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Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays Paperback – September 13, 1994

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In eight visionary or polemical essays, Berry ( Fidelity ) sounds the themes of decentralization, renewal of community and ecological awareness that inform his previous books. Assailing the U.S. government's role in the Persian Gulf War, the Kentucky poet/farmer/conservationist calls for the creation of a peace academy and urges Americans to "waste less, spend less, use less, want less, need less." He condemns the Reagan and Bush administrations' international trade policies that, in Berry's view, bring many nations' health and safety standards under the influence of agribusiness. Although he is critical of smoking, his strained defense of U.S. governmental assistance to tobacco growers who agree to limit production may gladden cigarette smokers and anger their opponents. In the title essay, Berry interprets the charges made by Anita Hill at Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearing as a symptom of community disintegration, then goes on to consider sexual candor and community limits on free speech.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Eight exhortatory essays (some of which appeared previously in the Atlantic Monthly, The Progressive, and elsewhere) by the Kentuckian fiction writer (Fidelity, 1992, etc.) and moral critic (What are People For?, 1990, etc.). Berry once again carves out a unique position in American social debate: not liberal (he hates big government), not conservative (he hates big corporations), not libertarian (he would balance individual rights with those of the commonweal), but always sharp-tongued and aglow with common sense. His pessimism seems to grow with each volume, as he sees the nation in a tailspin toward moral and economic chaos. His targets proliferate: the military and its Gulf War (he calls for a national peace academy); profiteering industrialists who ravage economies around the world; addiction to drugs, war, TV, and junk products; public schooling, which instills mediocrity in place of moral values; media exploitation of sexuality, which robs it of sacred meaning; ``tolerant and multicultural people'' who defend special interest groups but defame ``people who haven't been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people''--in other words, Berry's friends, neighbors, and comrades. If the diagnosis is bitter, so is the cure: ``economic secession.'' For Berry, small communities based on the household are our only hope. He calls upon these localities to seize control of their economic and social lives, supporting home-grown agriculture, manufacturing, and education, and establishing moral codes that reflect eternal truths. Power-to-the-people, 90's-style. A powerful emetic, worth a swallow. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679756515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679756514
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #83,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you're a content postmodern, don't read this book. It will leave you unsettled. The title essay from Berry's book is worth the price of the whole book. If you were to read only one book this coming year to guide both your thinking and your behavior (aside from the Bible which undergirds Berry's thinking), this would be a great choice. If the following snippet from the title essay resonates with your spirit, you'll want to pick this one up.
"If you destroy the ideal of the "gentle man" and remove from men all expectations of courtesy and consideration toward women and children, you have prepared the way for an epidemic of rape and abuse. If you depreciate the sanctity and solemnity of marriage, not just as a bond between two people, but as a bond between those two people and their forebears, their children, and their neighbors, then you have prepared the way for an epidemic of divorce, child neglect, community ruin, and loneliness. If you destroy the economies of household and community, then you destroy the bonds of mutual usefulness and practical dependence without which the other bonds will not hold."
Why is it that we have our best thinkers like Berry running old family farms, and our worst thinkers running our national government? Sigh.
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Format: Paperback
This highly stimulating collection of Berry's essays contains some of the most important things Berry has written. The essay "Christianity and the Survival of Creation" is one of the most insightful and important theological statements of our day. It is in everyone's best interest to work to see that the organized churches take Berry's essay to heart. Of course, the book is also notable for the beauty of Berry's writing -- not coincidental, since he argues here and elsewhere for a recovery of the idea of work as sacred and for beauty as a measure of "right livelihood."
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Format: Paperback
It is more than a little gratifying to have your dearly-held opinions vindicated--and eloquently so--by a living writer of note. I was treated to this experience recently in reading Wendell Berry's Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, a collection of eight essays varied in subject but all founded on the premise that our current social ills stem from the consumer-culture's rapacious destruction of local communities and their resources, both natural and human.
Not surprisingly, as a Kentucky gentleman farmer, Berry's definition of community centers on the bond between the people and the land on which they live. Modern urban readers may be tempted to dismiss as an old farmer's finger-wagging Berry's accusations against the global economy and its insatiable appetites (a la "Well, when I was a boy..."), but his arguments are sharp-witted, penetrating and thoroughly convincing; I found myself frequently exclaiming to the empty room (or on the train, where I do most of my reading) a self-righteous "Yes!" to his analysis of the myth of the global economy.
Having dropped any guard to Berry's disarmingly kindred spirit, I did find myself challenged in other deeply-held beliefs by his essay "The Problem of Tobacco," in which he argues for the economies and communities of the tobacco farmers with whom he was raised--despite his acknowledgement that smoking is unhealthy and that he himself quit many years ago. But his manner is so straightforward and honest that it feels only just and natural to set aside one's personal prejudices and to examine the underlying issues on their own merits--no small achievement in critical writing.
In all, I found the essays refreshing and powerful not merely for the boost they gave my ego (after all, Wendell Berry thinks like I do!
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This, I think, is a difficult book to review. There are so many diverse themes throughout the book that it is hard to describe what the book is "about", and my reaction to the book was a mixture of excitement, personal conviction, and intellectual challenge. Yet, hopefully I can get something coherent down for you.

The book is a collection of eight essays written by Berry, all of which deal (sometimes loosely) with the degradation of community. "Community" is a term of art for Berry; it is more than merely a group of people living in close proximity to one another who happen, from time to time, to bump into each other at the store. Rather, community is a defined group of people who live together in a particular place, over time, in a way that fosters a strong sense of togetherness. People who have this type of community have experiences together in everyday life, such as work, play, tragedy, and joy. In community of this nature there is a sense of belonging that most Americans today would not be able to relate to.

Berry is not the only intellectual (a label I would guess he'd hate hear applied to himself) to suggest not only that our communities are deteriorating, but that this deterioration adversely effects the quality and essence of our lives. For a more empirical approach to the subject, see especially Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam. I think when Berry's book is read in light of Putnam's we see not only a picture of the problem but also a recipe for the remedy.

Berry is a challenging author. He is at times very radical, and he sometimes employs demagoguery to press his point.
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