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Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish

3.78  ·  Rating Details  ·  572 Ratings  ·  126 Reviews
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized " ...more
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Published May 15th 2007 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2007)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,360)
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Petra X
There is nothing in this quiet book about the author's close friendship with an Amish family that could be called gripping, exciting or even mildly thrilling, yet its a page-turner. Its quite unputdownable and having finished it, I still couldn't tell you why.

Perhaps its because its so beautifully-written, perhaps because its honesty outweighs the detailed of all the ways in which these very strict Amish are different (although, of course, that is what the book is about). Perhaps its just becaus
Sarah Wells
Oct 01, 2007 Sarah Wells rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An objective, informative, and interesting look at the world of the Amish. I really appreciated this read after having lived next door to a few Amish families for two years of my childhood and growing up in and around communities of Amish in Middlefield, Ohio. Joe's "inside" look is fair and honest - as an "outsider among the Amish," he is respectful of the Amish family and Amish community while not neglecting his conflicted feelings about their lifestyle and choices they've made. His perspectiv ...more
May 19, 2008 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great work from Mackall! I have read many books claiming to portray the Amish life and all fell short. This book is the best yet to give a fairly accurate account of the Amish, The Swartzentrubers none the less. Unlike the 'Economic Amish' or more liberal groups that are Amish for economic reasons, the Swartzentrubers are very elusive and less likely to reveal anything about their life and believes. They deeply believe and feel they must follow in the believe of what their elders (forefathers) ...more
Dec 01, 2007 Rebekah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Everything I'd seen about the Amish before had been skewed to portray them as either picturesque and quaint, or incestuous party animals who can't quite keep any sense of decency during rumspringa. This book tells the story of a growing friendship between an English and an Amish man, neighbors, and offers a glimpse into the life of a family living as part of the most conservative Amish sect. Little details and explanation of their ways provided a new insight. He chronicled his neighbors, as well ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Liralen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a wonderfully thoughtful book. Mackall has never been and presumably never will be Amish, but his neighbours are—and the better he got to know them, the more he saw the complexities of the 'plain life'. Plain Secrets is neither an exposé nor a paean. He has deep respect for the Shetlers (for how hard they work, their honesty, etc.) while also struggling to reconcile his own modern views with some parts of Amish life: that the Swartzentrubers won't allow for buggy modifications that would ma ...more
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amish
Having grown up near the area this book takes place in, I was very interested to read it. About the Amish, most specifically about the Swartzentruber sect of Amish, it is of the author's experience and interaction with one particular family. He manages to grow close over a period of years and really see what life is like in the most strict of the Amish sects.

Mackall manages to become a close trusted friend of the Shetlers (names changed to protect privacy) an Amish family who moves in near him a
Jul 19, 2009 Scolumbus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a true account of life in a strict Amish community, written by and "English" neighbor and friend of the family. The names of the Amish were changed by the author to protect their privacy. It is unusual for the Amish to have such a close and trusting relationship with a non-Amish person. I learned that all Amish are not alike; different branches within the Amish have slight diffenences in how they live their lives. For example, while almost all Amish use horse pulled buggies as their mode ...more
Dec 04, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Joe Mackall is in the unique position of having a close friendship with the Shetler family, who are members of the Swartzentruber Amish, the most conservative and restrictive sect of Amish. He is welcome in the family home. He and his wife are the only English who were permitted at a funeral for a family member. He clearly has unusual access to the culture and yet he does remain an outsider in some important ways. After all, separation is the name of the game if you're Amish.

Mackall's clo
Aug 07, 2010 Trish rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Joe Mackall has written a personal account of the Swartzentruber Amish based on his friendship with a particular family, the Shetlers, who belong to this type of Amish group. Mackall tries to be objective showing many aspects of Swartzentruber Amish life without passing judgment, but there is definitely a bias based on his friendship with them. He is reluctant to show them in any type of light that might offend them, he treads lightly. Even so, what I came away with is they are basically a cult. ...more
I found this book as I was browsing the religion section of my library, looking for a translation of the Tao de Ching. It jumped out at me, feeding my fascination with religious groups that exert such (to me) extreme control over their members. Since the Amish don't proselytize, you are born into the life. As a young adult, you make the choice to join the church or not.

Mackall does a decent job of revealing what insight he could gain as an outsider. He clearly has great respect for most of thes
Sep 06, 2015 Jengordon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mackall writes about the Amish --and a extremely right-wing sub-sect (Swartzentruber), at that-- not as an anthropolgist or curiousity seeker, but as a next-door neighbor. As he writes, he examines some of the ways that many of us in America romanticize the Amish and (Devil's Playground) sensationalize them by taking outliers and telling their stories as if they were typical. Another book I read recently, about American Jewish views of the ultra-Orthodox, also discussed the romanticization of th ...more
Erin Lindsay McCabe
I read this book in one day/night (accidentally! It is a gift for my mom and I only meant to look at the acknowledgements... And then just the intro, and then I was hooked)-- I could not put it down. Not because it's a page turner or because anything momentous or salacious happens, but because it's moving and honest and thoughtful and fascinating. My only quibble is that the ending felt a bit rushed or slightly unfinished--perhaps because the story is of real lives that are being lived-- and als ...more
Mar 28, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated by the Amish. I think, often, about cultures/societies that are so different from the one I grew up in. How they work, roles of people, etc, etc. Are they happier than us? Are we happier than them. Is it good to have the ability for an individual to follow his/her own interests? Can a person be happy in such a bounded society? Would I be happy in that society? The farming life certainly appeals to me, as does the simpler life. Would I chafe at the role that I would have to play a ...more
Jan 27, 2010 Stephanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good quick read and I felt it was an honest observation of the author's Amish family. Makes you think about simplicity and the importance of not crowding your life with technology to where you forget what is important.
Aug 10, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was reminded of the continual tensions of life - male/female, modern/traditional, popular/unpopular, but most of all the tension between community and individual. That is the one that I have struggled with all my life even before I knew about cultural tensions.
If I were born into the Swartzentruber Amish Community, I would either have run away or killed myself. They are probably guided by 97% community and 3 percent individual. I am far to the other side. I realize that we become human in co
I'm really interested in how others live. I discovered this book as I was browsing Amazon. I thought the perspective would be interesting. The author is a college professor who has lived in Amish country, making friends with the Amish family next door, for well over a decade. Unlike many other books about the Amish, this wasn't written by someone with an ax to grind: a disgruntled former Amish.

The book is remarkably sympathetic to the Amish without romanticizing the Amish life or culture. It's
Joan Colby
Oct 25, 2012 Joan Colby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mackall, a college professor at Ashland University in Ohio, resides near a large Amish community He befriended Samuel and his family who , over a 16 year period, agreed that he could write a book about the Swartzentruber Amish, the strictest of the Amish sects. Mackall demythologizes many of the prevalent conceptions about the Amish, especially how they have been marketed as tourist destinations, or conversely disdained as hypocrites who drive cars and use electricity—which some Amish sects perm ...more
Jul 25, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s no secret that I am and always have been a pretty staunch heretic. That said, I am oddly drawn to both the ethnographic study of spirituality and the religious practices of very small and specific fringe groups.

Take the Swartzentruber Amish, for instance. Did you know that there are multiple groups of Amish with vastly different beliefs and practices? Probably not. I didn’t either until I read this book. My understanding of Amish culture is unfortunately limited and I am no more immune to s
Donna Davis
I was fascinated to learn that there is a category for "Amish Scholars". Naturally, it is not people who are both Amish and scholars, since the two are antithetical, but rather an actual school (sociology?) that studies the Amish. The writer may be among them. He is certainly unusual in that he has been a neighbor and friend of a very strict sub-sect of the Amish for over a decade. As other reviewers have noted, the same friendship that makes him privy to all sorts of information that other "Eng ...more
Carolyn E
Jun 09, 2012 Carolyn E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have just finished reading Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish by Joe Mackall. This book is non-fiction, written by a professor of English and journalism at Ashland University in Ohio.

It is a very interesting book that tells about Mackall's friendship with the Shetler family that belongs to the Swartzentruber Amish community in Ashland County, Ohio. As you undoubtedly know, the Swartzentruber Amish are among the most conservative of the Amish communities.

The book focuses on Jonas Shetle
Jennifer Lavoie
This is a fascinating look at the Amish, particularly the Swartzentruber sect of the Amish, from the perspective of not a former member, but an Outsider who has befriended a family. This book reveals some of the details of what it means to be Swartzentruber Amish, which, while still having some of the same traits as other Amish Old Order groups, is distinctly different in their refusal of all modern conveniences in their lives.

The author, Mackall, has been friends with one family for years, and
Marilyn Pettigrove
This gives a good look into being Amish. It is written by a neighbor and friend of a Swartzentruber Amish family. Since they are such private people, it is a tribute to the writer that they let him do this. It shows the diversities of the Amish people, the way they make adjustments (or don't) and how they differ even among themselves. It is revealing, kind, eye opening and poignant. It was a good read.
Aug 21, 2013 Sallee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this book to be a honest, thoughtful insight into the Swartzentruber Amish of Ohio in Ashland County. Written by an English and journalism professor at Ashland College and a published writer this book details his friendship with his Swartzentruber Amish neighbors. The Swartzentruber Amish are the most conservative of all Amish. When non-Amish people speak as if they know all about these insular people, it would depend on which type of Amish they are speaking of in determining the correct ...more
Sep 14, 2015 Patty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting look inside a Swartzentruber Amish family's life. The author, as an "outsider," has a really unique perspective- he was able to become a close enough friend to this Amish family to get a good understanding of them and their lifestyle, but was also able to relate it to his life.
Jade Lauron
Another look at the Amish, this time from the viewpoint of an outsider (or English person) looking in at a single, well respected family in the most conservative sect, the Swartzentruber Amish of Ohio.

I found this book to be wholly without pretension, and the author struggles to portray this family and the Amish as he found them with as little prejudice for or against their way of life as he can. Obviously, as the story is also embedded with his life it is not totally without the influence of h
Feb 03, 2015 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I live in NE Ohio and a lot the places mentioned are very familiar. The author gave an honest account of general Amish life. He was not condescending neither did he attempt to glorify the Amish lifestyle, just an honest account and very well written.
Feb 15, 2008 K rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swarrzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized "running-around time" that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds," "Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady re ...more
Jul 15, 2015 Polly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by a man who is a neighbor of an Amish family in Ohiio who became friends with & wrote about the Amish life. It was very insightful & i would recommend it to those who are curious about the Amish lifestyle.
Jan 24, 2016 September rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book when I was doing research for my cultural diversity class. I read it in a week and enjoyed learning about the values and beliefs of the Amish.
Sep 17, 2014 Jeanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intimate look at daily Amish life written by an outsider. Written about the most strict of the Amish, the book details some of the difficulties of the two cultures living together in rural Ohio. It also goes into detail about the pleasantries of an Amish life.
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