- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (May 30, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 086547687X
- ISBN-13: 978-0865476875
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,816,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A teenage Amish girl sits in her buggy, one hand dangling a cigarette while the other holds a cellphone in which she is loudly chatting away. This girl, like many Amish teens 16 and older, is in a period called rumspringa, when the strict rules of community life are temporarily lifted while an adolescent chooses whether to be baptized into the church and abide fully by its laws. Shachtman, a documentarian who began studying this phenomenon for the film The Devil's Playground, is a sensitive and nimble chronicler of Amish teens, devoting ample space to allowing them to tell their stories in their own words. And their stories are fascinating, from the wild ones who engage in weekend-long parties, complete with hard drugs and sexual promiscuity, to the more sedate and pious teens who prefer to engage in careful courtship rituals under the bemused eyes of adult Amish chaperones. Shachtman's tone is by turns admiring—of the work ethic, strong families and religious faith that undergird Amish life—and critical, especially of the sect's treatment of women and its suspicion of education beyond the eighth grade. Throughout, Shachtman uses the Amish rumspringa experience as a foil for understanding American adolescence and identity formation in general, and also contextualizes rumspringa throughout the rapidly growing and changing Amish world. This is not only one of the most absorbing books ever written about the Plain People but a perceptive snapshot of the larger culture in which they live and move. (June)
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Shachtman expands his documentary film, The Devil's Playground, in this study of a social rite of passage. The Old Order Amish, concentrated in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, but with communities in Wisconsin, Missouri, and even Colorado, eschew or deeply limit not only 20th-century technologies, but also modern consumerism, education, and any form of worldly activity. However, when Amish youth reach the age of about 16, they enter a months- to years-long period of running around, or rumspringa, during which there is the tacit acceptance and expectation that they will participate in such activities as drinking, sexual exploration, automobile driving, and living away from the community. The author examines the role rumspringa plays in the life of the community, the teens, and the teens' families (who are better- or worse-prepared emotionally for their once-obedient children to flaunt not only home rules, but perhaps even to get arrested by state authorities). The author concisely but cogently describes Amish shunning, education, farming and other work, and gender politics. Some kids move out of state during the period, some become drug dealers; most, however, live out a more moderate form of going away, and between 80 and 90 percent return, are baptized, and become fully accepting members of the Amish world. While readers familiar with the Amish as neighbors will find much insight into the plain people's whys and wherefores here, all teens will find accessible information about the psychology of late adolescence and the developmental work of independence.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is written by one of the documentarians who helped produce the film of the same subject called 'Devil's Playground,' which contains many, if not all, of the people interviewed for the film. For those who have seen the film, Shachtman gives further details about each individual, which is the book's best attribute. However, Shachtman does not bring to light any new information or insights that was not previously covered in the documentary and thus, the book can seem repetitive relative to the movie.
The book is not academic and Shachtman does not cite specific sources (although he provides a bibliography at the end) and therefore, the book should not be used for research purposes. Additionally, there are quite a number of characters, introduced only by their first name and first letter of their last name, and the book tends to jump from story to story, requiring time to recollect the person and limits the flow of the read. At times, Shachtman introduces his own commentary and thoughts on the subject, which are often superficial and shallow, but to his credit, he never claims to be an authority or expert on the Amish.
If you are interested in seriously studying the subject, John Hostetler, Donald Kraybill, and Stephen Nolt have all published academic works that are excellent reading material and very informative. Additionally, a number of Amish defectors have written autobiographical works that give better accounts of growing up Amish and engaging in rumspringa than Shachtman does. However, rather than read 'Rumspringa,' I recommend watching documentary 'Devil's Playground' (2002) produced by his colleagues which deals with the same subject matter, has better flow, and includes most of the people and anecdotes from the book.
The rumspringa period is intended to give the young Amish some experience of mainstream culture so that they can make informed decisions, when the time comes, about whether or not to join the Amish church as adults. The period ends, ideally, when a young adult in rumspringa decides to be baptized into the church, which implies refraining thenceforth from the illicit behaviors they were allowed briefly to experience. Some 80% of Amish youth do, in fact, return to the fold.
Tom Shachtman's Rumspringa is the product of more than 400 hours of interviews conducted between 1999 and 2004. Shachtman focuses on the period of rumspringa, but in fact his book serves as an introduction to Amish life as a whole. Each of the author's 11 chapters centers on some aspect of Amish life--education (most Amish aren't educated beyond the 8th grade), farming, punishment by shunning, the role of women in Amish society. Shachtman profiles a great number of individual Amish of varying ages, returning to his subjects' stories throughout the book as anecdotes from their lives become pertinent to his current theme. Shachtman seamlessly integrates direct quotes and information gleaned from the interviews into his narrative. And in fact Shachtman writes very well throughout the book. His prose is clear and admirably precise.
Shachtman's book is also fascinating, at least to this reader, who was previously largely unfamiliar with the particulars of Amish culture. I cannot know how a reader raised in the Amish faith would respond to the book, but Shachtman's study seemed to me a very thoughtful and fair-minded exploration of the society. The author finds value in much of what Amish culture has to offer--the Amish work ethic, for example, dependable community support, their care of the elderly and infirm--while finding fault with other aspects, for example, their abbreviated educational system. Shachtman concludes with a chapter considering why so high a percentage of youths in rumspringa eventually join the church. What is the allure of life in Amish society, considering that the price of belonging, the renunciation of much of one's independence, is so high? It is a very interesting discussion.
Debra Hamel -- author of Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece (Yale University Press, 2003)
I am a writing professor and insist that my students stick to a thesis. As a professional writer, I often receive feedback from editors that I need to bring my writing back to the theme, instead of straying into related topics. Therefore, again, given the title of the book, I was very surprised that so little of this book is about the teens and their temporary entry into "the world."
The author also seems to rely at times on questionable sources. For example, at one point, he quotes an employer as saying that the decline in family farming has led to Amish teens lying more frequently. He offers no support for this proposition other than the word of the employer, yet seems to accept it as true.
His writing is also repetitive. He must tell us a dozen times that fewer Amish now farm.
That said, I did learn some interesting things about Amish communities.