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Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  607 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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Petra X
There is nothing in this quiet book about the author's close friendship with an Amish family that could be called gripping, exciting or even mildly thrilling, yet its a page-turner. Its quite unputdownable and having finished it, I still couldn't tell you why.

Perhaps its because its so beautifully-written, perhaps because its honesty outweighs the detailed of all the ways in which these very strict Amish are different (although, of course, that is what the book is about). Perhaps its just becaus
...more
Sarah Wells
Oct 01, 2007 Sarah Wells rated it really liked it
An objective, informative, and interesting look at the world of the Amish. I really appreciated this read after having lived next door to a few Amish families for two years of my childhood and growing up in and around communities of Amish in Middlefield, Ohio. Joe's "inside" look is fair and honest - as an "outsider among the Amish," he is respectful of the Amish family and Amish community while not neglecting his conflicted feelings about their lifestyle and choices they've made. His ...more
John
May 19, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
Great work from Mackall! I have read many books claiming to portray the Amish life and all fell short. This book is the best yet to give a fairly accurate account of the Amish, The Swartzentrubers none the less. Unlike the 'Economic Amish' or more liberal groups that are Amish for economic reasons, the Swartzentrubers are very elusive and less likely to reveal anything about their life and believes. They deeply believe and feel they must follow in the believe of what their elders (forefathers) ...more
Rebekah
Dec 01, 2007 Rebekah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Everything I'd seen about the Amish before had been skewed to portray them as either picturesque and quaint, or incestuous party animals who can't quite keep any sense of decency during rumspringa. This book tells the story of a growing friendship between an English and an Amish man, neighbors, and offers a glimpse into the life of a family living as part of the most conservative Amish sect. Little details and explanation of their ways provided a new insight. He chronicled his neighbors, as well ...more
Trish
Aug 07, 2010 Trish rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Joe Mackall has written a personal account of the Swartzentruber Amish based on his friendship with a particular family, the Shetlers, who belong to this type of Amish group. Mackall tries to be objective showing many aspects of Swartzentruber Amish life without passing judgment, but there is definitely a bias based on his friendship with them. He is reluctant to show them in any type of light that might offend them, he treads lightly. Even so, what I came away with is they are basically a cult. ...more
Liralen
Jan 28, 2016 Liralen rated it really liked it
What a wonderfully thoughtful book. Mackall has never been and presumably never will be Amish, but his neighbours are—and the better he got to know them, the more he saw the complexities of the 'plain life'. Plain Secrets is neither an exposé nor a paean. He has deep respect for the Shetlers (for how hard they work, their honesty, etc.) while also struggling to reconcile his own modern views with some parts of Amish life: that the Swartzentrubers won't allow for buggy modifications that would ma ...more
Melissa
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it
Shelves: amish
Having grown up near the area this book takes place in, I was very interested to read it. About the Amish, most specifically about the Swartzentruber sect of Amish, it is of the author's experience and interaction with one particular family. He manages to grow close over a period of years and really see what life is like in the most strict of the Amish sects.

Mackall manages to become a close trusted friend of the Shetlers (names changed to protect privacy) an Amish family who moves in near him a
...more
Michelle
Dec 04, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it
Author Joe Mackall is in the unique position of having a close friendship with the Shetler family, who are members of the Swartzentruber Amish, the most conservative and restrictive sect of Amish. He is welcome in the family home. He and his wife are the only English who were permitted at a funeral for a family member. He clearly has unusual access to the culture and yet he does remain an outsider in some important ways. After all, separation is the name of the game if you're Amish.

Mackall's clo
...more
Scolumbus
Jul 19, 2009 Scolumbus rated it really liked it
This is a true account of life in a strict Amish community, written by and "English" neighbor and friend of the family. The names of the Amish were changed by the author to protect their privacy. It is unusual for the Amish to have such a close and trusting relationship with a non-Amish person. I learned that all Amish are not alike; different branches within the Amish have slight diffenences in how they live their lives. For example, while almost all Amish use horse pulled buggies as their mode ...more
Georgia
May 18, 2009 Georgia rated it liked it
I found this book as I was browsing the religion section of my library, looking for a translation of the Tao de Ching. It jumped out at me, feeding my fascination with religious groups that exert such (to me) extreme control over their members. Since the Amish don't proselytize, you are born into the life. As a young adult, you make the choice to join the church or not.

Mackall does a decent job of revealing what insight he could gain as an outsider. He clearly has great respect for most of thes
...more
Stephanie
Jan 27, 2010 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Good quick read and I felt it was an honest observation of the author's neighbors...an Amish family. Makes you think about simplicity and the importance of not crowding your life with technology to where you forget what is important.
Jengordon
Sep 06, 2015 Jengordon rated it it was amazing
Mackall writes about the Amish --and a extremely right-wing sub-sect (Swartzentruber), at that-- not as an anthropolgist or curiousity seeker, but as a next-door neighbor. As he writes, he examines some of the ways that many of us in America romanticize the Amish and (Devil's Playground) sensationalize them by taking outliers and telling their stories as if they were typical. Another book I read recently, about American Jewish views of the ultra-Orthodox, also discussed the romanticization of ...more
Donna Davis
I was fascinated to learn that there is a category for "Amish Scholars". Naturally, it is not people who are both Amish and scholars, since the two are antithetical, but rather an actual school (sociology?) that studies the Amish. The writer may be among them. He is certainly unusual in that he has been a neighbor and friend of a very strict sub-sect of the Amish for over a decade. As other reviewers have noted, the same friendship that makes him privy to all sorts of information that other ...more
Sarah
Jul 25, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
It’s no secret that I am and always have been a pretty staunch heretic. That said, I am oddly drawn to both the ethnographic study of spirituality and the religious practices of very small and specific fringe groups.

Take the Swartzentruber Amish, for instance. Did you know that there are multiple groups of Amish with vastly different beliefs and practices? Probably not. I didn’t either until I read this book. My understanding of Amish culture is unfortunately limited and I am no more immune to s
...more
Mary
Mar 28, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
I am fascinated by the Amish. I think, often, about cultures/societies that are so different from the one I grew up in. How they work, roles of people, etc, etc. Are they happier than us? Are we happier than them. Is it good to have the ability for an individual to follow his/her own interests? Can a person be happy in such a bounded society? Would I be happy in that society? The farming life certainly appeals to me, as does the simpler life. Would I chafe at the role that I would have to play ...more
Laura
May 19, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
I'm really interested in how others live. I discovered this book as I was browsing Amazon. I thought the perspective would be interesting. The author is a college professor who has lived in Amish country, making friends with the Amish family next door, for well over a decade. Unlike many other books about the Amish, this wasn't written by someone with an ax to grind: a disgruntled former Amish.

The book is remarkably sympathetic to the Amish without romanticizing the Amish life or culture. It's
...more
Joan Colby
Oct 25, 2012 Joan Colby rated it really liked it
Mackall, a college professor at Ashland University in Ohio, resides near a large Amish community He befriended Samuel and his family who , over a 16 year period, agreed that he could write a book about the Swartzentruber Amish, the strictest of the Amish sects. Mackall demythologizes many of the prevalent conceptions about the Amish, especially how they have been marketed as tourist destinations, or conversely disdained as hypocrites who drive cars and use electricity—which some Amish sects ...more
Liz
May 24, 2016 Liz rated it it was amazing
Joe Mackall lives in the Ohio countryside, and many of his neighbors are Amish. Samuel Shetler, his close neighbor, becomes his friend, and their friendship transcends that which many Amish and “English” are able to establish, mostly because of the kind of man Samuel Shetler is. Joe Mackall has written this book, opening the Amish way of life to outsiders, in a most respectful way, in the way you would expect a friend to write about a friend. He is honest and kind, always mindful of how his ...more
Erin Lindsay McCabe
Jul 10, 2015 Erin Lindsay McCabe rated it it was amazing
I read this book in one day/night (accidentally! It is a gift for my mom and I only meant to look at the acknowledgements... And then just the intro, and then I was hooked)-- I could not put it down. Not because it's a page turner or because anything momentous or salacious happens, but because it's moving and honest and thoughtful and fascinating. My only quibble is that the ending felt a bit rushed or slightly unfinished--perhaps because the story is of real lives that are being lived-- and ...more
David
Aug 10, 2009 David rated it really liked it
I was reminded of the continual tensions of life - male/female, modern/traditional, popular/unpopular, but most of all the tension between community and individual. That is the one that I have struggled with all my life even before I knew about cultural tensions.
If I were born into the Swartzentruber Amish Community, I would either have run away or killed myself. They are probably guided by 97% community and 3 percent individual. I am far to the other side. I realize that we become human in co
...more
Jennifer Lavoie
This is a fascinating look at the Amish, particularly the Swartzentruber sect of the Amish, from the perspective of not a former member, but an Outsider who has befriended a family. This book reveals some of the details of what it means to be Swartzentruber Amish, which, while still having some of the same traits as other Amish Old Order groups, is distinctly different in their refusal of all modern conveniences in their lives.

The author, Mackall, has been friends with one family for years, and
...more
Carolyn E
Jun 09, 2012 Carolyn E rated it it was amazing
I have just finished reading Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish by Joe Mackall. This book is non-fiction, written by a professor of English and journalism at Ashland University in Ohio.

It is a very interesting book that tells about Mackall's friendship with the Shetler family that belongs to the Swartzentruber Amish community in Ashland County, Ohio. As you undoubtedly know, the Swartzentruber Amish are among the most conservative of the Amish communities.

The book focuses on Jonas Shetle
...more
Sallee
Aug 21, 2013 Sallee rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this book to be a honest, thoughtful insight into the Swartzentruber Amish of Ohio in Ashland County. Written by an English and journalism professor at Ashland College and a published writer this book details his friendship with his Swartzentruber Amish neighbors. The Swartzentruber Amish are the most conservative of all Amish. When non-Amish people speak as if they know all about these insular people, it would depend on which type of Amish they are speaking of in determining the ...more
K
Feb 15, 2008 K rated it it was ok
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swarrzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized "running-around time" that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds," "Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady ...more
Jade Lauron
Another look at the Amish, this time from the viewpoint of an outsider (or English person) looking in at a single, well respected family in the most conservative sect, the Swartzentruber Amish of Ohio.

I found this book to be wholly without pretension, and the author struggles to portray this family and the Amish as he found them with as little prejudice for or against their way of life as he can. Obviously, as the story is also embedded with his life it is not totally without the influence of h
...more
Steve Stegman
Jun 24, 2012 Steve Stegman rated it really liked it
After visiting the Schwartzentruber Amish in Ethridge, TN, I wanted to learn more about the Amish culture and the reasoning behind what at first appears to be cute people with quaint customs. What lies beneath is a deeply religious people with a strong sense of community and separateness. There are beautiful nuggets in the lives and also things that just don't make sense to an "English" person.

This book goes into the lives of one Amish family through the lense of a non-Amish - who is actually cl
...more
Felicity
Dec 07, 2007 Felicity rated it really liked it
I picked this up on a lark. I liked the cover. I'd just seen some Amish folk in October -- ducking while a friend was taking pictures of them like paparazzi -- and I guess it sounded neat.

I come from journalist stock, and we prefer our prose light on qualifiers. The writing may seem as plain as the Amish themselves, but the story is nicely and easily told.

Mackall manages to educate the reader without smacking one upside the head with why the Amish live as they do. And he also asks a lot of the s
...more
Amy
Oct 26, 2007 Amy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
A most interesting book -- I learned a lot about the Swartzentruber Amish located in Ashland Co., OH, a most conservative sect of the Amish population. Where the more modern Amish may have electricity, running water, the orange triangle on the back of their buggies, etc. The Swarzentruber have none of this and do not want to. They also observe Daylight Savings Time and operate 1-hour behind the rest of us in Ohio 7 months of the year.

While they believe that it is God's will if a family member d
...more
Marsha Hubler
Oct 30, 2012 Marsha Hubler rated it really liked it
As an Amish/Mennonite fiction author, I enjoyed reading this book very much. Joe writes from first-hand experience, befriending many Amish folk. His book will serve as a resource for my own writing, in which I strive for authenticity.
My own negative critique is that I was hoping Joe would have addressed the belief system of the Amish, who have a works salvation and do not accept God's salvation through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection as a gift.
Other than that, the nonfiction book presente
...more
Sarah
Sep 26, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
This book just fascinated me. It's about the most conservative Amish sect, and in particular about one family. It's written by the family's neighbor (with their permission, of course) and offers a deep inside look at the Amish's values and strict codes of conduct. I was absolutely appalled by what to me seemed the senselessness of many rules (e.g. no reflective signs on buggies--resulting in many catastrophic deaths). I would certainly recommend this to anyone who has ever been curious about the ...more
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