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Wendell Berry, Our Only World: Ten Essays (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015), 178pp.Wendell Berry, Our Only World: Ten Essays (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2015), 178pp.

Wendell Berry was born in 1934 to a family that had farmed Kentucky land for five generations. After studies and travels took him to the University of Kentucky, Stanford, France, Italy, and the Bronx, in 1965 he bought his own farm near his birth place.

He's been been tilling the earth and churning out books ever since then. Over fifty books of poetry, novels, essays, and short stories have earned him numerous awards as one of the leading truth-tellers of our day.  Most of all, Berry is a modern day prophet.

Readers who are familiar with Berry will find in these essays the same themes he's written about for fifty years.  The "dominant theme of our time," he says, is the violence done against human life and the land.  Ever since the Industrial Revolution we have had to face the "fundamental incompatibility between industrial systems and natural systems, machines and creatures."

Global corporations do violence to local communities.  There's an estrangement between the technological economy and natural ecosystems, for technology has become a means to efficiency and profit without any greater ends that would constrain it.  People are reduced to finding a "job" rather than a vocation or calling.

Berry reads better in his analyses than in his alternatives.  He invokes the Amish as "the only communities that are successful by every appropriate standard," the Jeffersonian ideal of small landholders, logging with horses instead of mechanical skidders, and a romanticized rural Kentucky of a hundred years ago when young people actually did something instead of sitting around doing "nothing."

Berry says he is neither a conservative nor a liberal, but rather stuck "in the middle and most uncomfortable."  He insists that we shouldn't say we can't do anything. One person can make a beginning and act on principle, "and begin better with the help of others."  And so we can begin the "long, necessary, difficult, and happy effort" of restoring communities that foster true life.


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