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The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

4.33 of 5 stars 4.33  ·  rating details  ·  1,095 ratings  ·  115 reviews
"Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World

Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agraria
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 5th 2003 by Counterpoint (first published January 1st 2002)
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It's taken me a long time to read this book. I had to keep taking breaks, like grabbing a breath before diving back down into deep water to explore the bottom of the ocean. Wendell Berry writes beautiful, lyrical prose. He is insightful, troubling, wise, and--I use this word deliberately--holy. Mr. Berry's work as a poet informs his nonfiction; he carefully choses his words, and writes with both clarity and artistry. The Art of the Commonplace is a book of essays written over the past three or f ...more
Oh man, I am passionately devoted to Wendell Berry. I say too many things sarcastically, but I am dead serious. I can pinpoint the moment when I looked up and said "Oh, I am in love with this author's mind.I am becoming a fucking farmer and moving to Asheville and growing my own vegetables and reading Wendell everyday." That is what happened to me, people. He is right about everything. It sounds weird, but I am so serious. Wendell Berry is excellent and fantastic and phenomenal and makes me want ...more
People should read this book like they read the Bible. Not necessarily the way believers read the Bible (though it's not the worst replacement), but at least the way anyone who wants to be culturally literate reads Genesis and Exodus and Job and John and a few others to have an idea of what's going on around them. This is the compelling oppositional political and social philosophy of my generation, my peer social class at least. So often as I get to know someone I come to see that they hold this ...more
“The moral argument points to restraint; it is a conclusion that may be in some sense tragic, but there is no escaping it. Much as we long for infinities of power and duration, we have no evidence that these lie within our reach, much less within our responsibility. It is more likely that we will have either to live within our limits, within the human definition, or not live at all. And certainly the knowledge of these limits and of how to live within them is the most comely and graceful knowled ...more
Donovan Richards
Urban Jungles

Living in a city, I sometimes find nature a nuisance. Snow might display beautiful characteristics as it coats a meadow, but it certainly exhibits headache-inducing qualities when it materializes during the commute. Vibrant evergreens coating a mountain convey the finest forms of art, yet no tree stands in the way of a property owner desiring a better view. Urban life is ultimately divorced from the land. A simple block-to-block walk downtown provides little to no evidence of ecolog
Jeff Shelnutt
I'm sitting here with a stack of note cards in front of me, the fruit of having read this book. It represents more notes than I typically take for one book, while simultaneously testifying to the value I placed on the insights that Berry offers on the agrarian lifestyle, local economies, the family unit, respect for the Creator demonstrated by respect for His creation, the value and dignity of work, global "harmony" destroying cultural diversity, and a sensible understanding of individual freedo ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Melody rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Melody by: David Wright
In the essays collected as "The Art of the Commonplace," Wendell Berry presents a compelling vision for the restoration of American culture. He argues that a deep attachment to the land and a proper understanding of humanity's relationship to the created world will help us develop a more robust definition of economics and sustainability, one that will preserve our exhaustible natural resources and enable us to provide for future generations. (As he says: life is short, and the world is long.) Be ...more
I am currently self-exiled in the countryside, and I picked up this book thinking, who better to foster in me a love of rural life than Wendell Berry? Instead of being filled with warm fuzzy feelings for all things agricultural, however, I finished the book with an expanded sense of community, a wider understanding of internesting economies, and what it means to live with the rest of the world in mind.

I appreciated the fact that this collection provides the date of original publication for each
Wendell Berry’s name is synonymous with agrarianism, but also with liberal Christianity. This collection of essays mirrors both of these points of view. First, with regard to his agrarianism…

Berry is no doubt an extraordinarily talented wordsmith. “All good human work remembers its history.” (pg. 77), and “We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.” (pg. 201) are some examples of his approach to a topic that is discussed much too often but not followed up on with action. This collection
Ryan Boomershine
Berry is an easily-misunderstood, agrarian contrarian. He is a prophet without honor in his own country. I am quite appreciative of his fiction work but do though have a hard time plowing through his subtle theology in this book that is pure philosophy.

Undoubtedly, I am shallow and trying to get too much in too little time from too profound a prophet, but I would love a snapshot of what he believes to better help me trust what Berry is communicating. He is high on his promotion of some excellent
Jun 20, 2008 Donna rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: farmers, philosophers and the socially disintegrated
So far, i am enjoying this look at the "agrarian" lifestyle as an anecdote for the "social disintegration" caused by our "dominant urban culture." We have recently moved from urban sprawl to a small farming community and I'm hoping this book will help me understand, appreciate and acclimate to my new surroundings.
This book makes me want to learn more about the local environment - the wild plants, animals, natural processes, local places... "The world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place where I was fated by birth to know better than any other."
Mar 01, 2013 Ron rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: church
This is a collection of Berry's essays that are related to "farming". Several of them appear in other collections of essays. I found some of them uncomfortable to read because of what they had to say about me and my lifestyle.
Matt Gaither
So good. This collection and "The Unsettling of America" have really done a number on my outlook on the world. Berry has the uncanny ability to perfectly word suspicions and sentiments that I hadn't put the effort into articulating. It's not what I would call "enjoyable" reading, because it definitely calls out a lot of ways that I'm totally complicit in cultural problems like the segregation of food from its sources, the fact that we look to the "entertainment industry" for things to fill our t ...more
Brad Belschner
I love Wendell Berry. He writes beautifully, carefully handcrafting each sentence. He is an inspiration.

That being said, I can't agree with him completely. True, modern technology and factories and over-specialization have produced much evil. We must beware. But they have also given us much good. Berry is great at identifying the bad, but not quite so great at identifying the good. For example: we are blessed to have machines that can help us make hay better, quicker, and easier. Tractors are a
I spent months plowing [pun intended] through this collection of essays. I view that time as well spent and edifying. Just before finishing the last few pages I turned to the notes and highlights I've made along the way. What nuggets, what treasures, what wisdom! And I have page after of page of those notes, which upon re-reading, make me want to dive back into the source essay and not forget the context.

More importantly, there are actions to be taken as results of the readings in this collecti
David McDannald
If you have tendencies toward conservation or the outdoors, reading Berry is like finding the choir master. He is a modern incarnation of Thoreau, though his focus is less about his own life than about the way we interact with our environment. The real strength of the book, for me, rests on the first two essays, "A Native Hill" and "The Unsettling of America."

Berry holds that modern man has no knowledge what land is for and so doesn't know how NOT to damage it. He writes of European settlers: "
I had already read several of these essays in The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, but they were worth reading again.

A Native Hill
A meditative history (both personal and cultural) of a hill in Kentucky. There are some lovely, lyrical passages in this work, which is really more creative non-fiction than persuasive essay.

The Unsettling of America
A discussion of the differences between exploiters and nurturers, and how America's economy favors exploiters.

Racism and the Economy
A look
Wendell Berry is a fascinating character, who always has interesting things to say. If nothing else, Berry is useful in challenging us to reconsider our presuppositions. We're just not used to being told that industry and production (as we do them now) are inherently bad, and ought to be done away with in favor of the quiet of a small, local community. Berry is exceptionally good at expressing and expanding on things most Americans (I can't speak for other nationalities) already believe: the lif ...more
Wendell Berry is certainly a prophet of our era. This handsome volume collects a great many of his essays into one place and presents them in a kind of order. My main critique critique is that there are too many essays here. Though Berry is an excellent essayist, I found myself tiring of his voice about two thirds of the way through. Perhaps a slimmer volume would have prevented this. I'm also willing to lay this problem at the feet of the collection as a concept. No doubt, in their original con ...more
Christie Maloyed
Wendell Berry is the George Carlin of rural America. No one is spared his carefully considered and well-written critiques. From his apology for luddites everywhere to his critiques of modern feminism, birth control, contemporary Christianity, corporate conglomerations, and really, everything in between, Berry manages to provide an original voice. He is a crank, but he isn't just a crank. He is better at pointing out the problems than offering solutions but in a way that is honest and refreshing ...more
This collection of Wendell Berry's essays keeps plowing the same ground. And, while I found it a bit tedious at times, the pedagogical iterations extolling the virtues of grounding a life in the local, the particular and the personal at last began to display a universality in his love of place. His themes of sustainability, husbandry and long-terms perspective need attention now more than ever.
Wendell Berry has certainly captured my heart - and my mind - with this collection of essays. Berry is an astute, witty, and poetic writer, and does not shy away from boldly confronting and challenging the status quo and generally accepted ways of living and going about life. His wisdom and insight is unique and much needed in our world. I found myself longing more for the rolling hills and quiet of a more agrarian lifestyle with each essay, while simultaneously longing I could have Mr. Berry as ...more
Full disclosure: I only read about half the essays in this book. Granted that most of these pieces are dated (20+ years old), they still contain prescient and eerily familiar reflections the rise of big agribusiness and the loss of small farms, small schools, and community. Okay, I get that...

Nonetheless, I found his stance on technology, cities, and culture extremely simplistic and monotonous. Berry seems to think that ALL of society's ills could be cured if everybody simply went back to an agr
Jane Wolfe
Wendell Berry is a wonderful writer and poet. Even though the subject matter in these essays is sometimes difficult, I think they are important reading. The elegant essay, "A Native Hill" is as timely today as when it was written (1969.) If you care about our environment, including your food supply, please read this book.
This is one of those books that you can read over and over again - for refreshers and boosts to your own philosophy, but also to argue with, or realize that your opinions have changed since your last reading. A collection of essays that hold the farm at its heart, but are still approachable for the urban non-farmer. Calls for responsible awareness of food long before Pollan, consideration of an almost Amish nature of the appropriateness of technology, the wholesale rejection of modern, rapacious ...more
Leslie Fields
What can I say---it's Wendell Berry! I try to reserve my worship for the One and Only, but I'm deeply appreciative of Berry's perspective, that can infuse our daily actions with the kind of thought they deserve. Our culture inspires a kind of numb consumerism that Berry wakes us up from. I am not a primitivist--though I do spend my summers at a fishcamp in the wilderness with an outhouse, no shower, all that---and I reject the notion that working the soil is the only legitimate work for humankin ...more
Wendell Berry made his living as a writer and speaker, jobs only possible via modern technology and completely unsustainable on a larger scale. While enjoying a privileged lifestyle he dabbled in farming and fantasizing about the past.

This book's idealization of an agrarian lifestyle is an insult to the millions of human beings still struggling to survive via subsistence agriculture. Placing a farmer on a pedestal is as offensive as the stereotype of the "noble savage": it ignores historical rea
Laura Engle
I recommended this to a friend recently and started reading it again. Two days later I am still caught in Berry's spell of language and observations. He is my favorite writer observer and always says what I wish I could in a most satisfying way.
Sep 30, 2008 Claudia rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: berry lovers
Recommended to Claudia by: bookstore
Shelves: environment
If you are looking for a book that bundles Wendell Berry's more telling agrarian writing, then this is the book for you.

In reading Berry's essays, most often about the transition of small farms to corporate conglomerates, I often find myself wondering how long the U.S. can continue on its trajectory of "progress."

This anthology of Berry's agrarian writing had the same effect, prompting questions and thought about a variety of themes, including faith, family, sexuality, success, economy, land, an
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Wendell Berry is a conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English and poet. He was born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky where he now lives on a farm. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America."
More about Wendell Berry...
Jayber Crow Hannah Coulter The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture The Collected Poems, 1957-1982 Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays

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“People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” 441 likes
“In a society in which nearly everybody is dominated by somebody else's mind or by a disembodied mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the truth about the activities of governments and corporations, about the quality or value of products, or about the health of one's own place and economy.
In such a society, also, our private economies will depend less and less upon the private ownership of real, usable property, and more and more upon property that is institutional and abstract, beyond individual control, such as money, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, stocks, and shares. And as our private economies become more abstract, the mutual, free helps and pleasures of family and community life will be supplanted by a kind of displaced or placeless citizenship and by commerce with impersonal and self-interested suppliers...
Thus, although we are not slaves in name, and cannot be carried to market and sold as somebody else's legal chattels, we are free only within narrow limits. For all our talk about liberation and personal autonomy, there are few choices that we are free to make. What would be the point, for example, if a majority of our people decided to be self-employed?
The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth - that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community - and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.”
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