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What Are People For?: Essays Paperback – May 25, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Poet, novelist and critic Berry ( Remembering ) identifies himself as "a farmer of sorts and an artist of sorts," thereby indicating the scope of these 22 prodding, opinionated pieces. He touches on literary subjects as well as agrarianism, environmentalism and other political issues, his splendid writing infusing each topic with his sense of its urgency. Wallace Stegner is esteemed as a regionalist who protects the integrity of his literary terrain, unlike the many who write "exploitively, condescendingly, and contemptuously" of their milieus; and Edward Abbey is praised because he "does not simply submit to our criticism, as does any author who publishes; he virtually demands it." Shifting from art to farming in "Economy and Pleasure," Berry notes that, "More and more, we take for granted that work must be destitute of pleasure." In "Waste," he calls our attitude toward garbage the "symbiosis of an unlimited greed at the top and a lazy . . . consumptiveness at the bottom." And in the title essay, he wryly observes that agricultural economists say there are too many farmers--but not too many agricultural economists.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Even Berry's polemics reveal an underlying grace--and a most graceful prose--as he tries to heal the split between us and our work, our localities, and our communities. A poet and a farmer, Berry is a seasoned voice for the Whole Earth Vision--for a retrieval of household economies from a monstrous national economy. Yet while he has been pressing for a revived rural culture for many years, this ideal has been moving ever further out of reach. His grounding in literature eases a large burden of frustration. This book could go into almost any library, particularly those lacking Ber ry's earlier essays.
- Donald Ray, Mercy Coll. Lib., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Copyright 1990 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: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; 2nd Revised edition edition (May 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582434875
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582434872
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George P. Shadroui on December 17, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Berry hits another homerun in this collection. This Jeffersonian throwback offers us a vision of life far removed from the shopping mall mania that is stripping much of our countryside of its natural beauty. Berry, instead, suggests that a return to basics is the best way to ensure our independence, freedom and quality of life. Berry argues, as did T.S. Eliot, that a wrong attitude toward nature suggests a wrong attitude toward God. He introduces us to men whose greatness lies in being themselves -- a black farmer named Nate Shaw, a Kentucky environmentalist named Harry Caudill, and writer Edward Abby. He explores Huck Finn and A River Runs Through It, he suggests that an education that does not prepare us to take care of ourselves cannot be complete and argues that our educational system prepares us mainly to function as cogs in an industrial society. In short, Berry sustains his claim, made in most of his books, that we need to slow down our lives, rebuild human connections, value the land around us for its intrinsic worth, and cultivate our souls by cultivating our garden, if you will. As a previous reviewer points out, Berry does not fit easily into any political movement of today -- that is because there is no Jeffersonian movement to speak of, the democrats having abandoned local empowerment, the conservatives, too many of them, having embraced corporate power. Berry's is a voice that needs to be heard.
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Wendell Berry is a farmer, poet, novelist and literary critic. It is as an essayist of enormous acuity, however, that he has become best known. What Are People For? is an important collection of essays (and two 'poem essays') written between 1975 and 1989. The pieces here range from the literary and reflective - meditations on the work of writers such as Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, to the empassioned and urgent. 'Why I am not going to buy a computer' is as cogent a rallying call for the neo-luddite movement as could be imagined! Berry is an advocate of the local, the real, the humane, that which is connected to the earth and which knows and loves its place. Essays such as 'Writer and Region', 'The Work of Local Culture' and 'Nature as Measure' display a deep-felt commitment eloquently argued. While Berry writes of the politics of farming, Hemmingway, Twain and Blake are never far away. Berry's aim is to recall his readers to the wasteland corporate, industrialised America is becoming and to offer an alternative vision, one of considerable hope. Too critical to be co-opted into the ranks of the acceptable voices, too contrary and complex to be labelled simply an 'environmentalist', Berry's writing is essential.
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I do not agree with everything Berry says in this book, but I must confess that he changed the way I see the world. His lucid dissections of American culture and economical practices, his bottom-up solutions to the problems facing us today, and his unselfish, honest prose convinced me of most of his points. Here is a writer not in it for fame or awards or prestige. Here we have a truly passionate, motivated, moral voice for these hollow times.
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This book sits on my coffee table in the living room. I draw from Mr. Berry's philosophy and writings almost daily. This book should be required reading in colleges and universities. It speaks of the sensibilities most of us have forgotten. I have loaned my copy to many friends, all have read it, it has changed the way they approach their lives and how they look at how we all live.
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This book inspired me to believe individuals and community can mutually enhance each other, and that God intended for us to enjoy our time on Earth much more than we generally do. It's full of inspiring quotes, e.g. "The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures." The author is a philosopher, and his unique voice of exhortation is not overly preachy.

Mr. Berry touches on many far-ranging topics of quotidian life: the real values of education; the merits of decentralized control; the inherent biases toward, and the effects of, centralized control; the idea that language and writing should involve all senses; the concept that the future is faith based on all that we do now. The author delves into the most fundamental human motivations, and why we should be stewards of the Earth.

This book was a joy to read, and in these times of economic crisis it left me inspired that we can adapt and improve, and I feel sustained warm thoughts for the author. It was the first work of his I've read, and I'm eager to read more of his nonfiction and novels.
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Wendell Berry asks deep questions about how people and society can and should exist in the natural world provided by our Creator. He has a vision of a good life where we understand and value our place in the created world, and we work to preserve it. He states that we are living out of balance with nature and need to turn to a more sustainable lifestyle, and he believes that the knowledge of the skilled worker in his own field and the people in each local town must find their way to a sustainable future rather than defer to the theories of the academic or the remedies of government.
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