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, Grafton, NH, a barely populated settlement with one paved road, turned that plan into reality. They built a tent city, in an effort to get off the grid. And with a large and growing local bear population, conflict became inevitable. A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear is both a screwball comedy and the story of a radically American commitment to freedom.
... simultaneously hilarious, poignant, and deeply unsettling ... In a United States wracked by virus, mounting climate change, and ruthless corporate pillaging and governmental deregulation, the lessons from one tiny New Hampshire town are stark indeed ... Combining wry description with evocative bits of scientific fact, Hongoltz-Hetling’s portrayal of the bears moves from comical if foreboding to downright terrifying.
Every once in a while, a book comes along that is so darkly comedic, with such a defined sense of place and filled with characters that range from the fascinating to the bizarre to the earnest, that partway through reading, it hits you: This has got to become a Coen brothers movie. That is the feeling you get when flipping through the pages of Vermont-based journalist Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling’s first book, A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (and Some Bears) ... Hongoltz-Hetling is a master of the turn of phrase. His voice is breezy and critical, with a finely tuned eye aimed at the absurdities as well as at the earnestness of the Free Town Project ... the only-in-America tale makes for a great read, and someday, hopefully, an even better Coen brothers film.
... closely reported ... the book delivers an extended punch line to its joke title, becoming more gruesome even as it gets more humorous ... This quirky book about bears is timely and now carries an urgent global message ... Hongoltz-Hetling takes the time to render the real people of Grafton on the page. The account is stronger throughout because of the fair treatment given to the people whose lives inform the story, a reminder that any political story is necessarily a human one ... The author lets individuals have their version of the story before citing factors excluded by their worldview that make the reality more complicated. The libertarians are never presented as a simplified group, but as individuals with their own backstories. They have reasons for arriving at their political leanings. Some of the best scenes involve the infighting among the Free State settlers ... Hongoltz-Hetling doesn’t condemn individuals for their beliefs, but he condemns actions like the killing of 13 bears in hibernation. By turning to the archives in addition to the contemporary reportage, he builds a case that libertarian ideas have little carryover to the real world when it comes to the value of unprofitable public services like wildlife management or firefighting ... The book is less forthcoming when it comes to suggesting fixes. Both the Grafton project and the book itself peter out to their endings when the Free State Project pulls the 'trigger' on the libertarian plan to host a statewide takeover of New Hampshire ... By zeroing in on bears as a subject, the book makes a compelling case that even those who believe in freedom above every other virtue are not free of the ecosystem in which they live.