Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben

Radio Free Vermont

Bill McKibben

Witty, biting, and terrifyingly timely, Radio Free Vermont is Bill McKibben's fictional response to the burgeoning resistance movement.

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 “I hope no one secedes, but I also hope that Americans figure out creative ways to resist injustice and create communities where everybody counts.  We've got a long history of resistance in Vermont and this book is testimony to that fact.”
–Bernie Sanders

A book that's also the beginning of a movement, Bill McKibben's debut novel Radio Free Vermont follows a band of Vermont patriots who decide that their state might be better off as its own republic.

As the host of Radio Free Vermont--"underground, underpowered, and underfoot"--seventy-two-year-old Vern Barclay is currently broadcasting from an "undisclosed and double-secret location." With the help of a young computer prodigy named Perry Alterson, Vern uses his radio show to advocate for a simple yet radical idea: an independent Vermont, one where the state secedes from the United States and operates under a free local economy. But for now, he and his radio show must remain untraceable, because in addition to being a lifelong Vermonter and concerned citizen, Vern Barclay is also a fugitive from the law.
In Radio Free Vermont, Bill McKibben entertains and expands upon an idea that's become more popular than ever--seceding from the United States. Along with Vern and Perry, McKibben imagines an eccentric group of activists who carry out their own version of guerilla warfare, which includes dismissing local middle school children early in honor of 'Ethan Allen Day' and hijacking a Coors Light truck and replacing the stock with local brew. Witty, biting, and terrifyingly timely, Radio Free Vermont is Bill McKibben's fictional response to the burgeoning resistance movement.

Advance Galley Reviews

Adapted from my Good Reads review. I used my points to guarantee my copy as I'm a Vermonter and was curious! It felt like a flatlander's fantasy of the VT ideal. It was fun(ish), but mostly extremely far-fetched (granted, it's a "fable") and oddly beer-obsessed and rather blandly written. I guess it didn't start very strongly for me opening in a Starbucks in Bennington, my home town. I know it's meant to be simply a representation of corporate America, but he could've at least used a town where it actually exists outside a supermarket. Perhaps he could've used Dunkin Donuts instead - we've got two of those! As much as I enjoy the various craft brews of my home state, I don't need a list of them, their origin, their flavours, etc, unless I'm about to buy a pint. I began to wonder, was the author simply compensating for a lifetime of enjoying fine wines and thought he needed to reference beer thoroughly to make the book seem authentically "Vermont"? I couldn't finish the book, I was too bored.

There are limits to what a fable can do in terms of complexity of the plot line and the psychologically realistic development of its characters. Still, having read some of McKibben’s essays on environmentalism, I found this tale of hipsters taking revenge against The Man pretty entertaining.

A group of patriots in Vermont led by radio personality Vern Barclay believe that it might be time for Vermont to secede from the U.S. based on current political climate and the size of the government. They engage in their own kind of modern guerilla warfare to bring attention to their cause and broadcast podcasts explaining their ideas while they hide in secret locations. I'll admit I picked this book on First to Read because I was born and raised in Vermont and I have a soft spot for that state. What I got was a funny and timely novel about a radical and possibly justified response to our political climate. It starts out strong with different examples of some of the protests carried out by the people who support an independent Vermont. You follow along with Vern and his friends while they create podcasts and hide from authorities. They also wrestle with why Vermont should secede and what that would look like. I thought the second half wasn't as strong as all of their plans lead to the final protests and the climax of the book. I didn't think the buildup came off as intense as it was intended to be. The ending did leave you seriously thinking about whether seceding is the right decision. It really made me think about some of the main points in this novel. Maybe we have gotten to the point where the U.S. and its government is too big. Or do we still need all the cohesion and help from our neighboring states? Whatever the answer, this book reminds you that your voice matters and we can make a difference. Even if you feel like a small part in a big wheel, we can create change. It's a short book with a big punch and worth a read.

Bill McKibben takes the reader on a delightful romp in "Radio Free Vermont" as the characters wrestle with the idea of Vermont seceding from the US. This fable explores the troubling issues of contemporary America with humor, memorable characters, and deep affection for America's founding principles of liberty and justice for all. This is definitely a book for our time.

Everybody likes a little Rebellion and this rebellion was clever, fun and downright devious! This was a wonderful read and I’m looking forward to reading other books by this author!

Vern Barclay is over it all. At 72, with 50-some years in radio, he's seen it, he's heard it, and he's been through it already. So when he found himself at the core of a small band of rebels, he decides to go all in. His latest radio show--or really, podcast, since he can't transmit live so that they can't shut him down, all he can do is put the latest show on the site and let people download it--is a huge hit. Apparently there are a lot of others in Vermont who are ready to chuck the rest of the country and go independent.  And that's how the revolution gets its start.  With the help of young computer whiz and music aficionado (soul music of the '60s and '70s, that is), Perry Alterson, and a few other close friends, Vern sets out to make a point about what America has become. Encouraging his fellow Vermonters to drink Vermont beer and eat Vermont cheese and eschew the big box stores and chain restaurants, Vern wants to see a return to local people supporting their own artists, their own creators, their own chefs, and their own brewmasters. Perry offers musical inspiration and ideas for a theme song for their revolt. And before they know it, their underground podcasts and shenanigans are starting to garner a lot of attention.  They interrupt the the middle school to let the kids out early to celebrate Ethan Allen Day, and they hijack a beer truck filled with the same watered-down beer that you can get almost anywhere in the world to empty all the beer and send the driver back on his way with several cases of Vermont's finest ales. And when the driver points out that they don't have to take the time to empty the bottles--they could just throw it all away--they disagree: "It's Vermont. We recycle."  The current political climate is certainly part of the story here, as debut novelist Bill McKibben refers to Vermont's own Senator, Bernie Sanders, and what he stands for. But this charming comedic novel, Radio Free Vermont, is more than just a political statement. It's a passionate look at a life well lived and the desire to make sure the next generation understands how to accomplish that too. This rollicking story of local love and national activism, of devotion to a cause and friendly resistance, of friendship and family, is both a fantastic read and a call to action. We all have a place we love and call home, and we can all do more to protect its interest and share what makes it so special. Radio Free Vermont is a beautiful reminder of why we care and what we care about, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good story with a bit of a homespun vibe or for anyone who feels like they are missing their voice in this crazy political climate.  Galleys for Radio Free Vermont were provided by Penguin Random House through, with many thanks.

This book was a lot of fun. It very much reflected the times we are living in but was a great break from reality also.

McKibben manages to take the stereotype of the stubborn old man who is afraid of change and make him lovable, causing readers to pause for a second and reconsider, as well as call their grand-pa’s. Radio Free Vermont is a political commentary that manages to keep readers interested through dynamic characters and absurd plot lines that are just plausible enough to keep you seated in reality. At times it felt a little forced, as if he need to get his overall point across caused him to veer out of the frame of the novel and into situations created just to further his point. But all in all, Radio Free Vermont kept me interested, and made me want to shop local and get involved in activism myself.

Bill McKibben has written a delightful fable( as he describes it) recounting an imaginary resistance movement to the Trump administration. Radio Free Vermont is the tale of Vern Barclay who quite unwittingly becomes wanted by the police as a terrorist. Vern is a radio guy who defaults to podcasts during his time in hiding and floats the idea of seceding from the United States in order to preserve the singular charms of rural Vermont. It’s a story that will make you smile as well as think. McKibben’s book has the kind of sarcastic humor that really appeals to me so I enjoyed it most thoroughly. My only regret is that the somewhat dystopian aspects of life in 2018 are all too real today. I was given this book in Penguin’s First to Read program.

I was initially drawn to this book because it's about the state where I was born, and lived in for three and a half decades. Other than hoping for a casual reference to some places I remember, I wasn't sure what to expect. I LOVED this book! It was sometimes funny, but then would throw in some serious facts about the current state of our nation. The way that this merry band of misfits go about organizing the idea of Vermont becoming a free state was spectacular, in that there was absolutely no violence (only brains) involved. Vern was a great character, witty and wise from his long running radio show, and respected enough to begin to plant the seeds of what would happen if Vermont were to secede from the United States in order to get back to its small roots. There was a plethora of historical information about the early days of Vermont (the first state to outlaw slaves and allow same sex marriage), to what has become of small farms and businesses due to corporate conglomerates. And lest you think that it reads like a history book........oh my goodness not at all! Most of the information is given out while answering callers to Vern's radio show. Of course, once the government gets wind of what Vern is up to, shenanigans ensue with trying to get their information out without being tracked down and thrown in jail. I was definitely not ready for the book to finish, I hope the author comes up with a sequel! Such a short book that packs a whallop of facts and fun! A solid 4 star read, I'm sure an extra star had to be added because of all the Vermont references that had me squealing (I was born in Barre.......I mean Thunder Road....AHHH! ). While most of the names have been changed, there are a few references in the book to current political office holders that may have you nodding your head. A definite for Vermonters, and a do not miss for others!

Radio Free Vermont was a good read with an unique perspective. I enjoyed the localness of the story and appreciated the timing of the release. I characters were likable and the story created lots of opportunities for thought, whether you agree with the premise or not.

I was very lucky to live most of my life in small towns. Reading Radio Free Vermont was a reminder of why I love those towns. People who are there for you no matter what you do, even if you start a revolution accidentally. Those life long friends will be there to hide you when you are wanted for terrorism (really?) and when you need to be broken out of jail. They will even let you set their houses on fire all for a good cause. I enjoyed the antics of Vern, Perry and his initial revolution move: literally turning Walmart into a crapper- it was such good writing that I even plugged my nose and wanted to gag reading the actions of Perry's sewer warfare; Sylvia, Trance, and even Vern's mother kept me entertained through out this "fable". Where would Vern be without good friends? Sometimes you just have to start a resistance; a rebellion and make people think. Do they want largess, or do they want to continue to know their neighbors, chit chat, have a great howdy when you walk down the street and have someones back, or do you want strangers, supplies from some other state or do you want your own products when you provide some of the best in your own area? Capitalism, big corporate take overs and largess, doesn't sound great looking through Vern's eyes. Bill Mckibben's quality writing kept me laughing and leg slapping the whole way through his "fable" at the same time as causing me to think about what I want to protect in my little corner of the nation. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book before it is published. I thank Penguin First to Read for that chance in lieu of my honest review. I give this book a 4 for a little bit of reality and a whole lot of great writing!

Bill McKibben refers to this novel as a fable. It is, in the sense that it contains a lesson to be learned, one that the author points out in the Author's Note at the end, and which I found very inspiring. It is not some blandly written, preachy, personified-ass short story (those are the things I fear when I hear "fable"). Rather it's full of vibrant language and humor (sometimes subtle) that made me laugh out loud at least a dozen times reading it. Really, if politics are starting to get you down and you're feeling warn out from protests or yelling at the television screen, you need this book in your life. I mean it. I could literally, physically, and metaphorically feel the weight lifting off my shoulders as soon as I started to read Radio Free Vermont. And of course, laughing helps with that. That's not to say that it's lacking in tension (or politics). Vern Barklay, a radio announcer turned fugitive, is the main character. He spends his days making podcasts with Perry (a young man with mysterious origins and insurmountable knowledge of the blues) ever since Perry emptied a sewer into a newly built Walmart where Vern was interviewing people. (If you're looking for good dialogue examples, there's some great stuff going on with Perry. His mood and the speed of his words, I swear even his vocal tone, come so perfectly through his words!) After they flee the Walmart, they move in with Sylvia (a fantastic fire chief friend of Vern's who also teaches classes to acclimate newcomers to Vermont - my favorite character). Then, you know, the occasional out-of-state beer truck gets held up, emptied out, and filled with locally brewed (and packaged) beer instead. But don't worry - the driver is well taken care of! There's also hacking, a triathlon of sorts, and a badass nursing home. I was so attached to this story that when the characters worried, I worried with them. Maybe even more than they did. Part of that empathy was because the story is the most realistic fable I've ever seen. And part of that can be chalked up to McKibben's use of real place names and real history. Trump is still president in this book. Radio Free Vermont was a real thing. Ethan Allen was born in Connecticut and died in Vermont (and his quotations used in this book are lovely). Besides driving home that awesome "moral," McKibben uses the Author's Note to clarify what's real and what he made up. There's just one thing he doesn't cover here that I really want to know. There's all these brewed-in-Vermont beers, and I get to read which characters like them and which ones don't. But are the beers actually real?

I received an advanced copy of this book front Penguin Random House. This was unlike any other book I have ever read, but it was very timely and raised lots of pertinent questions. I feel like all of the characters were in over their heads and the lead up to that situation was not well developed. I enjoyed Perry, he is quirky and funny--a great support character. All of the characters were wonderful. I never could decide the political views of the author. He seems fairly liberal most of the time, but people in the book love their guns. It kept me guessing. Overall, a decent read. Not one I would generally choose, but good if seceding from the Union is of interest to you.

Radio Free Vermont presented an interesting idea and definitely gave me something to think about. In today's world where everything is "big", might small be better? I didn't agree with all the politics, but appreciated the fact that the narrator wasn't trying to push his political views on anyone, but rather present a possibility for discussion.

Sub-titled "a fable of Resistance", Bill McKibbens Radio Free Vermont is a quick and entertaining read about a band of stalwart Vermonters who inadvertently start a successionist movement. Vern Barclay, 72, a radio host on one of the sole remaining local radio programs, works with Perry, a much younger tech wiz, after they meet at an on-location broadcast of a WalMart opening, which Perry disrupts by reversing the sewer systems flow . . . an auspicious beginning to an interesting relationship and tale. They are assisted by an Olympic biathalete, a volunteer fire chief, and Barclay's mother - women who do not suffer fools lightly and have serious thoughts on the current state of Vermont and the current state of the United States. Their escapades move quickly, are amusing and thought provoking, and provide much fodder for thought and discussion. The Authors final chapter constitutes the fable's moral - well worth considering. Be sure to read the cover blurb by Bernie Sanders. With thanks to the author and the publisher for the advanced readers copy.

It's wonderful to read a fable. This book made me really miss my "small" life in a small town on the other side of the world. It was a really beautiful love-letter to Vermont which made the morality of the message seem even more virtuous. I will be recommending this book to friends.

An incredibly fun idea, well-executed except for the very final push. It felt like the book could have been slightly longer to flesh out the main characters who needed it (Perry, Trance, Sylvia) but Vern Barclay is such a lovable guy that it made up for it. I loved every little nod to reality like the use of Ethan Allen and the soul music (pull up Perry's favourite as you read, you won't be disappointed). I loved the Vermont spirit throughout and it made me want to visit again. I received a galley from Penguin's First to Read program.

Radio Free Vermont is topical yet fun. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The characters are well written and fleshed out. We get a sense of their quirks throughout the book. At times, there was a bit of historical exposition that I felt I needed to get through, but overall it was a good read.

This book was provided to me by Penguin Random House and Blue Ryder publishers free of charge in exchange for an honest review. Bill McKibben brings to readers a sociopolitical fable that demonstrates the large scale impact of resistance in the microcosm of Vermont. Wanting to sustain Vermont life and the local economy McKibbem crafts caricatures of political spoilers who use abandoned technology--copper phone wires still buried and operational--to broadcast his message promoting an independent Vermont. Broadcasts are underground and are constantly relocating in order to survive. A movement is started and prisoners are taken. Soldiers included are the elderly, the retired, the accomplished, the autistic, LGBTQ, sharp shooters and athletes. Promoting inclusion and independence in the name of sustainability McKibben creates a condensed adventure thriller which takes readers to the slopes and muddy trails in Vermont. The narrator's voice takes this reader back to family Sunday's when we all sat around thinking about and discovering a growing America whether in front of a tv or listening to the radio when we lived our different lives on the same soil dreaming the same dream. The cameo of Rex Tillerson and mention of Mr. Trump gives essential weight to this modern day fable and hopefully readers will be disturbed beyond proaction by the moral of this tale.

Who knew there was a secessionist movement in Vermont? Radio Free Vermont is broadcasting in the hopes of raising the people’s spirits and throwing off the yokes of multinationals and out-of-state influences, like Starbucks. Here’s to the dreams of rebels wherever they may be and however remote their aspirations may extend. The book is mildly humorous and very timely.

Radio Free Vermont is a witty, well played commentary on our times, our social interactions (or lack thereof), and political responsibility. The plot revolves around a spontaneous idea of Vermont seceding from the US and going back to its native roots. Bill McKibben interweaves some history of Vermont into the tale while developing interesting characters. The story moves along quickly and remains entertaining while thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I received an ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.

Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben This is a wonderfully written, easy to read novel. I found it a relaxing and highly enjoyable read with chuckle out loud parts. It has parts to make you think and is full of fun facts. In the age of Trump, as the author says, “’s that when confronted by small men doing big and stupid things, we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster, and if we can do so without losing the civility that makes life enjoyable, then so much the better.” This is one of the few first to read books that I plan to purchase. I will highly recommend it to my friends.

A great read!

"Instead, it's that when confronted by small men doing big and stupid things, we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster, and if we can do so without losing the civility that makes life enjoyable, then so much the better." Bill McKibbon's Radio Free Vermont is first and foremost, a romp. It's a playful tale twisting its way around some of the biggest questions of our time, finding humor and creativity in all of its absurdity. And yet, even though absurd, McKibbon creates for us a plausible resistance. It is small, it is partly accidental, and it is human. There are problems, of course, as with any revolution. The government frantically tries to cut them off at the pass, but Vern and Perry and Trance and Sylvia rely on each other, as well as the founding beliefs of their state to carry the day. We're told to believe this book is "timely." That its direct critique of our current president, the degrading social discourse is somehow unique to this moment. That this moment is all that requires revolution, but, in fact, the book reminds us that we have been here before. In Vermont's and the nation's founding, through the small interpersonal moments that create a society, we have always been fighting for what is right. Radio Free Vermont tells us that we are powerful. We, the people, have a right to be feared. We hold true power in a culture that wants us to believe we are powerless. So yes, this book is for a particular group of people. This book is not intended for those who wore red hats and khakis this election cycle or who chant gleefully "Lock her up!" Bill McKibbon, I doubt, is hoping this book reaches people in the far corners of our social landscape. But for the people it does, it gives us an opportunity to laugh--a valuable commodity today. Here we have a chance to find something funny in the midst of the terror many of us feel when our president stands before a podium or opens his phone to tweet. But here, for just a few hours, we can laugh with Vern and company as they stumble, start and stop in their little revolution, because isn't that what we're doing? It certainly feels like it.

I didn't think I would get into this book based on the description, but it is relevant to our current times; it was humorous and compelling. It kinda made me want to start a revolution. I liked that the characters were mostly older, showing that bravery is not limited to the young. It was hard to put this book down until I was all the way through it.

I have followed Bill McKibben's work as an environmental activist so when First To Read offered his first novel for a preview read, I immediately asked for a copy. And, I was rewarded with a scathingly funny look at how a few feisty folks can make the establishment look downright silly even as they make a serious point about a vanishing way of life. McKibben's band of would-be activists reminds me of Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. His fiction sounds a bit like Carl Hiassen but with a New England accent. All three writers have the same goal, I think: preserve the environment but also the way of life connected to that environment, when milk and eggs came from the farmer down the street and everyone seemed to have a few rows of corn and tomatoes in the back yard. McKibben especially makes us question ideas that progress is always good and encourages us to consider those pieces of the past that are important to us, our families and our communities.

This is a quirky, fun, and entertaining read. Colorful characters make the story captivating and a relevant storyline makes it difficult to put down. Block out your schedule for the weekend, you'll want it to devour this book!

"If you show people how to pull themselves out of a hole, they're apt to like you." I received a copy of this ebook from in exchange for an honest review. While this book was an interesting read there was a little too much suspension of belief for me. The fable seems a little heavy handed and while it shows resistance as a delightful endeavor (I do like the idea of big beer companies being replaced by local breweries and of course recycling the bottles) this story got a bit over the top a bit too early for me. Things work out too perfectly (although the end is rather ambiguous) with Vern and his friends always staying one step ahead of the powers at be. I thought there would be more to the story. I probably would have liked it more if we knew how it really ended and what the consequences of the vote were...but without that this book reads as a sort of idealist manifesto that sounds great but has no real applicability.

A quick, fun read that felt like a breath of fresh air. This book couldn't be considered high literature, but it was certainly enjoyable. For anyone who feels distressed by our current political climate, this book offers a welcome distraction, with a few chuckles along the way. But I don't think most readers would come away from this book regarding it as a liberal fantasyland. I think folks on both sides of the aisle would welcome the "think small" mindset of neighbor helping neighbor, and afterward enjoying a fine local craft brew.

This is a fun book! It was easy to read, funny and had a bit of adventure. I really enjoyed how the author took a piece out of the real world and created a story around it. It certainly wasn't the best book I've ever read but I don't think that's what they author was aiming for. To be clear, it also wasn't anywhere near the worst. I'd give this book a try if you're looking for a fun, easy read.

A very smart, and fun, written book which makes you think about our place as citizens of any state and/or country. A novel full of determined characters where you will definitely feel somewhat identified regardless where you live in.

Radio Free Vermont is a KICK! Not only is it a wry parable, it is a kick in the butt to all of us to start thinking about how we live, and taking some responsibility for the WAY we WANT to Live. All Americans should be resisting the "Big" conglomerates, big banking, big government for better communities, better food, living local and "smaller" . In this day and age of bigger is better, bigger is more, many of us have lost sight of HOW we interact with neighbors in the community--some of us don't even have a community, whether in a large city or a small town. Sylvia's school for Those New to Vermont, is a hoot, but how true it is that we go somewhere new, and try to change the community to fit our own paradigm/ The secession of Vermont is ridiculous, yet, thinking about what government does for and to us is brought out easily as McKibben shares his stats within the story. Loved that he included not only the crazy politics of today, but asperger's, lesbianism, athleticism, a little known winter olympic sport, craft beers, huge dairies, huge farms. The story was fun to read, timely, had enough action, suspense and humor to be fun as well as thought-provoking. Thanks, Bill McKibben!

This book was an absolutely delightful read. Timely, quirky, funny, completely engaging. I abanoned the two other books I've been reading to focus on this one-- it was too good to put down for long! And it's not an overly long book either, I read it in two sittings. *This review was also posted on Goodreads*

This story was rather humourous. I enjoyed the way who the author focused on how Vermont has changed over the years. Especially with the cutting down of old growth forests. McKibben also focused on how important it is to get to know your neighbours, because they might have to be the ones to get you out of a scrape. We need this book right now, because it's more about getting along with people eventhough we have differences.

This was a delightful, quirky romp through a fictional secession movement in Vermont, and an easy-to-read modern day fable about resistance. Our protagonist, Vern Barclay, brings to mind Garrison Keillor as an almost accidental resistance leader. He is charming and thoughtful as he perpetrates a number of hilarious acts of probable treason (not a lawyer!), aided by an eccentric band of fellow resistors. While Vern himself got plenty of background (at one point he even admits that he was once opposed to same-sex marriage), I do wish that McKibben had spent a little more time with the supporting cast, though this didn't inhibit my enjoyment of the book (I didn't even realize I wanted to know more about them until after I finished the book and was thinking about it). I do also wish that McKibben didn't spend quite so much time trying to push the two lesbian characters together - I know Vermont is a small state, but there must be more than two lesbians there. The end of the story left me wanting more, mostly because the picture of quaint, friendly, deeply patriotic and democratic Vermont was so appealing. The ending strikes the perfect chord of open-endedness, encouraging readers to come up with their own ideas for the future (and perhaps go out and make them happen in the real world). Although its themes are weighty and important, Radio Free Vermont never felt heavy. It backed up its claims (to be fair, I didn't fact check) with facts, but was never heavy-handed. And although the antagonists, when portrayed in character form (rather than just "big corporations", etc.), might have been caricatures, McKibben's treatment never felt mean spirited or petty. Radio Free Vermont is a wonderfully lighthearted read for anyone who was disappointed by the results of the last presidential election.


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