The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen traces the true story of Daniel Shellabarger, a man on a singular and complex life journey.
Shellabarger has chosen to create a life close to nature and to live without money, a somewhat radical decision he made in 2000. Fellow Moab, Utah, resident Sundeen wrote this book from personal observation and knowledge of the man now known as Daniel Suelo. This is Sundeen’s fourth nonfiction book.
Written in three parts, the first section tells of the personal connection between the author and his fascinating subject. It also shares the story of Suelo’s youth and his family history. Suelo, who is in his early 50s, was born to a loving, devoted couple that has been married for more than 60 years. He had four siblings, and one brother died. Suelo’s family has a strong Evangelical Christian faith, which has guided them during times when many Americans have chosen a different, less inflexible path to religion.
Suelo left the family fold going to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder and eventually graduated. His time in college was the beginning of his questioning of his strict religious upbringing. Tied into his new awareness was his study of early Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and Hinduism.
During his college years, Suelo began to travel. He observed during his first trip out of the country, to South America, that those who had the least offered the most to others. These practices by the warm and welcoming people heightened Suelo’s awareness of the conspicuous consumption of goods in his native United States.
After returning home, Suelo began working with homeless people. There he became frustrated and unhappy with the administrative procedures required by government agencies and how little help he could give these struggling people.
Part 2 of Suelo’s story opens after his 1991 suicide attempt. He drove his car off a mountain but survived. Eventually, Suelo found his way to Moab, which boasted a community that was receptive to dropouts and others who were seeking a different path. Life was easier and people could get along on only a little money.
It was in Moab that Suelo began on the path to a life without money. He learned to take advantage of castoff food and possessions. He’s a Dumpster diver, accepts gifts but not money and takes only what he needs.
Part 3 tells of Suelo’s trip to the Far East. He traveled to India, Thailand and Tibet in 1998, coming back as a changed man with a vision for a new way of living. He learned about the attitudes toward Hindu sadhus and beggars. They would be reviled at home, but these men who had nothing but would accept offerings of food, clothing and shelter, were held in high regard and admired for their attempt to live like their spiritual heroes.
Returning home, Suelo has tried to achieve his goal of living his beliefs and practicing a spiritual life. He has many beliefs that are aligned with Native American and Eastern cultures. He lives in a cave in the canyonlands of Utah and doesn’t earn wages, accept welfare or pay taxes. He doesn’t talk about it, but he quietly works as a volunteer at an organic farm, a shelter and with the Free Food movement in Moab.
Suelo also has evolved into a writer and philosopher and is a frequent patron at the Moab Public Library. He uses the Internet and maintains a website where he writes essays and answers questions about his way of life. His site is located at zerocurrency.blogspot.com.
Sundeen wrote an engrossing account of one man’s personal evolution and journey of self-realization. Suelo’s life mirrors closely the Hero’s Journey as written by Joseph Campbell. Suelo believes, like Henry David Thoreau, that living in nature makes one strong. He also accepts St. Francis’ belief that leaving events to chance brings you closer to God, and that is how he lives his life.
Sundeen’s book documents a story that is heartwarming, and also wrenching, as Suelo truly travels the road less taken. The Man Who Quit Money is a thought-provoking and engrossing read.
Freelance reviewer Leslie Doran may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.