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Summary

A tiny American town's plans for radical self-government overlooked one hairy detail: no one told the bears.

Once upon a time, a group of libertarians got together and hatched the Free Town Project, a plan to take over an American town and completely eliminate its government. In 2004, they set their sights on Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road.

When they descended on Grafton, public funding for pretty much everything shrank: the fire department, the library, the schoolhouse. State and federal laws became meek suggestions, scarcely heard in the town's thick wilderness.

The anything-goes atmosphere soon caught the attention of Grafton's neighbors: the bears. Freedom-loving citizens ignored hunting laws and regulations on food disposal. They built a tent city in an effort to get off the grid. The bears smelled food and opportunity.

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is the sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying tale of what happens when a government disappears into the woods. Complete with gunplay, adventure, and backstabbing politicians, this is the ultimate story of a quintessential American experiment - to live free or die, perhaps from a bear.

©2020 Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling (P)2020 PublicAffairs

Critic reviews

"[A] witty and precisely observed debut....Hongoltz-Hetling skillfully probes shortcomings and ironies in the libertarian philosophy....The result is an entertaining and incisive portrait of political ideology run amok." (Publishers Weekly

"An entertaining sendup of idealistic politics and the fatal flaws of overweening self-interest." (Kirkus)

"Since the beginning, Americans have been fighting about the balance between individual liberty and the common good. Hongoltz-Hetling shows what can happen when one rural New Hampshire town went to the libertarian extreme in this madcap tale that zig-zags between tragedy and farce, with the possibility of being eaten." (Colin Woodard, New York Times best-selling author of American Nations and Union)

What listeners say about A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear

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Rich, funny and incredibly human

This is a story brought to life through pitch-perfect descriptions of the people in the community. Brilliant non-fiction, enjoyably narrated. Would strongly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in politics, conservation, or internet communities.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Frank
  • 20-12-20

Author's Political Biases Shine Through

Overall, it's a good book. My only gripe is that the author doesn't seem to challenge his own political biases and blindspots while he exposes those of others.

I'm not a libertarian, I'm a centrist. That means I'm annoyed as much by the left's support of collectivism and postmodernism as I am annoyed by the right's cozy relationship with authoritarian religious movements and their odd idolization of guns.

I just think the author should spend a bit more time questioning his own political assumptions. Still, it's an interesting look into the looney fringes of the libertarian movement. I suspect if you asked a generic self-identified libertarian if he supports bum fights, he'd indignantly say no. The crazy with libertarians comes out when they go into their echo-chambers, though this is true for every group.

8 people found this helpful

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  • jynclr
  • 04-12-20

Case study on why Libertarianism is bad

Great study on why Libertarianism is not a good socio-economic ideal. This book shows how a town withers away under libertarianism with some harmful consequences, while another town just north that pays little more in taxes has a better quality of life.

3 people found this helpful

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  • P. Ladd
  • 06-03-21

Very funny, and timely

An interesting look at Libertarianism and how it intersects with the rest of us and nature. Fun commentary about how their strive for more "freedom" can negatively impact a community in unforseen ways. Also a good look at how going after only ones own best interests can ultimately harm ones neighbors.
This had easy to listen to prose, subtle pop culture references that made me chuckle and the style is that of a good rambling story. Though there are many characters in the cast and each chapter more or less focuses on just one it is easy to keep up with and see where all the threads lead. It ended in a fantastic hopeful note.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Timothy English
  • 02-03-21

Crash course on the stupidity of Libertarianism

Libertarianism shouldn't be taken seriously as a political philosophy and this book illustrates why. They created an Ayn Rand "utopia" in New Hampshire and watched their experiment crumble as they couldn't even handle previously solved problems. They drove away everything good in the name of freedom while neighboring towns prospered through infrastructure improvements, public investments, governmental planning, and civic pride. As for the title of the book, it comes from the fact that by following Libertarian principles, they caused a rash of bear attacks in their community. A phenomenon not recorded in the area for a hundred years. The stories and people are compelling and the author made it a very interesting read.

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  • lil Jinni
  • 14-01-21

This is why libertarians can't have nice things

The story of a Libertarian's effort to live free ruined by donuts, non-libertarians, and institutional government interference.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 16-11-20

Many interesting bits, but prose often annoying

The book seems to have been reasonably well researched and I learned many interesting things. it was remarkably lacking in organization and I got the feeling that the writer was trying too hard to be entertaining. The narrative itself was interesting enough and did not require embellishment. I did learn a good bit about bears and libertarians however and found the book to be overall worthwhile

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  • Cointreau
  • 07-05-21

Needs more bears

Twice as long as it needs to be. Too much like a textbook for me.

Update: stopped listening with 4h to go. Two months later I have no interest in finishing

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  • BO
  • 21-08-21

A great surprise.

The book is a mix of a type of witty investigative journalism and of compelling storytelling. A couple good nailbiters too. Would recommend to all non-fiction lovers.

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  • David T.
  • 17-08-21

phenomenal

Excellent description of the ridiculous, counter intuitive, anti-social, selfish, and vapid ideals of the libertarian pphilosophy.

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  • Rocci Doria
  • 17-07-21

Incredible recounting of a real-life dark comedy

First, this was my introduction to Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. Dude can write.

Second, this narrator was excellent, capturing the tone of the narrative perfectly.

It might matter what your politics are. I mean, they call it out right there in the title. What I think might get lost in that is that this is about a series of events and a cast of characters; just go with the story folks. It's funny and horrifying and gobsmacking and a whole other litany of descriptors that do not include boring, and I mean never, not for a second. It totally broke a lot of workouts as I snorted out loud. I'm not really given to snorting. In other spots, it got so tense I would stop what I was doing and not even realize it as people and their dogs went toe-to-toe with bears they discovered in unexpected places.

It's a page-turner. Get it.