Read The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry Online


Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged fSince its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it. Sadly, as Berry notes in his Afterword to this third edition, his arguments and observations are more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economic system dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although “this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong,” Berry writes, there are good people working “to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth.” Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction....

Title : The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
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ISBN : 9780871568779
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 246 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture Reviews

  • David
    2018-09-30 07:06

    maybe you'll find this at a garage sale in a beat up box for twenty-five cents. you'll pull it from the box. rub two dimes and five pennies together. you'll read it and research rain barrels. you'll sell that book to some used bookstore. you might. and a thin bookstore employee will set it on a shelf where some manicured hand might find it and bring it back to her loft. maybe she'll turn the pages and sigh at her consumption. maybe. or maybe she wont. maybe she'll walk more. and ride her bicycle to the local market. slowly. in gradual steps. she will find herself in her landscape. here is the revolution she might think as shuts her door for the last time. gone to a place. a plot of land that she cares for and which in turn cares for her. the nurturing of her landscape becomes almost spiritual in her recognition of the land and its affect on her. or maybe she is just standing in a shopping mall and feeling the emptiness. with the people walking by. talking into cell phones. bags on their arms. maybe she will stop there in the center of the mall feeling the emptiness. or maybe she will be driving city streets. just all green lights and fluorescent gas station lights and the radio playing some seventies song. and she will feel the emptiness. maybe she will pull into a grocery store parking lot at dusk and listen to the grackles as they call and shout on architect planned trees. in the calling of those birds the emptiness might turn into something else. a step. a decision. to bridge the gap of the estrangement of herself from her landscape. maybe her heart moves an inch closer to the right place.

  • Heather Shaw
    2018-10-16 00:19

    Every once in a while, a book comes along at the right place and at the right time, and that book has the power to change your life. This was that book for me. It moved me out of the city and into the country, and inspired me to grow food for people. It changed the way I view my relationship to the earth, and my responsibility to it. Don't read this book if you want to live comfortably with your current worldview.

  • Greg
    2018-09-25 02:24

    This book is the classic that all Wendell Berry readers should read first. It goes through his ecological ethic and his belief that morality and ecology are inseparable; that our disconnection from the earth and our disconnection from each other are part of the same problem. This quote from his essay Think Little is a perfect introduction to his philosophies. See []------------------------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. A man who understands the weather only in terms of golf is participating in a chronic public insanity that either he or his descendants will be bound to realize as suffering. I believe that the death of the world is breeding in such minds much more certainly and much faster than in any political capital or atomic arsenal.------------------------Wendell Berry has long been an inspiration to me, the kind of person I think about when facing highly symbolic questions that are of little import. What would Wendell Berry think about my job/clothes/car/haircut, I wonder? Alas, in almost all cases I end up feeling like I've let the poor chap down. He is my hero and I love him.

  • Jennifer Arlene
    2018-09-21 03:24

    Having spent five years at a land grant institution, I can safely say that everything Mr. Berry accuses agricultural education programs of is true, even today. All of my ag professors, save one, laughed at the idea of "organic" and "sustainable" and would only allow the non-regulated trend of "all-natural" a measure of respect, because... frankly... they make a ton of money off of false advertising.I moved to the city after graduating, and took work on a small organic farm half an hour outside of town. While they are a callow operation still, their success is great. I've struggled with the idea of writing my mid-west ag college and insisting on a refund for my bogus, biased, non-sustainable and recently declared "most worthless in the nation" education.While I don't follow Mr. Berry's religious leanings (You could often replace "Christian" with any other religion.. as most agree on terms of goodness and responsibility, which he seems to forget.) reading the book felt like sitting in the pews of a call-and-response sermon. Sometimes I had to mark my place, put the book down, and feel a surge of adrenaline pass before continuing. The relief and joy of finding so much truth in one book was more exciting than any fiction I've picked up in years.There are few books that I would pay someone to read. This one would make the list.

  • Ginny
    2018-10-10 01:10

    I initially read this book very slowly because I wanted to be sure I was understanding and absorbing its messages. Then I was distracted by my husband's hospitalization and serious complications following surgery and needed lighter reading material for several weeks. Now I've finally finished and am more convinced than ever that Wendell Berry really is a prophet. He makes me feel very grateful to be living in Sonoma County, CA, where many local farmers subscribe to the same approach to small-scale traditional agriculture that Berry advocates. We are lucky to have easy access to many varieties of "heirloom" fruits & vegetables, organic dairy products from a farm whose energy comes almost exclusively (99%, I believe) from the manure produced by the cows, and numerous cheesemakers and bakers who make use of local ingredients from small farms. This book, written in 1977, helped tie it all together for me in 2013!!!

  • Max Potthoff
    2018-10-19 02:23

    "If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work too." Wide-ranging and thoughtful, "The Unsettling of America" is Berry at his best. With broad strokes, Berry creates a vision of a 20th-century America held hostage by "agriprofessionals" and the atomization of our lived experience. Our work and our labor has become separate from ourselves, Berry argues, and placed in the hands of an ever-increasing number of "specialists". Inherently, this is a critique of modern day capitalism, grounded in the history and context of agricultural development. It is this structure has led us to lose touch with the land, ourselves, and each other.According to Berry, all of our modern day illnesses are symptoms of this breakdown. Part of what I love about this book is the authority and confidence in which Berry speaks about literally every part of our lived experience: eating, love and romance, faith. Whether you take what he says in earnest or not, his voice is powerful and compelling. He issues takedowns of well-known but socially-constructed theories such as "identity crises", and does so with bite: "'finding yourself', the pseudo-ritual by which the identity crisis is supposed to be resolved, has become a genre of self-indulgence. It is the easiest form of self-flattery - a way to construe procrastination as a virtue - based on the romantic assumption that "who I really am" is better in some fundamental way than the available evidence proves". Hilarious and too real.Something that I will hang on my wall are Berry's "eight extremely dangerous falsehoods young people have been taught about love": 1.) That people in love are, or ought to be, young - even though love is said to last "forever." 2.) That people in love ought to conform to the fashionable models of physical beauty, and that to be unbeautiful by these standards is to be unlovable. 3.) That marriage is a solution - whereas the most misleading thing a love story can do is to end "happily" with a marriage, not because there is no such thing as a happy marriage, but because marriage cannot be happy except by being made happy. 4.) That love, alone, regardless of circumstances, can make harmony and resolve serious differences 5.) That "love will find a way" and so finally triumph over any kind of practical difficulty. 6.) That the "right" partners are "made for each other," or that "marriages are made in Heaven." 7.) That lovers are "each other's all" or "all the world to each other". 8.) That monogamous marriage is therefore logical and natural, and "foresaking all others" involves no difficulty.What does this have to do with agriculture? Everything.

  • Shelby Deeter
    2018-10-06 02:10

    Berry's fiction and non-fiction have such a fluidity in their values that reading both grants you a fuller picture of what it means to live thoughtfully in Creation. The Unsettling of America has some of my favorite Wendell Berry essays in it and was a wonderful and convicting read. I closed the book feeling I know more about myself as a human and created being. I understand more the value of hard, worthy work and the gravity and weight given to us in being caretakers of this beautiful earth God has fashioned and cares for so tenderly. This was a weighty and enlightening read and I caution anyone against reading it and thinking they can have their eyes opened to a broader understanding of our purpose on this earth and not feel discontent with loudness and bigness that technology has unfortunately provided for us.

  • Paris Achenbach
    2018-10-08 23:18

    a little theoretical and abstract at times, and i wish there was a more recent edition, but still incredibly and ridiculously relevant to our agricultural issues. wendell berry is certainly a prophet of sorts and his writing contains nuggets of wisdom and concepts that don't really exist in modern commentaries about our food system

  • Kevin Van Slyke
    2018-09-29 04:12

    A challenging critique of the last half century of agricultural policy and the coinciding societal shift away from rural, communal living to urban individualism.

  • Rachel
    2018-10-18 07:06

    Over the past 5-6 years, Berry's writings have changed me, shaping my worldview more than perhaps any other single author's ever have. This book continues in that vein, both frustrating and inspiring me. I give it 4.5 stars. It is a flawed book. Full of polemic, often lacking in nuance and charity. But it speaks so much truth to power. And it speaks so much to me personally, to my family and personal history -- growing up on a modern, industrial, somewhat-large-but-relatively-small family farm that was squeezed out because we couldn't get even larger. And then leaving to university on the East Coast to "make something of myself," now becoming an academic, a specialized "expert," disconnected from my original community and from the land. Like Berry's fiction and poetry, these essays are an indictment of my life, my career, my "mobility." His words bring me to an awareness of my sinfulness, of my complicity in the sins of my generation; they call me to repentance. At the same time, I feel that with this book, I am finally ready to put Berry to rest for a season. Ready to instead pick up where he leaves off, exploring how to implement the vision of community and membership and connection to the land that he espouses within the life that I now have. I am ready to "connect [my]self responsibly to practical circumstances... [to] learn to stay put in the body to which [I] belong and in the place to which preference or history or accident has brought [me]... in short, to find [my]self in finding [my] work" (p. 111).A collection of my favorite passages from The Unsettling of America:On our personal responsibility to take action:"Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live." P. 19"The only real, practical, hope-giving way to remedy the fragmentation that is the disease of the modern spirit is a small and humble way--a way that a governmental agency or organization or institution will never think of, though a person may think of it: one must begin in one's own life the private solutions that can only in turn become public solutions." P. 23"A responsible consumer would be a critical consumer, would refuse to purchase the less good. And he would be a moderate consumer; he would know his needs and would not purchase what he did not need; he would sort among his needs and study to reduce them." P. 24"The lost identity would find itself by recognizing physical landmarks, by connecting itself responsibly to practical circumstances; it would learn to stay put in the body to which it belongs and in the place to which preference or history or accident has brought it; it would, in short, find itself in finding its work." P. 111"If change is to come, then, it will have to come from the outside. It will have to come from the margins." P. 174On ecology, healthy agriculture, and our connections to our bodies and communities and the land:"Though we have no choice but to live at the expense of other life, it is necessary to recognize the limits and dangers involved: past a certain point in a unified system, 'other life' is our own." P. 47"There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy. Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence." P. 111"we are members of the human community and are therefore bound to help or harm it by our behavior." P. 172"It is typical of the mentality of our age that we cannot conceive of infinity except as an enormous quantity. We cannot conceive of it as orderly process, as pattern or cycle, as shapeliness. We conceive of it as inconceivable quantity--that is, as the immeasurable." P. 84"But [farming] is also a practical religion, a practice of religion, a rite. By farming we enact our fundamental connection with energy and matter, light and darkness. In the cycles of farming, which carry the elemental energy again and again through the seasons and the bodies of living things, we recognize the only infinitude within reach of the imagination." P. 87"The energy crisis reduces to a single question: Can we forbear to do anything that we are able to do? Or to put the question in the words of Ivan Illich: can we, believing in 'the effectiveness of power,' see the disproportionately greater effectiveness of abstaining from its use'?" P. 95"Odysseus found his father in solitudespading the earth around a young fruit tree.He wore a tunic, patched and soiled, and leggings--oxhide patches, bound below his kneesagainst the brambles."Although Odysseus jokes about his father's appearance, the appropriateness of what he is doing is never questioned. In a time of disorder he has returned to the care of the earth, the foundation of life and hope. And Odysseus finds him in an act emblematic of the best and most responsible kind of agriculture: an old man caring for a young tree." P. 128-29"For the true measure of agriculture is not the sophistication of its equipment, the size of its income, or even the statistics of its productivity, but the good health of the land." P. 188(writing of the Amish) "It is possible, I think, to say that this is a Christian agriculture, formed upon the understanding that it is sinful for people to misuse or destroy what they did not make. The Creation is a unique, irreplaceable gift, therefore to be used with humility, respect, and skill." P. 213"For the orthodox obsession with production, profit, and expansion, this healthier agriculture would substitute a more complex consciousness, the terms of which would be ecological integrity, nutrition, technological appropriateness, social stability, skill, quality, thrift, diversity, decentralization, independence, usufruct. Or, put more simply, it would replace the concern for production with a concern for reproduction." P. 217"We must learn again to think of human energy, our energy, not as something to be saved, but as something to be used and to be enjoyed in use." P. 219On the household and marriage:"Degenerate housewifery is indivisible from degenerate husbandry. There is no escape. This is the justice that we are learning from the ecologists: you cannot damage what you are dependent upon without damaging yourself. The suffering of women is noticed now, is noticeable now, because it is not given any considerable status or compensation. If we removed the status and compensation from the destructive exploits we classify as 'manly,' men would be found to be suffering as much as women. They would be found to be suffering for the same reason: they are in exile from the communion of men and women, which is their deepest connection with the communion of all creatures." P. 116"Fidelity can best be seen as the necessary discipline of sexuality, the practical definition of sexual responsibility, or the definition of the moral limits within which such responsibility can be conceived and enacted. The forsaking of all others is a keeping of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken. The marriage vow unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the community in a vow of sexual responsibility toward all others. The whole community is married, realizes its essential unity, in each of its marriages." P. 122"No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship to the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality." P. 123On religion and ecology and orthodoxy:"This separation of the soul from the body and from the world is no disease of the fringe, no aberration, but a fracture that runs through the mentality of institutional religion like a geologic fault. And this rift in the mentality of religion continues to characterize the modern mind, no matter how secular or worldly it becomes."But I have not stated my point exactly enough. This rift is not like it's your logic fault; it is a geologic fault. It is a flaw in the mind that runs inevitably into the earth. ..."And yet what is the burden of the Bible if not a sense of the mutuality of influence, rising out of an essential unity, among soul and body and community and world? These are all the works of God, and it is there for the work of virtue to make or restore harmony among them." P. 109"Invariably the failure of organized religions, by which they cut themselves off from mystery and therefore from sanctity, lies in the attempt to impose an absolute division between faith and doubt, to make belief perform as knowledge; when they forbid their prophets to go into the wilderness, they lose the possibility of renewal." P. 130"the very nature of orthodoxy: one who presumes to know the truth does not look for it." P. 173-74"The pattern of orthodoxy in religion, because it is well known, gives us a useful paradigm. The encrusted religious structure is not changed by the institutional dependents--they are part of the crust. It is changed by one who goes alone to the wilderness, where he fasts and prays, and returns with cleansed vision. And going alone, he goes independent of institutions, forswearing orthodoxy ('right opinion'). I'm going to the wilderness he goes to the margin, where he is surrounded by the possibilities--by no means all good--that orthodoxy has excluded. By fasting he disengages his thoughts from the immediate issues of livelihood; his willing hunger takes his mind off the payroll, so to speak. And by praying he acknowledges ignorance; the orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out. He returns to the community, not necessarily with new truth, but with a new vision of the truth; he sees it more whole than before." P. 174On academia, careerism, and "mobility":"The professor lives in his career, in a ghetto of career-oriented fellow professors. Where he may be geographically is of little interest to him. One's career is a vehicle, not a dwelling; one is concerned less for where it is than for where it will go."The careerist professor is by definition a specialist professor. Utterly dependent upon his institution, he blunts his critical intelligence and blurs his language so as to exist 'harmoniously' within it--and so serves his school with an emasculated and fragmentary intelligence, deferring 'realistically' to the redundant procedures and meaningless demands of an inflated administrative bureaucracy whose educational purpose is written on its paychecks."... They begin to need, and so to promote, the mobility, careerism, and moral confusion that are victimizing the local population and destroying the local communities. The stock in trade of the 'man of learning' comes to be ignorance." P. 147-48"The typical American 'success story' moves from a modest world beginning to urban affluence, from manual labor to office work."We must ask, then, what must be the educational effect, the influence, of a farmer's son who believes, with the absolute authorization of his society, that he has mightily improved himself by becoming a professor of agriculture. Has he not improved himself by an 'upward' motivation which by its nature avoids the issue of quality--which I assume is simply that an agriculture specialist is better than a farmer? And does he not exemplify to his students the proposition that 'the way up' leads away from home? How could he, who has 'succeeded' by earning a Ph.D. and a nice place in town, advise his best students to go home and farm, or even assume that they might find good reasons for doing so?" P. 160On what modern agriculture has wrought:"I remember, during the fifties, the outrage with which our political leaders spoke of the forced removal of the populations of villages in communist countries. I also remember that at the same time, in Washington, the word on farming was 'Get big or get out'--a policy which is still in effect and which has taken an enormous toll. The only difference is that of method: the force used by the communists was military; with us, it has been economic--a 'free market' in which the freest were the richest. ..."And so those who could not get big have got out--not just in my community, but in farm communities all over the country. But as a social or economic goal, bigness is totalitarian; it establishes an inevitable tendency toward the one that will be the biggest of all. Many who got big to stay in are now being driven out by those who got bigger. The aim of bigness implies not one aim that is not socially and culturally destructive." P. 41"By this 'most logical' of developments, then, we have passed from a farm-based, family-based, independent agriculture to an agriculture abjectly dependent upon many kinds of industrial 'inputs' and firmly based upon several kinds of disaster. We are producing, at an incalculable waste of topsoil and of human life and energy, and at the cost of destroying communities and poisoning the land and the streams, food to be used against the hungry as a weapon." P. 167"It would be possible to calculate the probable monetary cost of the unemployment, community and family breakdown, crime, vandalism, pollution, and soil loss that are the results of overwhelming 'inputs' of technology--but apparently an agricultural economist is not expected to look either so widely around or so far ahead." P. 168

  • Erika RS
    2018-10-13 05:21

    This book is part rant and part musing on culture and society. The rants, while sometimes entertaining, are often tied to then-current events (although not without relevance to modern debates on food and farming).The musings are much more relevant. While Barry does not reject technology and growth outright, he does caution strongly against letting them run without restraint. Underlying his thoughts are a concern for wholeness and sustainability. We are, he thinks, backing ourselves into a corner where the future is being sacrificed for the present, and where that sacrifice is being presented as inevitable. Thus, he is against large agribusiness farms not because he sees them as inherently evil, but because he seems them using the land in a way that will destroy it in 100 years and because he seems them as relying on unsustainable amounts of external inputs, especially from non-renewable resources such as oil. He wants to farm the land now in ways that will preserve its production capacity.It is this focus on sustainability, in the deepest sense of the word, that resonates so strongly with me. Even though I come to different conclusions than he would on many specific issues, I feel a discussion of those disagreement would be focused on which techniques better meet the same underlying goals, rather than arguments about the goals themselves.A random selection of the quotes I noted while reading:pg 41: But as a social or economic goal, bigness is totalitarian; it establishes an inevitable tendency toward the one that will be biggest of all. pg 58: But the only possible guarantee of the future is responsible behavior in the present. When supposed future needs are used to justify our misbehavior in the present, as is the tendency with us, then we are both perverting the present and diminishing the future. pg 82: The question at issue, then, is not of distinction but of balance. The ideal seems to be that the living part of our technology should not be devalued or overpowered by the mechanical. pg 91: Skill, in the best sense, is the enactment or the acknowledgement or the signature of responsibility to other lives; it is the practical understanding of value. Its opposite is not merely unskillfulness, but ignorance of source, dependencies, and 173-174: Our history forbids us to be surprised that an orthodoxy of though should become narrow, rigid, mercenary, morally corrupt, and vengeful against dissenters. This has happened over and over again. It might be thought the maturity of orthodoxy; it is what finally happens to a mind once it has consented to be orthodox. ... one who presumes to know the truth does not look for it. ... If change is to come, then, it will have to come from the outside. It will have to come from the 206: Without appropriate controls, one has no proof; one does not, in any respectable sense, have an 218: Any criticism of an established way, if it is to be valid, must have as its standard not only a need, but a better way. It must show that a better way is desirable, and it must give examples to show that it is possible. pg 219: Second, as a people, we must learn to think again of human energy, our energy, not as something to be saved, but as something to be used and to be enjoyed in use. We must understand that our strength is, first of all, strength of body, and that this strength cannot thrive except in useful, decent, satisfying, comely work. There is no such thing as a reservoir of bodily energy. By saving it -- as our ideals of labor-saving and luxury bid us to do -- we simply waste it, and waste much else along with it.

  • Stacy
    2018-10-18 06:16

    Have you ever read an obscure book that no one you know has heard of, and felt that it was so good that it should be required reading for every human being? That's how I felt about this book.Wendell Berry is a hero for many, including Barbara Kingsolver, who references many of Berry's ideas in her novel "Animal Vegetable Miracle". I've been meaning to get into his stuff for quite some time, and when I read this book it resonated with so many things I have believed or thought of, but never articulated or laid out in so orderly a fashion.A bit of a Michael Pollen from 20 years ago, Berry wrote this essay on the disintegration of the diversified American farm back in the 1970's. Things only seem to have gotten worse in many ways since then. Berry outlines the roots of many problems in agriculture and how they came from government policies. He talks about how the concept of "getting big or getting out" was intended to prevent starvation (supposedly) but has killed off the diversified small farm and created an unhealthy monoculture system of farming. He compares this with the healthy, sustainable, organic Amish traditions, which totally made me want to go hang out with the Amish and learn how to wield a scythe.The one good thing I see that has occurred in our country since the publication of this book is the trend towards farmers markets and CSAs. They are the one ray of hope I see in our current situation, when most of us haven't a clue where or how the food we put in our bodies was grown. The land won't be able to produce forever if large farms continue to misuse it. Bottom line: Grow your own food. If you can't do that, join a CSA or patronize a farmer's market. That is the only way small farms stand a chance, and perhaps the only chance we ourselves have to make a stand for the health of the land, the soil, and our own bodies.

  • Paula
    2018-10-14 07:24

    Agribusiness has been destroying our soil fertility, killing beneficial insects (like bees), decimating our waterways (through eutrophication that kills fish and all aqueous life), and striping the nutritional content from our food (you can grow crops on industrial chemicals, but you can't make them nutritious) for roughly eighty years. As a consequence Americans are unhealthier than any other population in the world (along with European nations with the same practices), and life on the planet is at serious risk. Yet, our government continues to subsidize the industry and fund agricultural colleges that are perpetuating this destruction. Berry wrote the book over forty years ago, in hopes that he might forestall further damage. Unfortunately, the powers that be have ignored his book. If we want to see a change, and turn around our agricultural practices before it's too late, we need more young farmers dedicated to a scientific approach to organic methods, and we need informed consumers who refuse to support Big Ag. Reading this book would be a good place to start.

  • blakeR
    2018-10-10 23:23

    A great, although uneven, criticism of the reigning agricultural and cultural mentality in the U.S. It's impressive that Berry wrote this more than 30 years ago since the argument seems just as timely today. The first two and last two chapters were the strongest. In between, he gets into an abstract discussion on the relationship between our connection to the land, ourselves, and other human beings. The vagueness of some of his terminology and expressions in these chapters resulted in my losing interest. The argument itself was subtle, but it wasn't as well elucidated as I would have liked. It seems that Berry was relying on his readers to have a poetic sensibility that I myself lack. I fully admire the lyricism of his writing in these chapters; it just didn't quite scratch my particular itch this time around. Some day I'll come back to this when I'm older and wiser and give it the five stars it probably deserves. Either that, or I'll feel the same way I do now and move it down to [email protected]

  • Cameron Murray
    2018-09-30 04:27

    Wendell Berry is a prophetic genius and a fantastic writer. This is his second book that I have read, following his "Bringing it to the Table." I was expecting this book to be more focused on strictly agricultural and agrarian principles, but in reality, everything that he wrote about worked together and is cycle- he got that. It all ties in together and runs off of one another. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone beginning to question the status quo of "agribusiness" and our food economy here in the US. I recommend it to anyone who is also beginning to learn about homesteading or farming (as farming was intended to be, instituted by God).

  • Paul Cloutier
    2018-10-10 23:23

    A funny thing happened with this book, I read it last year before the election and felt it was beautifully written but sort of idealistic and naive. Then after the election, I reread it, and my mind was much more prepared for it. It is truly a masterpiece of American literature and letters. I think if you want to understand how things have gotten to how they are, politically, culturally and economically, or even if you want to understand one of the possible causes of ennui in America today, then this book is a lovely place to start. Not always perfect, but definitely always thought provoking.

  • Sara
    2018-10-14 23:24

    I actually didn't finish this one in time to return it to the library, but I really liked the parts I read. Berry's writing makes me want to sell our house, move out to the country and become farmers. Obviously, Grant wouldn't go for that, but I'd like to read more of his stuff. It's pretty heavy, so you have to sit with it and give it some time to sink in. I'm looking forward to revisiting it.

  • Aniesa
    2018-10-02 03:05

    An eloquent statement of an alternative view of culture, health, family and, of course, agriculture -- one that should at least be considered for adoption by every American.

  • Jordan
    2018-10-20 00:15

    i can't stop thinking about this book. i feel like joining a agro-communist 1970's cult.

  • Deb
    2018-10-06 04:15

    Wanted to like it, but found it boring-- didn't finish. Also found some of the language in it a bit offensive when it is clearly not intended to be so.

  • Johannes C
    2018-09-24 23:09

    I have come to adore this man. He's in every sense a beautiful person.This is some of the most important commentary on technology and modernity I have ever read. A confluence of thoughts on theology, ecology, technology, economics, politics, sociology, classics, moral philosophy, literature, anthropology, and practical everyday life all coalescing into this beautiful landscape of conviction. I think Berry is frequently accused of being a Luddite - whatever that means. I think that's a mischaracterization, but only because the word Luddite is too frequently used to refer to someone who irrationally and mindlessly fears and hates technology and the efficiency it brings. (Efficiency, as Berry correctly points out, that is always defined by 'specialists' and ‘experts’ according to human energy, who consequently are scornful at the idea of embodied physical work.)He’s extremely thoughtful about this stuff. Of course he is required to simplify his thoughts into the brevity of essays and letters, and maybe his opinions can come across as excessively idealistic, but I think that comes from his faith in Christ’s command to, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” no matter how impossible that may be.Berry articulates this deep anxiety I myself have felt with respect to the profession I’ve found myself in. One where people’s work has no deep investment in the particularities of the land on which they work and rely on. Rather we work within the domain of abstractions like “corporations” or “specialist professions” that do not require one to be invested in one’s localities. These are precisely the issues we are now being confronted with concerning issues of gentrification as well as exploited migrant workers who have little to no job security and whose generational connections with their families are irreparably eroded, even broken, so that they can work in a land where they are either ignored or treated with utter contempt.Near the end, Berry claims that though we collectively face these very big problems, big solutions will likely only create more problems in the future. In another interview, Berry said doing something about these problems does not involve fixing everything at once. It's about taking two things that are not in right relation with one another and fixing that relationship with care. We fix relations, one at a time, with patience and a recognition of our finitude and our limits.Berry also wonderfully probes what technology is really doing to our lives, and many of its consequences that are externalized and not properly accounted for by 'experts'. What does technology do, for example, to the relationship between work and culture? When we look at physical work with contempt, what does that do to us spiritually and socially? What does this obsession with control, that technology inevitably brings, do to us and the way we relate to the world and its ecosystems?Wendell Berry once said in an interview that he’d be very troubled if he met someone who agreed with everything he said. Thank God, I wouldn’t trouble him that much. Of course I’m not in perfect agreement with some of his thoughts. I don't like the language of "resettling" America, because that language carries a particular shade of pain for many indigenous communities. I’m also a little sceptical about his romanticist notions of ‘wholeness’ though he is careful to define wholeness with respect to human finitude. That’s actually a major theme in this book. This language of being and doing things “limitlessly” is embedded in our culture, but Berry is very critical of that. (I really like that.)There’s so much else I’d like to write here, but I can’t recommend this book enough. (Counter to Berry’s critique of technology, haha, there are volunteer-read audio recordings of the first five chapters of this book on Internet Archive, which is a good way into the book for people whose eyes are tired from work or like being read to sleep - i.e. me, sometimes.)

  • Samuel Thomsen
    2018-10-17 03:29

    This book gives the most comprehensive and eye-opening account I've read of the death of the small farmer in America, and the rise of the monopolistic "agribusiness" that now reigns. Berry makes some excellent arguments that today's agriculture, far from being more advanced than what came before, is the most wasteful form of agriculture in history. In terms of monetary efficiency, that is, purely in business terms, it may be more profitable, but in terms of what really matters in life -- nature, fulfilling work, family, sustainability, and spiritual health -- the modern agricultural revolution has really been a devolution.Berry's impassioned prose may often come across as unbalanced. He is a small farmer himself, as his father before him. His indignation at what has happened to American rural life is understandable, and probably justified, but he doesn't spare his enemies any measure of his fury, and it is likely that if you don't already agree that something is wrong with modern agriculture, this book may not be the place to start. Here he is preaching to the converted, I think, though not uselessly, but rather to buck up their courage and harden their determination to farm (and live) organically, sustainably, and in accordance with traditional wisdom, which is now in danger of being lost entirely.

  • Devin
    2018-09-30 23:25

    Wendell Berry is now one of my heroes. If you approach this book with an open mind it will raise questions about modern life that demand to be answered. While this book was first published in 1977 it remains highly relevant. I believe it is even more relevant today. The central argument of the book is that industrial agriculture has destroyed the social fabric of America. As a student of mitigating environmental damage I was already aware that industrial agriculture is irreversibly eroding the topsoil from our land at a rapid pace. I have seen firsthand the desertification of the fields and it is a tragedy as well as a crisis, because it puts our food source in jeopardy.However I had not considered the social consequences of forcefully moving (by unemployment) millions of people from rural areas to cities. I did not realize that our government’s policies are motivated towards bankrupting small family farms. And I did not fully connect the decimation of rural communities to the betrayal of “agribusiness” academics. This book has only been shown to be correct. As Wendell puts it in the 1995 afterword: “This book’s tragedy is that it is true.” If you are concerned with America’s present and future, this is THE must read book for you.

  • Stephen Case
    2018-10-11 23:10

    I told my friend that reading a book by Wendell Berry was like your father sitting you down to have a difficult talk. You remember the kind. The kind you dreaded because you knew he was going to be right, you knew he was going to tell you things you didn’t necessarily want to hear, and you knew you were going to have to change. I told my friend this because we’re creating a course for next semester on sustainable agriculture and we’ll be using this as one of our texts. But I told my friend we needed to start with something easier, something to ease the students into considerations of food production, industrial agriculture, and sustainability, because Berry’s going to be difficult.He’s not difficult to read because he’s a poor writer. He’s a fantastic, lucid, compelling writer. But he’s difficult because what he’s saying is correct and devastating. He says things you don’t want to but need to hear. And you hate it a little bit because you’re embarrassed that you never realized these things for yourself and you’re going to have to do the difficult work of changing.Berry is the Kentuckian farmer, essayist, and activist who is the patron saint of much of the back-to-the-farm, slow-food, locavore movement. Some might argue he’s the guy who started these movements, though his books are simply about the land and our connection to it and the way this has been lost and abused by industrial agriculture and destructive practices and structures-- what Berry calls “agribusiness.” He writes fiction and poetry as well, but from what I’ve read and heard of these works the central theme is the same: fidelity to place.The Unsettling of America is a collection of some of Berry’s classic and most influential essays. Most were originally published elsewhere, but they all fit together in a structural whole yet independent enough to be read on their own. This makes the work especially useful as a primary text to give readers some introduction to Berry.Berry’s major claims are that our relationship with the land-- primarily through agriculture and animal husbandry-- is an essential part of our culture and has been lost through the machinations of agribusiness. In the past, small farmers owned their land and grew a variety of crops with care and attention to the local constraints and conditions of culture and soil. Far from being “quaint” or “rustic,” this represented an integrated, varied system that was robust, culturally-rich, and sustainable. It was, Berry argues, drawing on the writings of Thomas Jefferson and others, an essential part of the structural fiber of our nation: independent land-holders tied to the land and local communities. Berry takes this analogy even farther, offering a holistic view of health as concentric circles radiating from the marriage bed to the family to the land and local community.Berry has written a jeremiad. He’s mourning the loss of something most of us don’t even realize is gone or-- most frustratingly for him-- that we’ve been convinced was a good or inevitable thing to lose. He’s arguing small scale, independent farming was more effective for community stability and more efficient at producing a sustainable, varied, intelligent harvest that respected locality, soil, and climate. Essentially, it preserved culture. We’ve lost all that, Berry says, and we’ve been told it was a good thing to lose, that it was backward and dated and couldn’t feed a hungry world.Berry’s not buying it. He denies the technological determinism most of us accept without thought. Why should a certain way of doing farming-- a way dominated by industrial agriculture-- be presented as the only effective way when it so obviously has led to the erosion of soil, the dependence on foreign oil and chemicals, and the erosion of local communities. Why is farming such a mess? Why are small family farms being forced out to make way for ever larger, ever less stable, ever more environmentally degrading farms? We’ve broken connections, Berry argues, and he argues this methodically and relentlessly, giving dozens of examples self-evident in retrospect.Consider something as simple as the relationship between animals and crops on a small farm. Leaving aside the question of horse-powered agriculture, which is also something Berry says has been dismissed completely for no good reason, raising animals on the farm in the context of raising crops simply made sense. They were linked together. Industrial agriculture separates these and immediately creates problems. The huge concentrations of animal waste, which on smaller farms served as important fertilizer, now become pollutants to be disposed of. And for fertilizers, of which good manure would be ideal, farmers now must purchase chemically-prepared substitutes. With Berry’s characteristic, weary sarcasm, he points out the fact that the “efficiency” of industrial farming had separated two solutions and elegantly created multiple problems.People could protest. Probably many do. They think Berry is old-fashioned or idealistic or that his offered solutions don’t make economic sense. Some of these people simply haven’t read Berry carefully. He patiently gives argument after argument that I’ve never heard truly refuted, let alone directly responded to. But some of these people are right: Berry’s not offering economic solutions, because they don’t work. That sort of thinking is what got us in this mess to begin with, he maintains. You can’t discuss agriculture-- our relationship with the land-- solely in economic or business terms. It’s a much deeper question, a question of culture, and that’s what’s been lost.Another way of looking at it is the a question of hidden costs. Agribusiness isn’t interested in the hidden costs to the environment, to the community, and to a culture that values farming as an art and heritage. And neither, unfortunately, are most of us. Berry’s work will remind you why you should be.

  • Vaughn Zeller
    2018-10-18 07:17

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Have read a few of Berry's other books, but this is, so far, at least, my favorite. He tied together a lot of the issues that are now plaguing us. I had to remind myself that he was writing this in the mid 1970s. We are still struggling today with the problems of soil loss, agribusiness control of our agriculture, resultant poor overall health of people, etc. Berry expresses a deep understanding as to how all of these, while treated as separate, are indeed intimately connected. Ultimately, he stresses that we are all part of this Earth and need to recognize our connection to it and to each other. That insight alone makes reading this book worthwhile, and there is so much more besides that.

  • Jeremiah
    2018-10-10 06:31

    While this was an interesting book. I felt that it was a collection of reflections on the food system by a disgruntled observer. While he takes steps to not over nostalgize it often feels like the past was is romanticized as is the practice of farming. While there are many social problems returning to the land may not be suitable.One phase was concerning - as he said the Amish may be the last remaining “white culture”. And for all of the concern of lack of food, and praise of organically, he overlooks the fact that shifting to more plant based diets would eliminate many of the problems of modern diet/food supply. While this book takes me back to my college years, and uses a variety of writing techniques I feel that it is a think piece that has aged in the past 20 years.

  • Casey Miller
    2018-10-14 23:31

    This book was very impactful for me. I read this after reading The Art of the Commonplace, which collects several of the chapters from this book along with a bunch of his other essays. I would also highly recommend that book. This book is not a collection, but rather was written as a whole concept. While written in in the late 1970's, the problems he is describing and addressing are still prevalent today. If you are interested in sustainable living, care of the earth, and promotion of healthy individuals, communities, and environments, read this book!

  • Zoe
    2018-10-15 02:29

    Definitely the most important book I've ever read. As someone who has worked on CSA farms and knows the importance of agriculture, Wendell Berry has further deepened and shifted my views. The apocalyptical and hateful state of our world is the result of our disregard and disrespect of the land and other living things.It is a book that reminds me to check my behavior towards other people, other living things, and the earth.If you don't care for using your brain, you'll probably say that it's boring.

  • Brian Beatty
    2018-10-20 05:22

    What a terrific set of observations, and absolutely prescient of what happened since it was written in 1977. Sad to say, but he had it right.If it wasn't for the role of religious themes in some parts and the use of the term The Creation, I'd give this 5 stars. He definitely had the right idea about connection to land and the role it takes in forming society.

  • Amy
    2018-10-16 01:31

    This book is dense which made it a long, slow read. Wendell Berry's thoughts on the intersections of culture and agriculture are unique and interesting, but I would recommend reading his newest collection of essays, Our Only World, for a much more accessible and timely introduction to his work.