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Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition
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Life is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  692 ratings  ·  88 reviews
[A] scathing assessment…Berry shows that Wilson's much-celebrated, controversial pleas in Consilience to unify all branches of knowledge is nothing more than a fatuous subordination of religion, art, and everything else that is good to science…Berry is one of the most perceptive critics of American society writing today.-Lauren F. Winner, Washington Post Book WorldI am tem ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published April 19th 2001 by Counterpoint (first published 2000)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,614)
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David
As a scientist and a university faculty member, I found some parts of this essay stinging. Nevertheless, I found, on the whole, much of the commentary cogent and useful. At first, this essay seemed like some form of Luddite treatise. But what actually emerged was a well thought out challenge to the primacy of science in the modern world. Although the author issues this challenge directly at the Ecologist E. O. Wilson, in response to Wilson's thesis entitled Consilience, Wendell Berry rarely miss ...more
Karson
Wow. I didn't think the whole thing totally ruled, but there are certain quotes that are probably going to stick with me forever. He just has a different point of view than i have ever been exposed to. He really values the particular. Particular places, particular people, particular animals, particular things. This is across the spectrum from me. Like most Americans I value big, novel things. I think big trips rule, big mountains, big states, even big animals. I like moose more than birds. Mount ...more
Evan
Berry continues to astonish me. This is not a fast and easy read; you have to work and pay attention. But Berry writes as a prophet of our times and has put his finger on a core - maybe the root - cause of dis-ease in our century.

He writes a critique of rationalism and scientific thought that we need to pay attention to.

A few memorable passages:

"For a while I proposed to myself that the only things really explainable are explanations. That is not quite true, but it is near enough to the truth t
...more
Jon
Gotta give this one 5-stars just for sheer audacity. Berry takes on modern science and its materialistic and mechanistic world view, and he has E.O. Wilson and his book Consilience in his sights. Berry suggests that something is lost when we only focus on the reductionist perspective at the root of modern science. We are, he is suggesting, more than can be explained by modern science, and he suggests the dominance of the modern scientific paradigm represents a threat to those ineffable or irredu ...more
Jack Wolfe
Ohhhh I'm definitely gonna read more Wendell Berry. As a poetic critic of our technological, secular obsessions, he's a bit like Marilynne Robinson. He's the kind of critical thinker that puts to shame most other supposed forms of "critical thinking"... And he does so in a cheerful, elegant way that I find hard to resist. No one is spared here, but Berry's targets are not the standard liberal boogeymen of Republican politicians and CEOS (though those people are implicated by association) but rat ...more
Joel
Wendell Berry: my constant antidote to graduate school.

Berry dislikes scientific reductionism, argues for the uniqueness of art and religion as ways of knowing, being, doing, etc, and adds some important objections to the "scientific" enterprise as it is carried out today: it is essentially colonial, imperialist, and in bed with a number of environmentally destructive forces.

He also comes down pretty harshly on the way academic disciplines are organized and the way universities are run. This mak
...more
Sunni
A challenging read, but well worth it. Berry takes on one scientist's essay and exposes its fallacies and cliches about history, religion, humanity, agriculture, education, and what science can really do. He's hilarious at times, strikingly angry other times, but always dead on. I found myself dog-earing and underlining parts on every page, and I value so much his call for a satisfied, "ordinary" life where we simply appreciate living and the miracle it truly is. He values a life where one knows ...more
Alisse Metge
3.5 stars, maybe 4, for making me think.

I found so much to agree with and to disagree with in this book that it is difficult to summarize. I had anticipated agreeing wholeheartedly with Berry (as I have enjoyed some of his other writings), and I was excited to see how this articulate author would defeat the scientism set forth in E.O. Wilson’s book, Consilience. While I agreed with Berry’s rejection of Wilson’s philosophies, and I found myself underlining and marking many things I thought he sai
...more
Anda Manteufel
i can't wait to read this over and over and over again. intelligent, powerful, beautiful, poetic. i could gush on and on. makes me want to abandon computers and hand write more letters. take more photographs and create more art.
Lora
A fantastic book, one long essay with many facets. This is the kind of stuff I think about and this is how I think about it, except Berry expresses it so much more clearly. His is a vital, prophetic voice in our nation, and I cannot emphasize enough that everyone should become familiar with his writing. Not only does he present urgent warnings as a naturalist (not as an environmentalist!) but his writing by its very style breaks with resounding thunder the frantic rationalizations of our media-s ...more
Scott Endicott
This is the essentially the book that made me realize that I could enjoy nonfiction. Using King Lear as a jumping-off point, Wendell Berry shows us the limitations of science. With every solution comes a new problem to be solved. Progress is an illusion, we are not slowly becoming a better society. We go in cycles, up over hills and down into valleys. These are the truths that stand out in my mind as I reflect upon this book enjoyed many years ago. If you already fear the dangers of ambition and ...more
Peter Lewis
A brilliant argument against the overreach of scientism and the blind embrace of technological "progress" without regard for local consequences. I think perhaps he swings too far to the opposite end of the pendulum (with what feels like a rather nostalgic view of the simpler life of agrarian communities), but the book is an insightful cautionary voice in a society obsessed with technological innovation and driven by a global economy.

While it doesn't finish as strong as it starts, the precision
...more
Brian
It's difficult for me NOT to love reading Wendell Berry vacillating between wanting to be in one place over time and despising my suburban upbringing.

The occasion for Life is a Miracle is an book by Edward O. Wilson called Consilience. Berry confronts the scientific-industrial-technological complex generally by refuting and challenging Wilson particularly.

Overall this is a solid little book that challenges the reader to consider the ramifications of scientific progress on particular places by
...more
Drb
May 28, 2012 Drb added it
Wendell Berry, the prophet of propriety.
Dan
A vital, fresh way of looking at the world about us. This is one of those books that articulated a lot of what I believe before I was able to do so myself. I have docked a single star from it only because the author has devoted a lot of attention and energy to refuting another book - "Consilience" by E.O. Wilson - which I had not planned to read and will definitely now avoid. However, this is definitely on my "essential reading" list for every global citizen and will be a source for further refl ...more
Callie
This BOOK is a miracle. In fact, it changed my mind about some things. Gave me some things to think about.. Wendell Berry is truly an independent thinker and when you read what he says, you realize how rare a thing he is. This book goes so far as to suggest that science is treated as a religion by most of us nowadays and we blindly and blithely accept that what it says and does is, its methodology are all above criticism or doubt. WE have accepted the notion that science will eventually solve al ...more
Mark
Written as a refutation to E.O. Wilson's Consilience, there was a particular passage in Wilson's work that seemed to sum up his views of human curiosity and sense of limits. To Wilson, the tale of Icarus flying too close to the sun is a story of human triumph and experimentation. For Wendell Berry, he may not care so much about Icarus himself but if Icarus's actions have consequences for those around him, then he'd better get a better sense of limits and a bit of humility.

In short, Berry posits
...more
Adam
Apr 04, 2011 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: essays
"As knowledge expands globally, it is being lost locally."

This book, in the right hands, could be revolutionary.

Berry is standing up against an unrestrained faith in science, technology and the "free market" and declaring that the too-often-ignored price of what we delude ourselves into believing is convenience and prosperity is nothing less than our communities, our health and our souls.

Don't misunderstand me (or Berry); these are not statements of a neo-socialist radical or religious fanatic,
...more
Skipr
I've read a lot of books. But only after a handful have I said, "I've really been blind to the truth." In

Life Is a Miracle

Wendell Berry persuaded me that I've been blind to the ways that science and technology are corrupting us and the world we live in. I had become more and more suspicious for many years. But, I didn't realize just how precarious a place we have put ourselves. Berry convincingly exposes the limits of science, technology, and abstraction. He also argues that our loss of a se
...more
Jeff
May 09, 2015 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody who read (& esp. those who disliked) Edward O. Wilson's Consilience
Recommended to Jeff by: Jeff Muhr
Shelves: non-fiction
Berry's writing is terrific and his ideas are extremely thought provoking, so i'm "erring" on the side of generosity (4 stars rather than 3).

This book is a response to Edward O. Wilson's Consilience. Berry disagrees strongly with Wilson's belief that everything can become known and that all knowledge can be united under a single discipline, namely mechanized laws of physics.

To criticize Berry as "old school" seems appropriate. He favors the "old" over the "merely new" and religion/art over scien
...more
Max
Life Is a Miracle is actually an essay against E. O. Wilson's Consilience, and as such it does not do a fantastic job. As usual for Wendell Berry, however, there is much to earn this book a spot on one's shelves.

Berry primarily takes issue with Wilson's championing of science as the cure to all our woes. The main problem with this is that Berry mischaracterizes or misunderstands the science against which he is contending. For example, Berry argues against Wilson's metaphor of the brain as a mach
...more
Bri
Wendell Berry--can the man do wrong? In this essay he returns to two of his (and my) favorite topics--the questionable wholesale acceptance, encouragement, and support of modern science and technology and the fractured educational system as it is particularly illustrated in American universities and land grant colleges.
A large part of this essay is dedicated to considering and disagreeing with EO Wilson's book Consilience. I have not read Consilience but I have read other works by Wilson written
...more
Paul
In the haunting, slanting light of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, canonically biblical and classical literature, and our very human history, Wendell Berry's Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition is a clearly articulated, cogent and coherent argument against a narrow-minded materialist, mechanistic, and reductionist approach and view of science and other academic disciplines in conquered and divided (and divorced) relationship to each other. Out with arrogance (ah, yes, our un ...more
Mel
Apr 16, 2008 Mel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: conservationists, scientists, researchers, naturalists, essayists
Berry makes a great case for the need of science and technology (and the people in the professions that have sprung forth from them) to view the health of the community, not money or discovery, as the true measure of success.

A farmer, poet, and thinker, Berry argues page after page against the foolishness of discovery for discovery's sake and the difference between knowledge and learning. A good part of this book is spent tearing apart Edward O. Wilson's argument for science as religion in his
...more
Sean Harry
I think his logic is firm, but I wish he hadn't spent so much time arguing with Mr. Wilson. Indeed, our worship of empirical data, science and technology creates an unnecessary dualism within our culture. I wish he would have explicated the importance of religion and art without pointing sideways to Wilson. We need to heed Wendell's words!
Catherine
E. O. Wilson's Conscilience is a book that ticked Wendell Berry off considerably. Life is a Miracle is his response - and in many ways it's not necessary to have read Wilson to derive meaning and find value in Berry's words. Berry writes against the prevailing wisdom of describing creatures as if they're machines who exist without mystery; he writes to push back against the idea that science can explain everything about human experience; he writes to suggest that profit and "progress" and produc ...more
Kristen
Jan 20, 2010 Kristen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: scientists, academics, Wendell Berry fans
Wendell Berry is a prophet for our time, and this is a great introduction to his non-fiction. Life is a Miracle describes how lack of connection to the community, over-specialization and lack of dialogue between the disciplines hurts everyday people, the land, and more. In his novels and essays, membership is a recurring theme. In Life is a Miracle, Berry asserts that true leadership is impossible without membership. The disconnect between leaders and policy-makers and the people they influence ...more
Nathan
Jul 07, 2008 Nathan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Pharmaceutical Reps
Wendell Berry uses Edward O. Wilson's "Consilience" as fodder for his criticism of the advance of science and technology without a corresponding advance in the time-tested values such as restraint. As an outstanding poet, essayist, novelist, naturalist and farmer, Wendell Berry's work has meant a lot of things to a lot of people across various cultural, political and literary boundaries. Taken in the context of his other work, what I liked Life is a Miracle is that it shows just how practical an ...more
Jenny
This was a much more difficult book than I thought it was going to be. It has a pretty cover with hummingbirds and flowers on it and is called Life is a Miracle, so I thought it was going to be spiritual/nature writing. Instead, it's mainly a response to a book called Consilience by Edward O. Wilson, whose points about science and education Berry finds deep fault with.

While I agreed with Berry on many of his points, and even felt that he offered ways of looking at the subjects at hand in ways I
...more
Betsy D
While Berry made very good points about how not every aspect of life and culture can be analyzed by science, it is basically a polemic against Wilson and Consilience, so got tiresome to read. Not Berry's lyrical best.
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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 see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.” 41 likes
“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.” 38 likes
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