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Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition Paperback – May 15, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

As a poet, novelist, and farmer, Wendell Berry has worked and written in favor of tried and tested ways, rejecting the notion that the modern is always to be preferred over the old. Technology may have its uses, he has insisted in books like The Gift of Good Land, but what matters more is the crafting of sound human communities and of self-reliant living. Religious faith lies at the heart of Berry's unapologetically old-fashioned program. Faith, which supposes that life is full of unpredictable mysteries, stands against much of modern science, an opposition that Berry explores in Life Is a Miracle. Taking particular issue with entomologist E.O. Wilson's recent book, Consilience, which maintains the supremacy of scientific explanation over religious conjecture and supposes that science will one day be able to answer every question about the hows and whys of life, Berry revisits C.P. Snow's "two cultures" thesis to observe that science and religion address different kinds of necessary questions. "Science cannot replace art or religion," he writes, "for the same reason that you cannot loosen a nut with a saw or cut a board in two with a wrench." Against science's "false specification and pretentious exactitude," Berry notes quietly that the more he observes his own little corner of the planet, a small Kentucky farm, the less patient he is with reductionist, materialist explanations of the way things work--for here, and everywhere, "life ... is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated."

Berry's slender essay offers a thoughtful repudiation of an increasingly technological--and, some would say, soulless--culture. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Living for almost 40 years on a family farm in Kentucky has led Berry to place a high value on local knowledge born of a long and affectionate engagement of the intellect and imagination with a particular place. To readers of his poems, novels (Memory of Old Jack, etc.) and essays (The Unsettling of America, etc.), it will be no surprise that in his latest essay collection, he argues cogently and passionately against the proposition E.O. Wilson puts forth in Consilience, that our best hope for preserving the biosphere lies in linking facts and fact-based theory across disciplines under the hegemony of the natural sciences. Though a conservationist, like Wilson, Berry strongly believes that the materialist prescription for what ails usAecologically, culturally and spirituallyAwill simply bind us more tightly to the often destructive, profit-driven triad of science, technology and industry. It will also move us further away, avers Berry, from what he sees as the sense of propriety that calls on us to base our thoughts and actions on our inescapable interdependency with the planet's other life forms. Berry also opposes the belief underlying Consilience, that scientific analysis can ultimately explain everything: "to reduce the mystery and miracle of life to something that can be figured out is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it and put it up for sale." In opposition to this view, Berry proposes evaluating our behavior and work on how they affect "the health and durability of human and natural communities." To do that, he contends, we must go beyond Wilson's empirical knowledge to imaginative knowledgeAto knowing things "intimately, particularly, precisely, gratefully, reverently, and with affection." Agent, the Spieler Agency.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint (May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582431418
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582431413
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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72 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Nick Bauman on June 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
At a time when we seem to have forgotten that there is more to life than what can be proven, measured, quantified and sold, Wendel Berry asks us to realize that determinism cannot "learn" the most valuable lessons about life.
He saliently attacks biotechnology, enviro-engineering and many of the modern technological fields that attempt at a reductive view of nature and our relationship to it.
I will treasure this book long after the software I have written is turned to dust.
The only complaint I have is that Berry is constantly apologizing for his "lack of expertise" in the sciences he criticises. Mr. Berry, if you are reading this, you need not worry about your expertise. Indeed, it is the mark of a true scientist that she be more interested in what a person has to say than whether or not they have the "credentials" to say it. You keep talking, I wan't to listen! "Thy life is a miracle. Speak yet again"
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on October 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
I just returned from The Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina,

Kansas where I heard Wendell Berry speak. At least two speakers at the

Festival said they had changed the course of their lives after reading words

written by Wendell Berry.

In this book, I found such life changing words in sections 6 - 8. I got

bogged down however in the first sections discussing E.O. Wilson's work

"Consilience". I slowly made my way through sections 1-4 and found much

to think about but decided to skip section 5. I was then delighted to find

the style of writing Berry has used in many of his other books (and in his


"We should give up the frontier and its boomer "ethics" of greed, cunning,

and violence, and, so near too late, accept settlement as our goal. Wes

Jackson says that our schools now have only one major,upward mobility,

and that we need to offer a major in homecoming. I agree, and would only

add that a part of the sense of 'homecoming' must be homeMAKING, for we

now must begin sometimes with remnants, sometimes with ruins."

"The time is past, if ever there was such a time, when you can just

discover knowledge and turn it loose into the world and assume that

you have done good.

This, to me, is a sign of the incompleteness of science in itself-which

is a sign of the need for a strenuous conversation among all the branches

of learning. This is a conversation that the universities have failed

to produce, and in fact have obstructed."
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Donald A. Planey on January 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
I first read "Life is a Miracle" as a freshman in college. At the time, I subscribed to the New Materialism (usually called the "New Atheism" in the media), the worldview of Dawkins, Dennett, Sam Harris, etc. Upon this first reading, I didn't accept a lot of what Berry said in this book, but my intellectual development and experience with academia brought me ideologically closer to Berry's American liberal-traditionalist writings. In retrospect, this essay played a formative role in my own intellectual growth, and was probably the first strike against my adherence to mechanical materialism as an adequate explanation of the human experience.

In order to understand this book, it's important to know some background about its author. Wendell Berry is a farmer, poet, and social critic who has written multiple non-fiction works critiquing American capitalism, industrialized agriculture, imperialism, selfish competition, and our society's lack of ecological stewardship. Berry's perspective as a farmer has proven consistently interesting throughout his career, but his writings are also defined by the localist, theological philosophy he subscribes to. Berry argues that a human being's selfhood is tied into the world around it. This implies that the quality of our lives depends on the relationship we cultivate with our surroundings, whether in their ecological, cultural, or economic forms. All human beings have an already-existing metabolism with their world which is mediated through their own unique position in life.
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93 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I think most of us share essayist Wendell Berry's frustration with the dehumanization of our lives that is a by product of the massive industrialization of the planet. Life is cheapened and the sense of the miraculous lost as we chase blindly after more and more products that glitter, and as we destroy more and more of our fellow creatures and their habitats in order to feed our insatiable appetites. But to blame science as Berry does is mistaken. Science is just a tool, and scientists, like farmers, are just tool users. The real culprit is ourselves and our politicians, our multinational corporations, our governments and our indifference. To single out E.O. Wilson, entomologist and the somewhat county philosopher and founder of sociobiology, as the whipping boy, as Berry does here, is unfair. There are better targets.
Still, much of what Berry is concerned about concerns us all, and I like his noble and emphatic style. I just wish he would concentrate on the real villains, the "military-industrial complex" that Eisenhower warned us about, which now includes, according to Berry (and I do in part agree), our universities and the medical establishment. But Berry repeatedly sprays at the wrong targets in an indiscriminate manner. He calls pollution "the most ubiquitous result of modern chemistry" (p. 20). We're all against pollution, but it is not the most ubiquitous result nor is it caused by science. It is caused by industry. The most ubiquitous result of modern chemistry is the increase in the number of people on this planet (chemistry has helped us grow more food). Our pollution of the planet is a side effect caused by the failure of our institutions to confront the problem.
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