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What Are People For?

4.25  ·  Rating Details ·  1,561 Ratings  ·  162 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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Tiffany Reisz
Feb 15, 2016 Tiffany Reisz rated it it was amazing
I can tell I'm getting older because I'm thinking more about how I want to be remembered when I'm gone. I mean, I'm only 37 but still, I've lost friends my own age and it makes one pause and evaluate one's life. I'm reminded of the line from the film Peggy Sue Got Married. After Peggy goes back in time and tells her grandparents her secret, that she's traveled back in time and doesn't know why. Her grandmother says to her, "Peggy Sue, right now you're just browsing through time. Choose the ...more
Sep 19, 2013 Jamie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 31, 2008 Libby rated it really liked it
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
Josh Barkey
Jul 25, 2009 Josh Barkey rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 09, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 10, 2015 Miles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wendell Berry is an author I’ve been meaning to get to for a long time. As a staunch defender of the environment and nonindustrial agriculture, Berry challenged my parents’ generation to think twice about the price of American modernity. This collection of essays from the 1970s and 80s does just that, and in much richer terms than the reductive cost-benefit analyses that often pass for solid thinking in economics. This book still has lots to offer 21st-century readers; despite some noteworthy ...more
Josh Meares
Aug 17, 2012 Josh Meares rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jun 04, 2015 Jenifer rated it really liked it
The first collection of essays by Wendell Berry I read was Sex, Economy, Community, and Freedom. It's a good thing too, because those essays were easily accessible and, for someone steeped in the current mindset of Organic and Sustainability, pretty easy to agree with.
This collection was more challenging, although because of that I should probably give it five stars. It is likely the parts that made me the least comfortable that I should be most grateful for.
The format is clever - he begins with
Jan 15, 2009 Scott rated it really liked it
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
Jonathan Hiskes
Dec 05, 2013 Jonathan Hiskes rated it really liked it
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
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.
May 29, 2016 Drew rated it really liked it
Berry is an Old Testament prophet, irascible and unyielding. Committed to nature, a simple life, manual labor and grudging use of automobiles and airplanes. Environmentalist of the highest order--full of integrity. Some of the essays take perseverance to finish, but worth it. He paints a bleak, realistic picture, but not one without hope.
I don't always agree with Berry, but I thoroughly enjoy his writing. Berry has a knack for overturning our mental models of how the world (especially agriculture, consumerism and economy, and faith) work. He has a knack for getting us to ask hard questions and rethink our answers to them. Thoroughly worth reading. I especially enjoyed the essay on "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine".
May 11, 2016 Benjamin rated it liked it
Shelves: own
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.
Feb 22, 2016 Anna rated it it was amazing
Wow. Wendell Berry's non-fiction truly is life-changing.
Jan 04, 2013 Charity rated it it was amazing
Shelves: simplicity
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.

Benjamin Sauers
Oct 14, 2016 Benjamin Sauers rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
In all honesty Berry is the best writer I have ever read. He is so easy to read and you don't want to stop once you have started.
Mike Awtry
Oct 05, 2016 Mike Awtry rated it really liked it
A collection of some of Wendell Berry's essays on community, local culture, technology, work, and conservation. Not as good as his fiction, but still some excellent reads. My personal favorites were "Harry Caudill in the Cumberlands," "Writer and Region," "The Pleasures of Eating," "Why I am not Going to Buy a Computer," and "Feminism, the Body, and the Machine."
Aug 25, 2013 Rebecca rated it really liked it
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
Jan 31, 2014 Chantel rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jul 28, 2016 Simon rated it it was ok
Shelves: brainpickings, essays
Berry's intelligence shows in these essays. They should come with a disclaimer though: All his thinking relies on assumptions based on christianity and a farming lifestyle: Family is the highest aim of life, nature has a will, purpose and value outside of consciousness, bodily labor is the essence of humanity impoverished by technological aid, and so on. If you don't agree with those, you might not like some of his ideas.

Another useful disclaimer is that Berry has a few essays about farmers, wri
Aug 15, 2015 Samara rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-non-fiction
I finished this book a couple weeks ago and struggled with what to say about it. It's a book for reading slowly and afterward, it lingers.

What Are People For is a collection of essays written in the 80's, some critiquing other writers or other critiques of other writers, some simply critiquing ideas and ways of life. Together, they form a philosophy of how to live in and love the world. Wendell Berry is an environmentalist, but not the typical kind. And he's a farmer, but not the typical kind.
Oct 25, 2015 Katie rated it it was amazing
Passionate and wise, Wendell Berry's voice points us to the many ways our culture has gone wrong. He decries the loss of community and relationship, pleasure in good work, healthy land and healthy people. He speaks on so many topics, and though diverse, they are cohesive, forming a broad, organic view that highlights how devastating consumerism is to ourselves and our land and what happens to the local culture and local land in the face of all this consumerism and ever accelerating technology. ...more
Oct 24, 2010 Longfellow rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars, essays
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
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,
Lea Page
I read this directly after reading Standing By Words. Berry's tone in this collection is more curmudgeonly, or perhaps it is more washed with despair, but he also exhibits a sense of humor that almost reaches snarkiness a few times ("No agricultural economist has yet perceived that there are too many agricultural economists."). His occasional slips into traditional conservative territory-- claiming that government or universities are wholly lacking in anything of worth-- don't ring true to me in ...more
Martin Box
Aug 09, 2011 Martin Box rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 29, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it
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
Dec 28, 2010 Dale rated it really liked it
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
Aug 22, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was ok
Maybe essays were a bad choice.

I just could not get into this one. I skimmed it because it was initially referenced in a Relevant magazine book list. It's a little dry and snobby in parts. Maybe essays are always thus.

"Why I am not going to buy a computer," and "Feminism, the body, and the machine," are worth the read in today's culture of boundless technology and its effects on real engagement with life, and the (I think) misdirected arguments for feminist ideals.

I don't disagree with the o
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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."
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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.” 130 likes
“Eating is an agricultural act.” 86 likes
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