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Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish Hardcover – 2006

3.6 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2006)
  • ASIN: B001U7AOY4
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,652,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The book 'Rumspringa' details the period of an Amish adolescent's life when they are allowed to explore a 'English' world and engage of previously forbidden behavior, such as drinking, partying, owning cars, and more, before they join the church in their early twenties. The book is arranged by giving historical anecdotes and personal accounts from people who either finished their rumspringa or were currently engaged in their own at the time of writing.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
When they turn 16, children who have been raised among the Old Order Amish experience a curious coming-of-age ritual, the rumspringa--or "running around"--a period during which they are given license to experience the conveniences and temptations, previously forbidden them, of mainstream, "English" society. Amish youth in rumspringa can dress like their mainstream contemporaries, and they can drink and smoke and date and party, and some of them engage in such behaviors with dangerous abandon. Some of the rumspringa parties attended by Amish youth differ little from those thrown by non-Amish teenagers: sex and drugs and rock and rap, vomiting and sleeping in, unplanned pregnancies. The Amish, that is--and this is something I would never have dreamt I could say prior to reading this book--are, some of them, too wild for this reviewer. Other Amish youth, perhaps most, are more restrained in their rumspringa explorations, confining their wild behavior to attendance at parent-approved events.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very surprised that the editor of this book allowed it to be hyped as a book about rumspringa. A very small percentage of the book is about this teenage Amish tradition. The rest is about Amish life in general (farming, faith, etc.), which, while interesting, is not about the moral conflicts teenagers face.

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.
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Format: Paperback
The Amish are an intriguing group, but you'd barely know it while wading through Shachtman's uninspiring, sometimes tedious take on an aspect of their life that not many know about: rumspringa. Translated as "running around," it is the rite of passage most Amish teens (beginning around age 16) are allowed to go through until they choose either to split from the church or, in the case of over 80%, join and adhere to its list of unwritten rules, known as an ordnung, which varies by district, and live (p 90) "a life stripped of unnecessary frills so that it can be devoted to religious goals." The fact that the church allows these youths to engage in behaviors that are not normally allowed, like (book jacket) "alcohol, premarital sex, telephones, drugs, wild parties and advanced education" is due to their belief that (p 27) "only informed and repentant adults should be baptized."

Through interviews with teens and their family members about their feelings, behaviors and beliefs, Shachtman paints a picture of what life is like for the Amish. Included is what separates the Amish from the Mennonites, what the suspenders the boys wear are all about, the meaning of the hairstyles and hair coverings of the females, the logic behind their wearing of plain clothing, disuse of electricity, the number of children they have, banning, shunning and a bit on less conservative sects like the Beach Amish. Additionally, the issue of how the transformation from a largely agricultural existence to one requiring workers to find jobs outside the home, mainly at factories, has affected them, specifics on their beliefs, worship, Social Security, treatment of the elderly and the disabled and data on the prevalence and geographical locations of their members are discussed.
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