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What Are People For?

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  1,129 ratings  ·  124 reviews
In the twenty-two essays collected here, Wendell Berry, whom "The Christian Science Monitor "called ""the "prophetic American voice of our day," conveys a deep concern for the American economic system and the gluttonous American consumer. Berry talks to the reader as one would talk to a next-door neighbor: never preachy, he comes across as someone offering sound advice. He...more
Paperback, 210 pages
Published November 21st 2005 by North Point Press (first published April 1st 1990)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,656)
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Libby
gotta love this farmer-philosopher.


“When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be -- I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought or grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the...more
Jamie
Take what I said about Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, rinse and repeat. There came a point where I had to stop making notes because I was writing down the whole book.

In amongst the essays on Hemingway, on Twain, on Edward Abbey are the essays on freedom, on marriage, on fulfillment, on all the ways the center cannot hold when we’re consumed by consuming. The former didn’t seem like a digression from the latter. They all spoke— passionately, provokingly, eminently responsibly— to the same...more
Josh Barkey
A collection of essays. A series of meditations. An alternate path. I LOVE this guy, even as I resent him for revealing to me my complicity in this deranged culture, and the necessity in my life for real, deep change.
John
Wendell Berry has a perspective, and it contrasts with much of what passes today as common sense or regular living. Berry, a farmer, novelist, and poet, cares deeply for the land. He holds a long view, not looking to increase the land's productivity for short-term gain, but to care for it in a proper fashion, one borne out of generations of experience, leaving both land and the creatures that live upon it healthier than they would otherwise be. Berry's concern for the environment (from Kentucky,...more
Josh Meares
This is a good book. It represents a view that is unfamiliar to most people, especially people that grew up in the city or the suburbs. I cannot say that I think that it is all truth, but I think it touches on truth occasionally. Whatever he writes about, he writes beautifully and powerfully. I believe that all men and women should think about the issues raised in this book: issues of meaning, beauty, waste, competition and our economic principles. This book is not a finely nuanced discussion. I...more
Scott
Jan 15, 2009 Scott rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
Wendell Berry is my new hero. Most people don't know who this guy is, so I tell them he is like the wise old man of the mountain or something. He writes about rural life, agriculture and culture, but from a farm in Kentucky where he has spent most of his life. He is detached enough to be able to speak prophetically back into culture. And by that I mean he can speak some truth and perspective into our blind areas.

This book is a mix of some really great essays and some others that aren't so releva...more
Jonathan Hiskes
Never heard of this guy. Must be from Brooklyn or something ...

What stands out for me on the second time through this book are Berry's tremendous clarity of thought and the strength of his literary analysis. Critiques of Huck Finn and Edward Abbey are among the strongest pieces in the collection. The masterpiece, though, is "A Poem of Difficult Hope," about a Hayden Carruth war poem and the reason to protest even when it doesn't succeed by conventional standards.

"Protest that endures, I think, i...more
Jessica
Though I technically haven't finished this, it's already among my favorite books. I read the first two essays almost every morning on the bus to work and get something else out of them each time. Wendell Berry says all the things I need to hear about how we should be on the planet, and what we need to connect to our place, the planet, and especially each other.
Benjamin
Worth reading. Even if you don't agree with some of his conclusions about economics or ecology, he raises good points that are easy to overlook.
Sagely
I've read this book twice now. Once at the recommendation of a mission worker in Detroit, once again because I love Wendell Berry. Each time I read it, I enjoy it.

I enjoy, perhaps most, the second section on other books and writers. While Berry's cultural criticism in teh essays of the third section have my heart pounding in time and my head nodding, it's his literary criticism that fill my imagination most.

Everyone should read Wendell Berry. Maybe first of all his poems. This is a good second p...more
Artemisia Hunt
This book of essays written by Kentucky writer and visionary Wendell Berry can only be described as highly insightful and prophetic. A voice of reason desperately needed in the 1980's and even more so today, Berry looks at our centralized industrial economy and culture of technology as the major forces behind our environmental and social problems. He is a strong advocate of the need for small local economies and the preservation of local traditions and culture in supportive and self-sustaining c...more
Chantel
The twenty-two essays contained in this book were written in the mid 1970s and the 1980s by Wendell Berry. He is an intelligent and well-educated man who came full circle in his life Wherein he came to appreciate his farm roots. Berry has criticized Christian organizations for failing to challenge cultural complacency about environmental degradation, and has shown a willingness to criticize what he perceives as the arrogance of some Christians. His nonfiction serves as an extended conversation a...more
Sara
I read this with my book club, but most people didn't finish it because they were too confused by the format and bored with the first two sections so they quit before it got good. This book is excellent, but an orientation is in order...

Part 1: The shortest section. It's poetic, almost proverb-esque. Interesting, but a little strange.

Part 2: This consists of several essays Berry wrote about people several decades ago, none of them you will have heard of. If this bores you, skip it. After those,...more
Longfellow
This is the first and only book of Berry essays I have read from beginning to end. Still, without hesitation I announce this is the one book of Berry essays any Berry student MUST read. Go ahead. Ask me a question on any topic and I think I have a chance of giving a Berry-like answer. Here's why: What Are People For? ranges from poetry to literary criticism to essays on agriculture, economics, and technology, and yet the beauty of it is that each topic is informed by the same core values; I feel...more
Rebecca
I’ve been to a Wendell Berry book signing where he talked to a crowd near a thousand people. I was naively surprised that he would have such a following in Salt Lake City. Berry does not write to the popular market or to a reader who won’t read deliberately and thoughtfully.
All twenty-two of the essays in this slim book are written with a moral authority and integrity that thinks deeply, doesn’t flinch during argument (and he does argue), and deeply roots himself in an academic, and some would...more
Martin Box
This is my second time through this one more or less. The man preaches quite a beautiful gospel about his attempt to relocalize himself and live what good old Thoreau would call the simple life. Both "In Defense of Edward Abbey" and "Why I am not going to buy a computer" stood out to me. The former lays down Mr. Berry's thoughts on the enigma, Edward Abbey. The man reflects Berry's own desire to create the independent individual which seems to be gradually disappearing in this country. Abbey ref...more
Charity (CJ)
This was another of the books my husband got for me from the library for Christmas. I put it on my list about a year ago when I was reading back through the materials from Northwest Earth Institute's Voluntary Simplicity discussion course, which my husband and I took more than a decade ago. Two of Wendell Berry's essays were reprinted in those materials, one---"The Pleasures of Eating" from What Are People For?---made such an impression on me, I decided to pick up the book. And am I glad I did.

B...more
Andrew
What's not to love about Wendell? The man can write an essay. These topics may not be for everyone, and certainly Berry is writing from a place that no doubt seems alien to most postmodern people (i.e., agrarian, traditional, Luddite), but it is precisely because of that that he is so interesting and important. In an essay such as "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine" he quite simply hacks up our bourgeois sensibilities and outlines an even more radical alignment of our relationships between the...more
Matthew Giesmann
A wonderful collection of essays by Wendell Berry. They progress nicely from a short section of his poetry, to reviews of other works by him, to more straightforward essays.

Throughout the collecting, Wendel Berry stresses the importance of particulars... the real places and people that make up our surroundings... and warns against disconnected abstraction. He hammers the importance of community and its relation to particular places. Perhaps most of all, he writes with (and demands from his read...more
Dale
I read this book after hearing a radio program in which one of the guests said "Wendell Berry is one of the most influential living American writers"--and I'd never heard of him.

This collection of essays and reflections cement the careful observations and musings of a man who loves nature and farming, a man who is a friend of the Earth and who enjoys the kinship of those who labor in agriculture or fight to protect the land. Whether describing how soil is formed in an old bucket, analyzing poetr...more
Renah
All ye Libertarians dissatisfied with Ayn Rand and her Utilitarian Philosophy, read this, or at least the second half of the book. All ye Artists and would-be conservationists, read this, or at least the first half of the book. All ye people dissatisfied with the current American ideal of fast, easy, thoughtless consumerism, read this-- the whole thing. I am intrigued by his ideas about local economics and I'd like to know what he would say about the "information economy" that's developed since...more
jessica
wb knows.


it took me a while to get into this collection. the first few essays were about people he admired. they were good but i was not enthralled...that happened a little bit later. i realize now that he was using these people as examples to build up to what i would consider the meat of the essays.

berry speaks of community, family and home/place. he writes about cultivating oneself vs. getting educated so you can move far away as fast as possible and contribute to the consumer rat race. he wri...more
Ian
Vintage Berry. Some great literary essays here ("Style and Grace" is a great appraisal of the virtues and limitations of Hemingway's "Big Two-hearted River."), as well as on economics, food and feminism. "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine" may be Berry at his most distributist/Chestertonian. Plenty to disagree with, but plenty of insight as well.
Zweegas
Is our modern lifestyle sustainable or are we coming up due for some kind of societal breakdown in which technological civilization reverts to a more natural state? I don't know the answer to that question, but it is an important question to at least be aware of as opposed to going through life thinking that things will stay the way they are and just keep getting better. I don't think Wendell Berry is a prophet, but I also don't think he's a grumpy crumudgeon luddite. A lot of people will probab...more
Kerri Anne Stebbins
Aug 13, 2012 Kerri Anne Stebbins rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who daydreams about starting their own cul-de-sac-opia.
Recommended to Kerri by: Matt
Shelves: true-stories
Where has Berry been all my life? I suppose the answer to that question can be as simply stated as the bulk of Berry's interesting and impassioned essays: on his farm in rural Kentucky.

What are people for, then? They're for thoughtful discourse, intelligent exposition, ecological stewardship, sleeping under the stars, responsible eating, true-pleasure-seeking, words penned after long traipses underneath tall trees.

[Four stars for a(lliteration, and) consistent community-centric collection, and...more
Joseph
What can I say - classic Wendell Berry. This collection of essays deals as much with personal relationships as it does with agriculture, making it an excellent little toilet reader for the Wendell Berry fan. Here, his essays are sharply critical of the American economy and the way we treat each other and creation. As always, Berry presents himself as one who can't be reduced and pigeonholed into any label other than his own.

Incidentally, this also includes his infamous essay on why he won't buy...more
Ed
Dec 16, 2013 Ed rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
I suppose it's a little hypocritical to read Wendell Berry while on a jet flying for an international vacation, and then writing on online review about it, but I'm going to do it anyway. I really liked this book. Berry writes well and brings up many interesting ideas and suggestions. I am tempted at times, like so many of his critics, to write him off as living in the past and clinging to an overly romanticized, nostalgic but false view of the past. However, when I start to count the many costs...more
Rhys
Comfort food for the spirit. Read him slowly, like a thought written longhand.

If you ever lose perspective on technology, economy, or our interrelationship with(in) nature, read Wendell Berry.
Kate Leonard
I love Wendell Berry, his poems and his prose. This collection of essays is fascinating. The first half are essays about poets, so if you do not have interest in that, skip to the second half of the book. The essays are about humanity, and they are absorbing and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this book!
Carrie La Seur
I'm not sure what to call this book. It's literary criticism, philosophy, poetry, and Berry telling us things we knew but could never have said half so well, as he does. Delightful to pick up and re-read in bits, because there's something new and enriching every time I come to it.
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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...
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“I dislike the thought that some animal has been made miserable to feed me. If I am going to eat meat, I want it to be from an animal that has lived a pleasant, uncrowded life outdoors, on bountiful pasture, with good water nearby and trees for shade.” 101 likes
“Eating is an agricultural act.” 75 likes
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