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The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

4.36  ·  Rating Details ·  2,554 Ratings  ·  201 Reviews
Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged f ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Counterpoint (first published 1977)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Oct 16, 2007 David rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who has felt emptiness in shopping malls
maybe you'll find this at a garage sale in a beat up box for twenty-five cents. you'll pull it from the box. rub two dimes and five pennies together. you'll read it and research rain barrels. you'll sell that book to some used bookstore. you might. and a thin bookstore employee will set it on a shelf where some manicured hand might find it and bring it back to her loft. maybe she'll turn the pages and sigh at her consumption. maybe. or maybe she wont. maybe she'll walk more. and ride her bicycle ...more
Heather Shaw
Every once in a while, a book comes along at the right place and at the right time, and that book has the power to change your life. This was that book for me. It moved me out of the city and into the country, and inspired me to grow food for people. It changed the way I view my relationship to the earth, and my responsibility to it. Don't read this book if you want to live comfortably with your current worldview.
May 13, 2007 Greg rated it really liked it
This book is the classic that all Wendell Berry readers should read first. It goes through his ecological ethic and his belief that morality and ecology are inseparable; that our disconnection from the earth and our disconnection from each other are part of the same problem. This quote from his essay Think Little is a perfect introduction to his philosophies. See []

Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the bes
Jennifer Arlene
Feb 21, 2012 Jennifer Arlene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Having spent five years at a land grant institution, I can safely say that everything Mr. Berry accuses agricultural education programs of is true, even today. All of my ag professors, save one, laughed at the idea of "organic" and "sustainable" and would only allow the non-regulated trend of "all-natural" a measure of respect, because... frankly... they make a ton of money off of false advertising.

I moved to the city after graduating, and took work on a small organic farm half an hour outside o
Dec 18, 2013 Ginny rated it it was amazing
I initially read this book very slowly because I wanted to be sure I was understanding and absorbing its messages. Then I was distracted by my husband's hospitalization and serious complications following surgery and needed lighter reading material for several weeks. Now I've finally finished and am more convinced than ever that Wendell Berry really is a prophet. He makes me feel very grateful to be living in Sonoma County, CA, where many local farmers subscribe to the same approach to small-sca ...more
Aug 17, 2016 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Agribusiness has been destroying our soil fertility, killing beneficial insects (like bees), decimating our waterways (through eutrophication that kills fish and all aqueous life), and striping the nutritional content from our food (you can grow crops on industrial chemicals, but you can't make them nutritious) for roughly eighty years. As a consequence Americans are unhealthier than any other population in the world (along with European nations with the same practices), and life on the planet i ...more
Oct 02, 2011 Stacy rated it it was amazing
Have you ever read an obscure book that no one you know has heard of, and felt that it was so good that it should be required reading for every human being? That's how I felt about this book.

Wendell Berry is a hero for many, including Barbara Kingsolver, who references many of Berry's ideas in her novel "Animal Vegetable Miracle". I've been meaning to get into his stuff for quite some time, and when I read this book it resonated with so many things I have believed or thought of, but never articu
Erika RS
Jul 21, 2013 Erika RS rated it really liked it
This book is part rant and part musing on culture and society. The rants, while sometimes entertaining, are often tied to then-current events (although not without relevance to modern debates on food and farming).

The musings are much more relevant. While Barry does not reject technology and growth outright, he does caution strongly against letting them run without restraint. Underlying his thoughts are a concern for wholeness and sustainability. We are, he thinks, backing ourselves into a corner
Feb 24, 2010 blakeR rated it really liked it
Shelves: anth-sosh
A great, although uneven, criticism of the reigning agricultural and cultural mentality in the U.S. It's impressive that Berry wrote this more than 30 years ago since the argument seems just as timely today. The first two and last two chapters were the strongest. In between, he gets into an abstract discussion on the relationship between our connection to the land, ourselves, and other human beings. The vagueness of some of his terminology and expressions in these chapters resulted in my losing ...more
Hannah Scanlon
Aug 18, 2016 Hannah Scanlon rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
With the knowledge and love of a small-scale farmer, the reasoning expertise of a philosopher, and the eloquence of a novelist; Wendell Berry has crafted both a literary marvel and a scathing critique. The Unsettling of America is a thorough and well-researched analysis of America’s current agricultural industry. He contends that since WWII, American agriculture has undergone dramatic changes, the most significant being that it’s source of power has shifted from that of the small-scale, local, ...more
Apr 06, 2016 Stefanie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Stefanie by: Barbara Haas
I read the first few chapters of this book a couple years ago for an independent study on land stewardship, and though it was highly compelling stuff, it took me until now to pick the book back up and finish it already. One of the most striking things about this Berry classic is how relevant most of his arguments are today when it was published almost four decades ago in response to a very specific agricultural crisis.

Also, I am surprised that this book hasn't been recommended to me more. I feel
The best single book I know on the land ethic of farming. Informs what my wife and I try to do on our small farm, though we are much more mechanized than Mr Berry's ideal. Goes well with Aldo Leopold's earlier writing on the land ethic A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from Round River and with Verlynn Klinkenborg's The Rural Life though the latter is more an appreciation of farm life,while Berry mounts a denunciation of what has been happening to it -- faster and faster. I ...more
Chloe Adeline
Apr 01, 2016 Chloe Adeline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is beautiful. It is difficult to read because it is deep, lengthy, and analyzing a depressing situation; but it is wondrous in its insight, poignancy, and thought-filled-ness.

It has greatly expanded my perspectives and convictions on farming, agriculture, capitalist "agribusiness," being human, and living on earth. Every chapter and sometimes every page brings new revelations, new connections between ideas, and new excitement!

Some of my favorite quotes:
- "the basic cause of the energy
Stephen Case
Jun 12, 2015 Stephen Case rated it it was amazing
I told my friend that reading a book by Wendell Berry was like your father sitting you down to have a difficult talk. You remember the kind. The kind you dreaded because you knew he was going to be right, you knew he was going to tell you things you didn’t necessarily want to hear, and you knew you were going to have to change. I told my friend this because we’re creating a course for next semester on sustainable agriculture and we’ll be using this as one of our texts. But I told my friend we ne ...more
Jun 26, 2007 Sara rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: greenies
Shelves: readin07
I actually didn't finish this one in time to return it to the library, but I really liked the parts I read. Berry's writing makes me want to sell our house, move out to the country and become farmers. Obviously, Grant wouldn't go for that, but I'd like to read more of his stuff. It's pretty heavy, so you have to sit with it and give it some time to sink in. I'm looking forward to revisiting it.
M Christopher
Oct 02, 2015 M Christopher rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology, politics
Probably the only book I've ever read on agricultural theory and likely the only such I will ever read. But "The Unsettling of America" is, of course, more than just a book on agriculture. Wendell Berry is, of course, more than just a farmer. A novelist, poet, theologian, philosopher, and fine observer of both humanity and nature, Berry is no less than a national treasure. His classic 1977 work is a distillation of so many strands of thought all leading, like tributaries of a river, to the same ...more
Nov 27, 2015 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I can't believe this book was written in the 70's. I had to keep reminding myself while reading because it seemed so sadly current.

An excerpt from the 1995 'Afterword to the Third Edition' notes by the author:

"In The Unsettling of America I argue that industrial agriculture and the assumptions on which it rests are wrong, root and branch; I argue that this kind of agriculture grows out of the worst of human history and the worst of human nature. From my own point of view, the happiest fate of my
Sep 15, 2010 Aniesa rated it it was amazing
An eloquent statement of an alternative view of culture, health, family and, of course, agriculture -- one that should at least be considered for adoption by every American.
Jul 07, 2012 Deb rated it did not like it
Wanted to like it, but found it boring-- didn't finish. Also found some of the language in it a bit offensive when it is clearly not intended to be so.
Aug 11, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing
Shelves: farming
It's Wendell Berry's book that you're "supposed" to read, and now I know why. Thoughtful prose, enlightening message -- I would not expect anything else from Berry. If you're looking for a primer on why people are becoming ever-more interested in farmers and farming, Berry explains. And he never does it in that pretentious Berkeley "my food is better than yours" way which has become a sad norm among food movement writers.

I especially enjoyed his theme of margins and marginal people as possible s
Jul 13, 2010 Jordan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environmental
i can't stop thinking about this book. i feel like joining a agro-communist 1970's cult.
May 04, 2014 Rich rated it it was amazing
The amazing part of Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America for me is that it clearly and calmly outlines the major problems facing the United States in the late 1970's and so fully explores the sources of these changes from the fragmentation of the family, the explosion of corporate greed, and the loss of purpose among the workforce and yet goes beyond a simply eulogizing to offer real and difficult solutions.

Berry's central theme for me was that hard work has been made a soiled concept (excu
I'm going through all my books as part of the Marie Kondo method. I'm processing them all before I give them away. I read this book for an Issues and Ideas class senior year in college, and I remember buying another copy to give to my dad, a farmer, for Christmas. But now, many years later, I have to admit I don't remember much , if anything, about it. I'm left with the general sense of Wendell Berry as someone who (I've continued to hear about) as a great respected man and author...but I probab ...more
Jul 04, 2016 BookBec rated it it was ok
I've long had Wendell Berry on my "ought to read" list. He comes up in other books and magazines that I read, always in tones of great respect. At last I checked this book out from the library and got started.

More than a week later, I've taken Wendell Berry off my "to read" list. His writing is so dry it's a torment to read! I'd put a bookmark 10 pages ahead to give myself a goal for a reading session, and even that was a slog every time I sat down. Ordinarily I love to read, but not this.

Oct 12, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
Reading any Wendell Berry book makes me feel less crazy and also creates a deep longing within me for a more meaningful life. The Unsettling of America is no different. Here are my dog-ears and highlights:

pg. 6 - the commercial conquest of native Americans; more thorough and more final than military defeat.
pg. 24 - the responsible consumer, or the opposite of(remember this was written in the 70's):

"People whose governing habit is the relinquishment of power, competence, and responsibility, and w
Dec 30, 2014 Scott rated it really liked it
Berry is thought-provoking, and rhetorically strong. He presents his case for a humane agriculture focused on the local and the small-scale, existing in symbiosis with the environment. However, at times Berry's arguments are out-of-time and hopelessly romantic. As a descendant of a subsistence farm family, I see nothing terribly ennobling about working oneself into fatigue daily, outdoors and in all weather, then through a combination of seasonal malnutrition and scarce resources coming to an ea ...more
Dec 20, 2009 Marianne rated it really liked it
Berry makes some fantastic, insightful sociological observations about modern American culture and agriculture. Namely, its failings of community, conservation, consumption, specialization, and entertainment. I can't lay all the fault for the pattern of cultural or agricultural disintegration in our society as easily as he does on the doorstep of "agribusiness." I blame it on sin and than man is fallen, not just because we aren't all farmers any more. And, yes, this fingers into agribusiness and ...more
Nov 08, 2011 Elise rated it really liked it
I was eager to read this book for a couple of reasons: 1) Nick's really into W.Berry, and 2) I happened upon an Amazon review of a more recent book of his, and the reviewer wrote that she and her husband had passages from "The Unsettling of America" read at their wedding. Cool!

I found myself agreeing with WB a ton, so much so that I revived my practice of jotting down favorite passages into a little notebook. I especially loved the section in which WB discusses "The Odyssey" as fundamentally ab
Jessica Zu
Aug 04, 2011 Jessica Zu rated it liked it
I appreciate Berry's keen observation on the link between culture and agriculture, the body, mind and the earth. I find myself agree with him on many issues. However, his obliviousness on the unbearable oppression on women in any agricultural society (or better patriarchical society) makes me angry. It is true that industrialization destroyed the meaning of household and human's meaningful connection to earth and further oppresses women. But such sexual oppressions are not brand new, it is merel ...more
Jul 26, 2011 Kerith rated it liked it
Shelves: sociology
This book was a gift to me from my friend Geoff some years ago, and my first full length Wendell Berry read -- though I had read essays. It was a very difficult book to read, mainly because it was about farming and agriculture, a subject I know little about.
He blames the "unsettling of America" on the mechanization and subsequent loss of the small family farm. "Agribusiness" and corporet farms arose to take the place of these farms, leading to the death of rural areas and the rape of the land. H
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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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“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” 83 likes
“If we do not live where we work and when we work we are wasting our lives and our work too.” 19 likes
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