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The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays Hardcover – October 21, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard; 1st edition (October 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593760779
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593760779
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #777,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Called "the prophet of rural America" by the New York Times, Berry has spent the last 40 of his 71 years simultaneously farming a hillside in Kentucky and issuing a stream of poems, novels and essays (including The Gift of Good Land and The Long-Legged House) that are probably the most sustained contemporary articulation of America's agrarian, Jeffersonian ideal. If the tone of the book's mostly brief 19 essays is sometimes angry and despairing ("We are destroying our country," begins one essay), one can hardly blame Berry. The mere title of one of the essays, "Some Notes for the Kerry Campaign, If Wanted," brings the reader up short—memories of the last presidential campaign are receding so quickly into the past that Berry's amorphous call for a return to "our traditional principles of politics and religion" is both quixotic and sad, a remnant from a vanished era. Many of the essays are taken from talks given to such organizations as the Crop Science Society of America and the Land Institute, and an air of preaching to the converted hangs over the book. The collection is not without its qualities, chief among them Berry's always well-honed prose, but if the agenda he proposes is to ever reclaim its rightful place in the body politic, it will have to be reframed in much more forceful and contemporary terms. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Most of the longer pieces in Berry's new book about agriculture and community are speeches, though five very short essays start part 1. They are deliberately clear, straightforward, and focused on single topics; while rooted in Berry's agricultural experience and thought, they address national and international issues. A rouser against the kind of globalization that destroys small enterprises and "Charlie Fisher," which profiles a good logger to show what good logging is and can be, round out the section. With one exception, part 2 is all lectures and conference papers, altogether concerned with developing and maintaining human community, from the ground, or soil, up to the empyrean of religious affiliation, or love; the most demanding reading in the book is here. Part 3 consists of a letter on the future of the Democrats that a Montana politician solicited, the reply to it, and Courtney White's exciting report about bridge building between ranchers and conservationists. Everything in the book illumines. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 11 customer reviews
This book is disturbingly honest.
Aaron J. Kunce
The best way to review Berry's work is to quote him.
Patricia Kramer
He restores us to our forgotten common sense.
Dean Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth Walden on September 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This collection of essays centers on the concept of accepting humankind's inevitable ignorance, as an antidote to deadly hubris. As Berry says, "Creatures who have armed themselves with the power of limitless destruction" must not pridefully embrace their limited knowledge. Instead, the "way of ignorance ... is to be careful, to know the limits and efficacy of our knowledge. It is to be humble, and to work on an appropriate scale."

Scale is a recurring theme here as Berry returns to the roots of his thinking in the realm of family farming. His essays touch on environmental destruction, factory farming, the weaknesses of the 'save the blank' movement. But also on The Gospels, the future of the Democratic party, and the value of husbandry in a materialistic world.

I always enjoy Berry's thoughts as I find him one of the clear, non-polarized voices out there. He speaks not just as a conservationist but as a working farmer, not just as a liberal but as a Christian. He points out the faults of the liberal movement as readily as he criticizes the corporate culture. I prefer his book-length work as i feel here he can only briefly touch on subjects. The collection also includes essays that feel a bit redundant or not of as much interest. Still his work here is also humble and to scale, and so the 180 pages can be quickly read and the best of the harvest pulled out for closer attention.
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Aaron J. Kunce on November 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is disturbingly honest. The honesty oozes from the pages of these analytic and interpretative literary compositions. It's a bracing honesty that I am not always prepared for -- but have come to expect from this septuagenarian agrarian. In my favorite of these essays - "The Burden of the Gospels", Mr. Berry muses:

But what, for example, are we to make of Luke 14:26: "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." This contradicts not only the fifth commandment but Jesus' own instruction to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." It contradicts his obedience to his mother at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. It contradicts the concern he shows for the relatives of his friends and followers..."

And then with stunning clarity offers the following:

" We may say with some reason that such apparent difficulties might be resolved if we knew more, a further difficulty being that we don't know more. The Gospels, like all other written works, impose on their readers the burden of their incompleteness. However partial we may be to the doctrine of the true account or "realism," we must concede at last that reality is inconceivably great and any representation of it necessarily incomplete."

Wendell Berry has subtitled this essay "An unconfident reader"... I suggest that this sums up the whole of this collection of essays. Berry is unconfident as he reads the American landscape of theologizing, politics, commerce, conservation, and thought. Unconfident -- but as always, uncompromisingly honest in his reading. +Aaron K.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Dean Smith on May 27, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Way of Ignorance is a plea for humility. Wendell Berry asks the simple question, "Can great power or great wealth be kind to small places?" and knows that the earnest believer-in-what-could-be will have to live with heartbreak. "By living as we do, in our ignorance and our pride, we are diminishing our world and the possibility of life." The purity of Berry's vision enables him to speak with a voice that is radical and simple. He restores us to our forgotten common sense. He opens our eyes to the beauty of small places and calls us to tend to their uncompromising complexities. He bids us hold tight to the irreplaceable.

Berry's plea for humility extends to all, from overly confident scientists and self-assured political leaders to the "many Christians who are exceedingly confident in their understanding of themselves in their faith." "When Jesus speaks of having life more abundantly . . . He is talking about a finite world that is infinitely holy, a world of time that is filled with life that is eternal. His offer of more abundant life, then, is not an invitation to declare ourselves as certified `Christians,' but rather to become conscious, consenting, and responsible participants in the one great life . . . To [this offer] we have chosen to respond with the economics of extinction." "Violence, in short, is the norm of our economic life and our national security. The line that connects the bombing of a civilian population to the mountain `removal' by strip-mining to the gullied and poisoned field to the clear-cut watershed to the tortured prisoner seems to run pretty straight."

In a time of arrogance and high-risk miscalculation, technological, economic and military overreaching, Berry is there to call us back - back to our senses. "If we find the consequences of our arrogant ignorance to be humbling, and we are humbled, then we have at hand the first fact of hope: We can change ourselves." I recommend The Way of Ignorance.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on January 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Wow! I am blown away again by Wendell Berry's thoughts and way of seeing the world. His ideas should be shouted from the rooftops. First of all, his writing conveys the strength of friendship. He respects and honors his friend, Wes Jackson, throughout the book and especially in the essay "The Way of Ignorance". I ordered the tape of this talk which he gave at Wes Jackson's Land Institute at the Prairie Festival in 2004.

There is so much of value in this book, but the other essay I would highly recommend is "Renewing Husbandry".

The best way to review Berry's work is to quote him.

"The most forceful context of every habitat now is the industrial economy that is doing damage to all habitats. We can't preserve neighborliness or charity or peaceability or an ecological consciousness, or anything else worth preserving, at the same time that we maintain an earth-destroying economy. Nothing ultimately flourishes in our present economy but selfish aims, and these are often mutually contradictory. We have to have a sort of pity for the CEO of a polluting corporation who desires wealth, healthy children, and a vacation in the restorative purity of nature. And surely we have to extend the same pity to those whio are sure that "it takes a village to raise a child" but who forget that it takes a local culture and a local economy to raise a village."


"Harmony between our human economy and the natural world-local adaption-is a perfection we will never finally achieve but must continously try for. There is never a finality to it because it involves living creatures who change. The soil has living creatures in it. It has live roots in it, perennial roots if it is lucky. If it is the soil of the right kind of farm, it has a farm family growing out of it."
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