some of the most important pieces of wisdom I have culled from my reading in recent years. Even if the Earth isn't the "only shareholder" in my own life, I have a better understanding now of how my own actions affect our fragile world. Sometimes, those little ripples of knowledge can swell into something more profound and powerful, creating a force for change that will have a major impact on the future of our planet.
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Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.