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"Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agraria "Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agrarian religion, and geo-biography—these essays promote a clearly defined and compelling vision important to all people dissatisfied with the stress, anxiety, disease, and destructiveness of contemporary American culture. Why is agriculture becoming culturally irrelevant, and at what cost? What are the forces of social disintegration and how might they be reversed? How might men and women live together in ways that benefit both? And, how does the corporate takeover of social institutions and economic practices contribute to the destruction of human and natural environments? Through his staunch support of local economies, his defense of farming communities, and his call for family integrity, Berry emerges as the champion of responsibilities and priorities that serve the health, vitality and happiness of the whole community of creation.


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"Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agraria "Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agrarian religion, and geo-biography—these essays promote a clearly defined and compelling vision important to all people dissatisfied with the stress, anxiety, disease, and destructiveness of contemporary American culture. Why is agriculture becoming culturally irrelevant, and at what cost? What are the forces of social disintegration and how might they be reversed? How might men and women live together in ways that benefit both? And, how does the corporate takeover of social institutions and economic practices contribute to the destruction of human and natural environments? Through his staunch support of local economies, his defense of farming communities, and his call for family integrity, Berry emerges as the champion of responsibilities and priorities that serve the health, vitality and happiness of the whole community of creation.

30 review for The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    It's taken me a long time to read this book. I had to keep taking breaks, like grabbing a breath before diving back down into deep water to explore the bottom of the ocean. Wendell Berry writes beautiful, lyrical prose. He is insightful, troubling, wise, and--I use this word deliberately--holy. Mr. Berry's work as a poet informs his nonfiction; he carefully choses his words, and writes with both clarity and artistry. The Art of the Commonplace is a book of essays written over the past three or f It's taken me a long time to read this book. I had to keep taking breaks, like grabbing a breath before diving back down into deep water to explore the bottom of the ocean. Wendell Berry writes beautiful, lyrical prose. He is insightful, troubling, wise, and--I use this word deliberately--holy. Mr. Berry's work as a poet informs his nonfiction; he carefully choses his words, and writes with both clarity and artistry. The Art of the Commonplace is a book of essays written over the past three or four decades. I did not read every essay; I could tell rather quickly which ones appealed to me and which ones didn't. Some of the more political essays--ones speaking specifically to issues at the time of their writing--were much less powerful than Berry's broad observations about the world he lives in, and how that world is reflected back to him by the world at large. Generally speaking, Wendell Berry writes about the necessity of recognizing the connections between the land, the holistic health of the people on that land, and creation and maintenance of community. Place, for Mr. Berry, is everything. As an agrarian, he write with great passion about man's relationship to nature, and how mechanization and industrialization have fractured the bonds of people and place. I am not doing justice to the depth of Berry's observations about the failings and faults of our world today. Suffice it to say that, after reading some of his essays, I was ready to sell all my possessions, move to an isolated rural farm, homeschool my children, and walk bare-foot through the dew tipped fields for the rest of my life. He is convincing, in other words. He's telling the truth. As I read, I kept being reminded of Bill McKibben's bookDeep Economy which also talked in great depth about what makes people happy, the need for community, and the counter-cultural reality that small and local is, in fact, better than large and national or global. The two men would find much to agree on, I suspect. I could, literally, write two dozens quotes from this book. I will return to it, again and again, to find inspiration, insight, wisdom, and courage. Berry is remarkable. I am going to read much more of his work. This short passage will have to suffice for now: “We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world - to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear. It is not only our own creativity - our own capacity for life - that is stifled by our arrogant assumption; the creation itself is stifled. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it. (pg. 20, "A Native Hill")”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    Oh man, I am passionately devoted to Wendell Berry. I say too many things sarcastically, but I am dead serious. I can pinpoint the moment when I looked up and said "Oh, I am in love with this author's mind.I am becoming a fucking farmer and moving to Asheville and growing my own vegetables and reading Wendell everyday." That is what happened to me, people. He is right about everything. It sounds weird, but I am so serious. Wendell Berry is excellent and fantastic and phenomenal and makes me want Oh man, I am passionately devoted to Wendell Berry. I say too many things sarcastically, but I am dead serious. I can pinpoint the moment when I looked up and said "Oh, I am in love with this author's mind.I am becoming a fucking farmer and moving to Asheville and growing my own vegetables and reading Wendell everyday." That is what happened to me, people. He is right about everything. It sounds weird, but I am so serious. Wendell Berry is excellent and fantastic and phenomenal and makes me want to play tag in the hayfield and then pluck tomatoes from the vines and homeschool my children. Weird, but true.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    I love Wendell Berry, but maybe a whole book of his essays wasn't the right choice. He is very verbose, and this book got repetitive for me. Nevertheless, it was worth reading. Berry manages to be both extremely conservative and extremely radical at the same time. His cause is "agrarianism." He reminds us that we are part of an ecosystem and, as creatures who eat food, part of an agricultural system whether we know it or not. To say the least, he disapproves of our modern industrial agricultural I love Wendell Berry, but maybe a whole book of his essays wasn't the right choice. He is very verbose, and this book got repetitive for me. Nevertheless, it was worth reading. Berry manages to be both extremely conservative and extremely radical at the same time. His cause is "agrarianism." He reminds us that we are part of an ecosystem and, as creatures who eat food, part of an agricultural system whether we know it or not. To say the least, he disapproves of our modern industrial agricultural system and is skeptical of the benefits of global trade. It is bad for our soil, air and water, bad for animals and bad for human beings. Berry advocates a return to small farms, for a couple of reasons. First, he contends that people who can't produce their own food aren't free. Second, small farmers tend to be better stewards of their land. Would standards of living fall under Berry's preferred system? Yes, definitely, and he has no problem with that. He thinks that people in developed nations radically over-consume, to the detriment of the planet and to the detriment of our own souls. We have lost sight, Berry contends, of the sources of true happiness: oneness with creation, membership in a community. Like the builders of the Tower of Babel, we have lost sight of our humanity and the limits that it imposes. Although a Christian himself who knows his Bible, Berry also takes Christianity to task for its notion of the duality of body and soul, earth and heaven, matter and spirit. He argues - and backs up his argument with quotes from the Bible - that matter and spirit are one, that the breath of God is in all things, and to desecrate Creation is to desecrate the Creator we claim to worship. Very thought-provoking. Like my reviews? Check out my blog at http://www.kathrynbashaar.com/blog/ Author of The Saint's Mistress: http://www.synergebooks.com/ebook_sai...

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sherry Elmer

    I highly recommend this thoughtful book of essays to fans of Wendell Berry and to everyone who is interested in ideas of community, environment, or agriculture. Read it with a pen nearby; there will be a lot you want to copy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    People should read this book like they read the Bible. Not necessarily the way believers read the Bible (though it's not the worst replacement), but at least the way anyone who wants to be culturally literate reads Genesis and Exodus and Job and John and a few others to have an idea of what's going on around them. This is the compelling oppositional political and social philosophy of my generation, my peer social class at least. So often as I get to know someone I come to see that they hold this People should read this book like they read the Bible. Not necessarily the way believers read the Bible (though it's not the worst replacement), but at least the way anyone who wants to be culturally literate reads Genesis and Exodus and Job and John and a few others to have an idea of what's going on around them. This is the compelling oppositional political and social philosophy of my generation, my peer social class at least. So often as I get to know someone I come to see that they hold this belief system as close as any religion or moral code. Often they haven't read Berry, but have picked up the values through cultural osmosis or simply by coming to their own independent conclusions. Berry is less prophet than gospel writer. His prose is simple, evocative, worthy of comparison with Emerson (his obvious precedent.) The arguments are compelling, too. I like this particular book because it front-loads some of the best essays. It's hard not to get hooked.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Donovan Richards

    Urban Jungles Living in a city, I sometimes find nature a nuisance. Snow might display beautiful characteristics as it coats a meadow, but it certainly exhibits headache-inducing qualities when it materializes during the commute. Vibrant evergreens coating a mountain convey the finest forms of art, yet no tree stands in the way of a property owner desiring a better view. Urban life is ultimately divorced from the land. A simple block-to-block walk downtown provides little to no evidence of ecolog Urban Jungles Living in a city, I sometimes find nature a nuisance. Snow might display beautiful characteristics as it coats a meadow, but it certainly exhibits headache-inducing qualities when it materializes during the commute. Vibrant evergreens coating a mountain convey the finest forms of art, yet no tree stands in the way of a property owner desiring a better view. Urban life is ultimately divorced from the land. A simple block-to-block walk downtown provides little to no evidence of ecology. The Art of the Commonplace decries these realities as it presents a case for an agrarian-minded society. Berry’s collection of essays is divided into five parts: a geobiography, understanding our cultural crisis, the agrarian basis for an authentic culture, agrarian economics, and agrarian religion. In these sections, Berry makes the case for a counter-cultural understanding of society, a way of life rooted in and sustained by the land. Critiquing the System Central to Berry’s thesis is a scathing critique of consumerist culture and industrial business practice. Where our ancestors lived in unity with the land, we exist in tension with the land. The Art of the Commonplace contains prophetic passages where Berry takes the form of a minor prophet beating the drum of repentance in the face of giant institutions. Along these lines, Berry writes, “It is possible to make a little economy, such as our present one, that is so shortsighted and in which accounting is of so short a term as to give the impression that vices are necessary and practically justifiable. When we make our economy a little wheel turning in opposition to what we call ‘nature,’ then we set up competitiveness as the ruling principle in our explanation of reality and in our understanding of economy; we make of it, willy-nilly, a virtue. But competitiveness, as a ruling principle and a virtue, imposes a logic that is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to control. That logic explains why our cars and our clothes are shoddily made, why our ‘wastes’ are toxic, and why our ‘defensive’ weapons are suicidal; it explains why it is so difficult for us to draw a line between ‘free enterprise’ and crime. If our economic ideal is maximum profit with minimum responsibility, why should we be surprised to find our corporations so frequently in court and robbery on the increase? Why should we be surprised to find that medicine has become an exploitive industry, profitable in direct proportion to its hurry and its mechanical indifference? People who pay for shoddy products or careless services and people who are robbed outright are equally victims of theft, the only difference being that robbers outright are not guilty of fraud” (233). In Berry’s mind, the contemporary industrial economy shoulders much of the blame regarding what is wrong with the world. Not only does capitalism create a system where efficiency requires low quality and high profits, but also it compels business leaders to act right up against the barriers of what is legal. In such instances, it is no surprise to see broken laws and broken people. Eating Strawberries on a Cold, January Day Moreover, the industrial economy creates a civilization incapable of sustaining itself. Berry laments, “Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the best food in the best way – we don’t know how to produce any kind in any way. Our model citizen is a sophisticate who before puberty understands how to produce a baby, but who at the age of thirty will not know how to produce a potato. And for this condition we have elaborate rationalizations, instructing us that dependence for everything on somebody else is efficient and economical and a scientific miracle. I say, instead, that it is madness, mass produced” (85). Forget growing a potato, I could not tell you when they are in season. As a child, I vaguely remember my mother buying blueberries in mass quantities because they were in season. Today, I am a grocery store away from an infinite resource of blueberries year-round. While I have not taken a poll of my generation, it seems that most people my age are in a similar position. The seasonal connection to the land by way of fruits and vegetables has slowly gone the way of the buffalo. If I do not understand the seasons, how can I expect to establish a green thumb? Ultimately, Berry argues that our industrialized economy has created a consequentialist culture focused on efficiency. Berry asserts, “Logically, in plenitude some things ought to be expendable. Industrial economics has always believed this: abundance justifies waste. This is one of the dominant superstitions of American history – and of the history of colonialism everywhere. Expendability is also an assumption of the world of efficiency which is why that world deals so compulsively in percentages of efficacy and safety. But this sort of logic is absolutely alien to the world of love. To the claim that a certain drug or procedure would save 99 percent of all cancer patients of that a certain pollutant would be safe for 99 percent of a population, love, unembarrassed, would respond, ‘What about the one percent?’ There is nothing rational or perhaps even defensible about this, but it is nonetheless one of the strongest strands of our religious tradition – it is probably the most essential strand – according to which a shepherd, owning a hundred sheep and having lost one, does not say, ‘I have saved 99 percent of my sheep,’ but rather, ‘I have lost one,’ and he goes and searches for the one” (154-155). In short, reconnecting ourselves to the land both through a local economy and an agrarian-based religion reminds us of the power of pursuing the one as opposed to neglecting it by rationalizing that the 99 are enough. Let’s Pack Our Bags, We’re Going to Eden! While I appreciate and typically side with the critiques posed by the Art of the Commonplace, I find the conclusions to be slightly utopian in nature. In other words, Berry’s urge to reconnect with nature seems slightly akin to arguing that humanity ought to go back to a place and time before the fall, living a reconciled life in God’s Creation. The fall, in my estimation, significantly alters humanity’s relationship with nature. Granted, industry possesses a poor track record of domination over the natural world. Nevertheless, biblically mandated stewardship does not negate the possibility of development. As with most things, the extremes on both sides of the economic argument fall into untenable positions. Business provides valuable opportunities to assist those in need; local economies connected to nature remind humanity that it is a creature and not a creator. Even though I do not find anything inherently evil about urban life, Berry’s writing presents a counterpoint to the dominant views. As a society, we ought to remember and enjoy the natural world and humanity’s connection to it. Berry’s economic, cultural, and religious positions found in the Art of the Commonplace are wholeheartedly worthy of study. He poetically renders his positions unashamedly; his critiques remind us that business as usual will never solve all of the world’s problems. For this reason, I recommend this book. Originally published at http://wherepenmeetspaper.blogspot.com/

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Shelnutt

    I'm sitting here with a stack of note cards in front of me, the fruit of having read this book. It represents more notes than I typically take for one book, while simultaneously testifying to the value I placed on the insights that Berry offers on the agrarian lifestyle, local economies, the family unit, respect for the Creator demonstrated by respect for His creation, the value and dignity of work, global "harmony" destroying cultural diversity, and a sensible understanding of individual freedo I'm sitting here with a stack of note cards in front of me, the fruit of having read this book. It represents more notes than I typically take for one book, while simultaneously testifying to the value I placed on the insights that Berry offers on the agrarian lifestyle, local economies, the family unit, respect for the Creator demonstrated by respect for His creation, the value and dignity of work, global "harmony" destroying cultural diversity, and a sensible understanding of individual freedom being proportionally related to self-sufficiency. I found myself continually amazed at Berry's almost prophetic insight. Most of these essays were written in the seventies, eighties and nineties, yet he saw on the distant horizon the destructive environmental and social consequences of industrialized farming and agribusiness that we are experiencing today. He was espousing "organic" foods long before it was a buzzword, and endorsing traditional homesteading methods at a time when the American farmer was increasingly being viewed as backward and behind the times. Plus Berry isn't merely an armchair agriculturist. His wisdom is borne from long years of trial and error on his own small farm (that he farms with horses). I love this quote in particular as representative of the book's flavor: "The agrarian mind begins with the love of fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, good eating, and gratitude to God." I recently reread Voltaire's Candide, and though Berry's writing doesn't necessarily remind me of Voltaire's (apart from both of them frequently espousing liberty of conscious and choice), I can't but help think of Candide's final words after a lifetime of absurd suffering: "All that is very well, but let us cultivate our garden." So, if you're a fan of Berry's fiction or interested in agrarian issues, I highly recommend this compilation of essays.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I am currently self-exiled in the countryside, and I picked up this book thinking, who better to foster in me a love of rural life than Wendell Berry? Instead of being filled with warm fuzzy feelings for all things agricultural, however, I finished the book with an expanded sense of community, a wider understanding of internesting economies, and what it means to live with the rest of the world in mind. I appreciated the fact that this collection provides the date of original publication for each I am currently self-exiled in the countryside, and I picked up this book thinking, who better to foster in me a love of rural life than Wendell Berry? Instead of being filled with warm fuzzy feelings for all things agricultural, however, I finished the book with an expanded sense of community, a wider understanding of internesting economies, and what it means to live with the rest of the world in mind. I appreciated the fact that this collection provides the date of original publication for each of the essays - it's easier to forgive sexist language in the essays from the 1970s, for example, and it's all the more impressive that Berry was preaching the virtues of eating locally way back in 1989. This is the first collection of Wendell Berry's works I've read, and I found that it provide a thorough overview of major themes that seem to re-emerge throughout his writing career. I plan to keep this book on my shelf for future perusing.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    “The moral argument points to restraint; it is a conclusion that may be in some sense tragic, but there is no escaping it. Much as we long for infinities of power and duration, we have no evidence that these lie within our reach, much less within our responsibility. It is more likely that we will have either to live within our limits, within the human definition, or not live at all. And certainly the knowledge of these limits and of how to live within them is the most comely and graceful knowled “The moral argument points to restraint; it is a conclusion that may be in some sense tragic, but there is no escaping it. Much as we long for infinities of power and duration, we have no evidence that these lie within our reach, much less within our responsibility. It is more likely that we will have either to live within our limits, within the human definition, or not live at all. And certainly the knowledge of these limits and of how to live within them is the most comely and graceful knowledge that we have, the most healing and the most whole.” There would be worse things than this to have as your Bible. I’m keeping this short because I’ll fill up this space as I read this book a dozen more times.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    This is a collection of Berry's essays that are related to "farming". Several of them appear in other collections of essays. I found some of them uncomfortable to read because of what they had to say about me and my lifestyle.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I don't know how I didn't get bored reading this book, because so many of the essays are essentially saying the same thing. It wasn't until the very end, somewhere in the 300s and a few paragraphs deep into some Reagan-era trade agreement, that I started to skim and skip a bit. In fact, I had planned to just skip around and read only the essays that interested me based on their title, but after doing three that way, I decided I like it enough to head page to square one and give the whole thing a I don't know how I didn't get bored reading this book, because so many of the essays are essentially saying the same thing. It wasn't until the very end, somewhere in the 300s and a few paragraphs deep into some Reagan-era trade agreement, that I started to skim and skip a bit. In fact, I had planned to just skip around and read only the essays that interested me based on their title, but after doing three that way, I decided I like it enough to head page to square one and give the whole thing a go. What I really (really, really) like about Wendell Berry's philosophy is that it is not easily categorizable as either conservative or liberal. The whole of the book, and his entire oeuvre, as I understand it, is quite counter-cultural, but not all in one direction. He says things that many leftists would consider unsavory. For example (and I'm picking one that I agree with), he states that for the most part, the mainstream feminist movement adopted most of the positions and attitudes of the patriarchy, and there is nothing really liberating about playing the domination game in that way. He also professes a lot of values that would be labeled as "traditional," which a liberal would see as oppressive. But I'm sure the conservatives would love to selectively quote his beliefs about marriage and sexuality and so on. On the other hand, no self-respecting right-winger could ever get behind Berry's staunch opposition to virtually anything industrial. They would likely mock his disavowal of tractors over horses and pencils over keyboards and all the rest. This unlikely mash-up of ideas really pleases me. I find it very dynamic, whereas most intellectuals generally come of as dogmatic. Lots of quotable passages. Lots of actionable ideas. Action over ideas. Time for me to go build the soil in my garden plot.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    In the essays collected as "The Art of the Commonplace," Wendell Berry presents a compelling vision for the restoration of American culture. He argues that a deep attachment to the land and a proper understanding of humanity's relationship to the created world will help us develop a more robust definition of economics and sustainability, one that will preserve our exhaustible natural resources and enable us to provide for future generations. (As he says: life is short, and the world is long.) Be In the essays collected as "The Art of the Commonplace," Wendell Berry presents a compelling vision for the restoration of American culture. He argues that a deep attachment to the land and a proper understanding of humanity's relationship to the created world will help us develop a more robust definition of economics and sustainability, one that will preserve our exhaustible natural resources and enable us to provide for future generations. (As he says: life is short, and the world is long.) Berry never allows us to rest comfortably in contemporary political commonplaces; he challenges the assumptions of Republicans and Democrats alike, pointing out that as long as business and corporate interests are funding political candidates, our nation will always be tied to exploitative approaches to the land, and to our fellow human beings. Berry's ethic - his take on what it means to live well in contemporary culture - is hard to live out in our contemporary society, but it's also deeply important, even if all it does is give us pause to think more seriously about the choices we make on a day-to-day basis. Most of us won't be able to give up computers or start our own small farms, but if we can grow vegetables in our dooryards, or walk/bike to work occasionally rather than driving, we'll be making important strides toward loving the world that we inherited and living better in it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Byron

    I spent months plowing [pun intended] through this collection of essays. I view that time as well spent and edifying. Just before finishing the last few pages I turned to the notes and highlights I've made along the way. What nuggets, what treasures, what wisdom! And I have page after of page of those notes, which upon re-reading, make me want to dive back into the source essay and not forget the context. More importantly, there are actions to be taken as results of the readings in this collecti I spent months plowing [pun intended] through this collection of essays. I view that time as well spent and edifying. Just before finishing the last few pages I turned to the notes and highlights I've made along the way. What nuggets, what treasures, what wisdom! And I have page after of page of those notes, which upon re-reading, make me want to dive back into the source essay and not forget the context. More importantly, there are actions to be taken as results of the readings in this collections. To read them and not act on them would mean that you have simply wasted time reading and attempting to understand a world that you probably aren't familiar with. It is, as I've mentioned before, a book that I intend to buy for my children--and talk about it incessantly until they read it. Not all of the essays are 'easy-reading'. There will be times that you need to deconstruct the prose, absorb it, and reflect on it before moving on. True literary nourishment will be your reward.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alasdair Martin

    It has taken me nine months to read this cover-to-cover, that is to say, it *can* be difficult. However Berry is a highly capable writer and communicator and conveys his points well, if in a somewhat verbose manner at times. I'd still recommend this book to those who have an interest in standing in opposition to the 'industrial economy', which is really the main thrust of this selection of essays; considering how said economy seeks to treat finite resources as infinite and disregard long term ne It has taken me nine months to read this cover-to-cover, that is to say, it *can* be difficult. However Berry is a highly capable writer and communicator and conveys his points well, if in a somewhat verbose manner at times. I'd still recommend this book to those who have an interest in standing in opposition to the 'industrial economy', which is really the main thrust of this selection of essays; considering how said economy seeks to treat finite resources as infinite and disregard long term needs in favour of short term expediency. Berry is an agriculturalist, a farmer in essence, and these essays reflect that but become analogous to the broader context. I did find much of the religious meanderings off putting however, particularly in the last few essays, but they were worth persevering with for the ideas they encompassed, and also as an interesting observation on how individuals (including the author) may be moulded by belief systems.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Darnell

    Wendell Berry made his living as a writer and speaker, jobs only possible via modern technology and completely unsustainable on a larger scale. While enjoying a privileged lifestyle he dabbled in farming and fantasizing about the past. This book's idealization of an agrarian lifestyle is an insult to the millions of human beings still struggling to survive via subsistence agriculture. Placing a farmer on a pedestal is as offensive as the stereotype of the "noble savage": it ignores historical rea Wendell Berry made his living as a writer and speaker, jobs only possible via modern technology and completely unsustainable on a larger scale. While enjoying a privileged lifestyle he dabbled in farming and fantasizing about the past. This book's idealization of an agrarian lifestyle is an insult to the millions of human beings still struggling to survive via subsistence agriculture. Placing a farmer on a pedestal is as offensive as the stereotype of the "noble savage": it ignores historical realities to create an imitation of the past that is appealing to modern thinkers. His ideas about simplicity and the environment are commendable, but I'm afraid his central obsession with a time that never was will always make his writing odious to me.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    So far, i am enjoying this look at the "agrarian" lifestyle as an anecdote for the "social disintegration" caused by our "dominant urban culture." We have recently moved from urban sprawl to a small farming community and I'm hoping this book will help me understand, appreciate and acclimate to my new surroundings.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This book makes me want to learn more about the local environment - the wild plants, animals, natural processes, local places... "The world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place where I was fated by birth to know better than any other."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lesley

    The content of this book is that which I wish all people could know and understand. It is a commentary and vision on the degradation of good work, communities, culture, ecology, agriculture, marriage, and stewardship in America at the hands of global economy, mechanical replacement of human skill and knowledge, politics, and greed. In the fifty-plus years since Berry wrote many of these essays, people have continued to march ahead in the same direction - towards a looming collapse that will even The content of this book is that which I wish all people could know and understand. It is a commentary and vision on the degradation of good work, communities, culture, ecology, agriculture, marriage, and stewardship in America at the hands of global economy, mechanical replacement of human skill and knowledge, politics, and greed. In the fifty-plus years since Berry wrote many of these essays, people have continued to march ahead in the same direction - towards a looming collapse that will eventually destroy both our individual and communal health. The complex writing style, combined with the weighty subject matter, was exhausting for me to read, and I could usually only get through about a dozen chapters at time. But it sure made me think about the hopes that I have for the community in which I live!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Walsh

    Norman Wirzba edited this collection of essays and wrote the introduction. Mr. Wirzba himself has written and edited books, essays, and articles on caring for creation, living in harmony with creation, food and faith, and related subjects. Wendell Berry’s writing is a joy to read. In it we find such sentiments as these: “It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.” (from the essay “A Native Hill”) and “Respect, I think, always implies an imagination—the ability to see on Norman Wirzba edited this collection of essays and wrote the introduction. Mr. Wirzba himself has written and edited books, essays, and articles on caring for creation, living in harmony with creation, food and faith, and related subjects. Wendell Berry’s writing is a joy to read. In it we find such sentiments as these: “It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.” (from the essay “A Native Hill”) and “Respect, I think, always implies an imagination—the ability to see one another across our inevitable differences as living souls.” (from the essay “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.”) Wendell Berry’s writing is difficult to read. His writing is prophetic; he does not write to make his readers comfortable or to make his readers feel good about themselves. He hands down indictments of many institutions that are embedded in Western culture: consumerism, corporate greed, and the leisure and entertainment cultures. Not everyone who reads Wendell Berry holds him in high regard. Allen T. Stanton, a Methodist pastor, wrote Why I Hate Wendell Berry for Duke University’s online publication Faith & Leadership. The argument is easy to understand. Wendell Berry’s writings, especially his essays, idealize, or romanticize small-town and rural life. Those of us who’ve never lived in a small town or spent time on a farm buy into the idealized vision and, if we read enough of Berry, Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals), and even Ragan Sutterfield (Cultivating Reality), assume that we know how to fix America’s agricultural and food systems. It brings to mind this quote from Meaghan Hammond in This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm: “This second-guessing of basic animal husbandry, often to satisfy a grocery shopper who has never been on on a farm, is a sore point for almost anyone engaged in raising livestock these days.” I have not read many collections of essays, and I would imagine this is true of other essayists: All of the essays in this book have also been published in other collections. Each of the following collections includes at least two of the essays in The Art of the Commonplace: What are People For? Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community The Gift of Good Land The Unsettling of America Home Economics Wendell Berry might have mixed thoughts about this observation. On the one hand, if your public library consortium has a fair collection of Wendell Berry’s works, you can probably read all of essays without buying any of his books of essays. Patronizing a community resource such as the library is certainly in the spirit of the lifestyle that Berry advocates. On the other hand, he earns an income from the sale of these collections and other works. Finally, if Wendell Berry’s writing is nothing else, they are a call to action for thoughtful readers. In that spirit, please consider these action items from the final essay in this collection, “The Pleasures of Eating,” which also appears in his collection What Are People For? 1. Participate in food production to the extent that you can. If you have a yard or even just a porch box or a pot in a sunny window, grow something to eat in it. Make a little compost of your kitchen scraps and use it for fertilizer. Only by growing some food for yourself can you become acquainted with the beautiful energy cycle that revolves from soil to seed to flower to fruit to food to offal to decay, and around again. You will be fully responsible for any food that you grow for yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life. 2. Prepare your own food. This means reviving in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household. This should enable you to eat more cheaply, and it will give you a measure of “quality control”: you will have some reliable knowledge of what has been added to the food you eat. 3. Learn the origins of the food you buy, and buy the food that is produced closest to your home. The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and to influence. 4. Whenever possible, deal directly with a local farmer, gardener, or orchardist. All the reasons listed for the previous suggestion apply here. In addition, by such dealing you eliminate a whole pack of merchants, transporters, processors, packagers, and advertisers who thrive at the expense of both producers and consumers. 5. Learn, in self-defense, as much as you can of the economy and technology of industrial food production. What is added to food that is not food, and what do you pay for these additions? 6. Learn what is involved in the best farming and gardening. 7. Learn as much as you can, by direct observation and experience if possible, of the life histories of the food species.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Berry is a frustrating read, because he is often right about so many things ahead of the curve (for instance, decrying high-density feed lots for beef cattle, in 1980), but also, at least in these essays, very shortsighted about the possibilities of modern life. He constantly demands that we participate in communities, by which he quite explicitly means rural farming communities, without recognizing that those communities have never welcomed everyone. And, in truth, people who have left those co Berry is a frustrating read, because he is often right about so many things ahead of the curve (for instance, decrying high-density feed lots for beef cattle, in 1980), but also, at least in these essays, very shortsighted about the possibilities of modern life. He constantly demands that we participate in communities, by which he quite explicitly means rural farming communities, without recognizing that those communities have never welcomed everyone. And, in truth, people who have left those communities have often gone on to form amazing, vibrant communities of their own. I appreciate Berry's criticisms of industry at large, and especially industrial agriculture, but I would have also appreciated seeing a slightly more expansive idea of what we can replace them with.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Casey Miller

    The best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. I now want to read everything else this guy has written! He's a plain-spoken advocate of hard work and living a true life in harmony with nature and with a proper acknowledgement of our place in the grand scheme of the world. Truly insightful and intelligent, the topics range from economics to religion to farming and household relationships, all woven together in a cohesive vision wherein we place proper value on both the human and non-human co The best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. I now want to read everything else this guy has written! He's a plain-spoken advocate of hard work and living a true life in harmony with nature and with a proper acknowledgement of our place in the grand scheme of the world. Truly insightful and intelligent, the topics range from economics to religion to farming and household relationships, all woven together in a cohesive vision wherein we place proper value on both the human and non-human communities that surround us. I strongly recommend this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    If you're looking for an introduction to Wendell Berry's essays, this is an excellent place to start. The essays in this collection are selected as a broad overview of Berry's agrarian vision, summed up by a thoughtful regard towards one's locale, community, land, dependence, and how all these contexts fit together. This volume requires some careful time to read and digest, which is exactly what Berry would ask you to do.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kim Zinkowski

    I MOSTLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK AND AGREED WITH MOST OF BERRY'S VIEWS. IT WAS SOMEWHAT TEDIOUS AT TIMES, especially towards the end.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shradha

    Must read to understand the ailing cultural decline of our society since the industrial age

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jolene

    Life changing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Wendell Berry’s name is synonymous with agrarianism, but also with liberal Christianity. This collection of essays mirrors both of these points of view. First, with regard to his agrarianism… Berry is no doubt an extraordinarily talented wordsmith. “All good human work remembers its history.” (pg. 77), and “We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.” (pg. 201) are some examples of his approach to a topic that is discussed much too often but not followed up on with action. This collection Wendell Berry’s name is synonymous with agrarianism, but also with liberal Christianity. This collection of essays mirrors both of these points of view. First, with regard to his agrarianism… Berry is no doubt an extraordinarily talented wordsmith. “All good human work remembers its history.” (pg. 77), and “We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.” (pg. 201) are some examples of his approach to a topic that is discussed much too often but not followed up on with action. This collection of essays reminds us that it is in the acting upon not only our beliefs, but the right beliefs concerning the environment, each other, and the animals we share life with that counts. The “right beliefs” to Berry are those that lead to a deep understanding of the importance of our connections with the world we live in, especially the ecological, environmental and agricultural connections. Here, the essays take on an approach that borders on frustration and anger at times: Berry is running out of patience and rightly so. He points out the “long standing division between conservationists and farmers, ranchers, and other private small-business people is distressing because it is to a considerable extent false.” (pg. 203). These and other reminders that the political splits between conservationists and traditional “enemies of nature” are for the most part fallacious is in my point of view one of the most important and ubiquitous topics of the twenty-one essays presented here. He reminds us that it is the move towards global economies and the supranational corporations that are “killing rural America, just as [they] are killing America’s cities…” and our country. He is correct, and reminds us all that we already know that. With regard to Berry’s religious points of view (he is what I would refer to as a liberal fundamentalist), I think that depending upon your religious point of view these essays would prove warranted, frustrating, or dangerous. For those more liberally minded religious, these essays would prove a breath of warranted air. For the more fundamentally attuned, frustrating, and for the typically politically right-minded Christian fundamentalist, dangerous. In my opinion, his inclusion of religion here is off-point and undermines the gist of his overall arguments. There is a God to Berry, and that God is the Christian God, but throughout the collection Berry teeters from worshipping the traditional God of Christianity and the traditional approach to environmentally friendly agricultural practices. For my part, the essays would have packed much more of a philosophical punch if he had left his religious beliefs to himself. These essays are a wonderful introduction to Berry’s writings, his essays and (I presume) his novels. I think they are an important reminder that, as he writes, “The acquisition of knowledge always involves the revelation of ignorance.” (pg. 183) Pick up the book and start realizing your own personal ignorance!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Coyle

    Wendell Berry is a fascinating character, who always has interesting things to say. If nothing else, Berry is useful in challenging us to reconsider our presuppositions. We're just not used to being told that industry and production (as we do them now) are inherently bad, and ought to be done away with in favor of the quiet of a small, local community. Berry is exceptionally good at expressing and expanding on things most Americans (I can't speak for other nationalities) already believe: the lif Wendell Berry is a fascinating character, who always has interesting things to say. If nothing else, Berry is useful in challenging us to reconsider our presuppositions. We're just not used to being told that industry and production (as we do them now) are inherently bad, and ought to be done away with in favor of the quiet of a small, local community. Berry is exceptionally good at expressing and expanding on things most Americans (I can't speak for other nationalities) already believe: the life of a small farmer is more virtuous than the life of an urbanite. There's something about working in the land that naturally develops good character. Having grown up on a small farm and moved to a large city, I know from experience that this is rubbing (a bad person on a farm is still a bad person), but the fact that everyone believes it has to be taken into account. From what I can tell, the strengths of Berry's agrarianism are as follows: -His criticisms of the modern world are usually right on. We need to scrutinize the worldview that tells us the ideal lifestyle is a supermarket with a million options but which does not bring either happiness or virtue. -He reminds us that we are to be shepherds and caretakers of creation, not exploiters who use the world as a place to pursue limitless quantity. -Encourages us to live first and foremost as members of a local community. We cannot "love thy neighbor" when we don't even know our neighbor. -Stresses the importance of understanding and appreciating the natural world, especially remembering our place in it in terms of humility and setting limits on our own base desires. The major weakness of Berry's agrarianism (and why I'm not an agrarian, besides the brutal nature of rural life) is that he seems to have a wrong understanding of sin. Either he believes that sin is something which impacts people in the cities more than in the country, or he believes that the agrarian lifestyle is sufficient to counteract or destroy sin. Both beliefs are false, even if commonly held. This book only gets four stars basically because it's not an easy read. It is worthwhile to plod through, but Berry's essays aren't things you can sit down and breeze over. Of course difficult ideas sometimes require difficult language, but "we should live the agrarian lifestyle" isn't a difficult idea, and I know from skimming some of his fiction that he's capable of more.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brad Belschner

    I love Wendell Berry. He writes beautifully, carefully handcrafting each sentence. He is an inspiration. That being said, I can't agree with him completely. True, modern technology and factories and over-specialization have produced much evil. We must beware. But they have also given us much good. Berry is great at identifying the bad, but not quite so great at identifying the good. For example: we are blessed to have machines that can help us make hay better, quicker, and easier. Tractors are a I love Wendell Berry. He writes beautifully, carefully handcrafting each sentence. He is an inspiration. That being said, I can't agree with him completely. True, modern technology and factories and over-specialization have produced much evil. We must beware. But they have also given us much good. Berry is great at identifying the bad, but not quite so great at identifying the good. For example: we are blessed to have machines that can help us make hay better, quicker, and easier. Tractors are amazing inventions, even though they break down and need repairs (Proverbs 14:4). I believe men will eventually explore the stars and colonize other planets....but even if we don't, specialized labour is here to stay. It just works better. You can't grow vanilla or coconuts in your backyard no matter how hard you try; certain products only come from certain regions. You wouldn't be reading this right now on your computer screen without the benefit of specialized work all over the globe. Christ's body is divided into different "specialized" parts, and we shouldn't ignore that fact. We just need to heed Berry's warnings, and figure out a way to keep specialization from becoming de-humanizing. The solution? We need to keep it personal. I'm not really sure how. But I know we need to read Wendell Berry, and learn what we can from bygone eras.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matt Gaither

    So good. This collection and "The Unsettling of America" have really done a number on my outlook on the world. Berry has the uncanny ability to perfectly word suspicions and sentiments that I hadn't put the effort into articulating. It's not what I would call "enjoyable" reading, because it definitely calls out a lot of ways that I'm totally complicit in cultural problems like the segregation of food from its sources, the fact that we look to the "entertainment industry" for things to fill our t So good. This collection and "The Unsettling of America" have really done a number on my outlook on the world. Berry has the uncanny ability to perfectly word suspicions and sentiments that I hadn't put the effort into articulating. It's not what I would call "enjoyable" reading, because it definitely calls out a lot of ways that I'm totally complicit in cultural problems like the segregation of food from its sources, the fact that we look to the "entertainment industry" for things to fill our time, and the general decline of skills, community, and appreciation for those things. I appreciate the challenge to lifestyle, but I do wish Berry had more to say on the application side of things. We don't all have multi-generational farms handed down to us to make a life with, and more and more it seems that one has to first become extremely wealthy before being able to acquire that sort of life. There are small victories like having a vegetable garden and producing some of the things your household needs instead of buying EVERYTHING. I would just be interested to see a plan for turning that system upside down; instead of being able to produce a only a fraction of what we need, I'd love to get to a spot where we can do more for ourselves and turning to the Walmarts of the world is more the exception.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    I had already read several of these essays in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, but they were worth reading again. A Native Hill A meditative history (both personal and cultural) of a hill in Kentucky. There are some lovely, lyrical passages in this work, which is really more creative non-fiction than persuasive essay. The Unsettling of America A discussion of the differences between exploiters and nurturers, and how America's economy favors exploiters. Racism and the Economy A look I had already read several of these essays in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, but they were worth reading again. A Native Hill A meditative history (both personal and cultural) of a hill in Kentucky. There are some lovely, lyrical passages in this work, which is really more creative non-fiction than persuasive essay. The Unsettling of America A discussion of the differences between exploiters and nurturers, and how America's economy favors exploiters. Racism and the Economy A look at how American economy dispossesses and exploits whites and blacks alike. Feminism, the Body, and the Machine I admit that I half agree with Berry's reasons for not writing on a computer. There is an agreeable permanence to writing drafts out longhand, and I do find it easier (mentally) to write that way. Unfortunately, physically, I can't do it for more than a few minutes without my hand and wrist cramping up. Think Little An essay on the importance of local solutions to local problems. I didn't actually finish all of the essays before the book needed to go back to the library. They were interesting, but not fascinating, so many other books caught my interest instead.

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