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The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  1,509 ratings  ·  149 reviews
"Here is a human being speaking with calm and sanity out of the wilderness. We would do well to hear him."—The Washington Post Book World

Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes—an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agraria
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 5th 2003 by Counterpoint (first published January 1st 2002)
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Sherry Elmer Definitely.

It is something that anyone who cares--about humans, about the earth, about the place of humans on the earth, and how they relate to each…more

It is something that anyone who cares--about humans, about the earth, about the place of humans on the earth, and how they relate to each other and to the rest of creation-- would find much to savor and meditate on.

Wendell Berry is a thoughtful man and compassionate writer. This is not preachy, and it is not polemic or diatribe. It is poetic.(less)

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4.36  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,509 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ecology, most-beloved
Oh man, I am passionately devoted to Wendell Berry. I say too many things sarcastically, but I am dead serious. I can pinpoint the moment when I looked up and said "Oh, I am in love with this author's mind.I am becoming a fucking farmer and moving to Asheville and growing my own vegetables and reading Wendell everyday." That is what happened to me, people. He is right about everything. It sounds weird, but I am so serious. Wendell Berry is excellent and fantastic and phenomenal and makes me want ...more
Jan 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's taken me a long time to read this book. I had to keep taking breaks, like grabbing a breath before diving back down into deep water to explore the bottom of the ocean. Wendell Berry writes beautiful, lyrical prose. He is insightful, troubling, wise, and--I use this word deliberately--holy. Mr. Berry's work as a poet informs his nonfiction; he carefully choses his words, and writes with both clarity and artistry. The Art of the Commonplace is a book of essays written over the past three or f ...more
Kathryn Bashaar
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I love Wendell Berry, but maybe a whole book of his essays wasn't the right choice. He is very verbose, and this book got repetitive for me. Nevertheless, it was worth reading. Berry manages to be both extremely conservative and extremely radical at the same time. His cause is "agrarianism." He reminds us that we are part of an ecosystem and, as creatures who eat food, part of an agricultural system whether we know it or not. To say the least, he disapproves of our modern industrial agricultural ...more
Sherry Elmer
I highly recommend this thoughtful book of essays to fans of Wendell Berry and to everyone who is interested in ideas of community, environment, or agriculture. Read it with a pen nearby; there will be a lot you want to copy.
Oct 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
People should read this book like they read the Bible. Not necessarily the way believers read the Bible (though it's not the worst replacement), but at least the way anyone who wants to be culturally literate reads Genesis and Exodus and Job and John and a few others to have an idea of what's going on around them. This is the compelling oppositional political and social philosophy of my generation, my peer social class at least. So often as I get to know someone I come to see that they hold this ...more
Donovan Richards
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Urban Jungles

Living in a city, I sometimes find nature a nuisance. Snow might display beautiful characteristics as it coats a meadow, but it certainly exhibits headache-inducing qualities when it materializes during the commute. Vibrant evergreens coating a mountain convey the finest forms of art, yet no tree stands in the way of a property owner desiring a better view. Urban life is ultimately divorced from the land. A simple block-to-block walk downtown provides little to no evidence of ecolog
Jeff Shelnutt
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm sitting here with a stack of note cards in front of me, the fruit of having read this book. It represents more notes than I typically take for one book, while simultaneously testifying to the value I placed on the insights that Berry offers on the agrarian lifestyle, local economies, the family unit, respect for the Creator demonstrated by respect for His creation, the value and dignity of work, global "harmony" destroying cultural diversity, and a sensible understanding of individual freedo ...more
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I am currently self-exiled in the countryside, and I picked up this book thinking, who better to foster in me a love of rural life than Wendell Berry? Instead of being filled with warm fuzzy feelings for all things agricultural, however, I finished the book with an expanded sense of community, a wider understanding of internesting economies, and what it means to live with the rest of the world in mind.

I appreciated the fact that this collection provides the date of original publication for each
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“The moral argument points to restraint; it is a conclusion that may be in some sense tragic, but there is no escaping it. Much as we long for infinities of power and duration, we have no evidence that these lie within our reach, much less within our responsibility. It is more likely that we will have either to live within our limits, within the human definition, or not live at all. And certainly the knowledge of these limits and of how to live within them is the most comely and graceful knowled ...more
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: church
This is a collection of Berry's essays that are related to "farming". Several of them appear in other collections of essays. I found some of them uncomfortable to read because of what they had to say about me and my lifestyle.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't know how I didn't get bored reading this book, because so many of the essays are essentially saying the same thing. It wasn't until the very end, somewhere in the 300s and a few paragraphs deep into some Reagan-era trade agreement, that I started to skim and skip a bit. In fact, I had planned to just skip around and read only the essays that interested me based on their title, but after doing three that way, I decided I like it enough to head page to square one and give the whole thing a ...more
Sep 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Melody by: David Wright
In the essays collected as "The Art of the Commonplace," Wendell Berry presents a compelling vision for the restoration of American culture. He argues that a deep attachment to the land and a proper understanding of humanity's relationship to the created world will help us develop a more robust definition of economics and sustainability, one that will preserve our exhaustible natural resources and enable us to provide for future generations. (As he says: life is short, and the world is long.) Be ...more
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
I spent months plowing [pun intended] through this collection of essays. I view that time as well spent and edifying. Just before finishing the last few pages I turned to the notes and highlights I've made along the way. What nuggets, what treasures, what wisdom! And I have page after of page of those notes, which upon re-reading, make me want to dive back into the source essay and not forget the context.

More importantly, there are actions to be taken as results of the readings in this collecti
Alasdair Martin
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, political
It has taken me nine months to read this cover-to-cover, that is to say, it *can* be difficult. However Berry is a highly capable writer and communicator and conveys his points well, if in a somewhat verbose manner at times. I'd still recommend this book to those who have an interest in standing in opposition to the 'industrial economy', which is really the main thrust of this selection of essays; considering how said economy seeks to treat finite resources as infinite and disregard long term ne ...more
Mar 29, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wendell Berry made his living as a writer and speaker, jobs only possible via modern technology and completely unsustainable on a larger scale. While enjoying a privileged lifestyle he dabbled in farming and fantasizing about the past.

This book's idealization of an agrarian lifestyle is an insult to the millions of human beings still struggling to survive via subsistence agriculture. Placing a farmer on a pedestal is as offensive as the stereotype of the "noble savage": it ignores historical rea
Aug 09, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: farmers, philosophers and the socially disintegrated
So far, i am enjoying this look at the "agrarian" lifestyle as an anecdote for the "social disintegration" caused by our "dominant urban culture." We have recently moved from urban sprawl to a small farming community and I'm hoping this book will help me understand, appreciate and acclimate to my new surroundings.
May 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book makes me want to learn more about the local environment - the wild plants, animals, natural processes, local places... "The world would always be most fully and clearly present to me in the place where I was fated by birth to know better than any other."
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: environmental
The content of this book is that which I wish all people could know and understand. It is a commentary and vision on the degradation of good work, communities, culture, ecology, agriculture, marriage, and stewardship in America at the hands of global economy, mechanical replacement of human skill and knowledge, politics, and greed. In the fifty-plus years since Berry wrote many of these essays, people have continued to march ahead in the same direction - towards a looming collapse that will even ...more
Patrick Walsh
Norman Wirzba edited this collection of essays and wrote the introduction. Mr. Wirzba himself has written and edited books, essays, and articles on caring for creation, living in harmony with creation, food and faith, and related subjects.

Wendell Berry’s writing is a joy to read. In it we find such sentiments as these: “It is not from ourselves that we will learn to be better than we are.” (from the essay “A Native Hill”) and “Respect, I think, always implies an imagination—the ability to see on
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: simpler
Berry is a frustrating read, because he is often right about so many things ahead of the curve (for instance, decrying high-density feed lots for beef cattle, in 1980), but also, at least in these essays, very shortsighted about the possibilities of modern life. He constantly demands that we participate in communities, by which he quite explicitly means rural farming communities, without recognizing that those communities have never welcomed everyone. And, in truth, people who have left those co ...more
Jason Carter
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
"What can city people do?"

"Eat responsibly."

Thus begins the final essay in this collection of Wendell Berry's works spanning at least 33 years of public activism and private reflection (I found essays dated 1969-2002). Covering topics as broad as renewable energy, human sexuality, health, and Biblical conservationism, Berry proves himself to be a conservative agrarian along the lines of the Twelve Fugitives from Vanderbilt.

By far the best essay in the book is "The Body and the Earth," in which h
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've been reading this book for seven years. I would read some and then get overwhelmed at the magnitude of the solutions Berry is proposing and put the book down for very long periods of time. But I made it a resolution to finish the book this year and for whatever reason I did not find it overwhelming this time, but challenging and thought-provoking and oh-so-very quotable. I am not a Berry devotee but I do think he should be required reading for white Americans, at least, and maybe more peopl ...more
Casey Miller
Oct 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The best non-fiction book I've read in a long time. I now want to read everything else this guy has written! He's a plain-spoken advocate of hard work and living a true life in harmony with nature and with a proper acknowledgement of our place in the grand scheme of the world. Truly insightful and intelligent, the topics range from economics to religion to farming and household relationships, all woven together in a cohesive vision wherein we place proper value on both the human and non-human co ...more
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is a rare pleasure to read words that are a clear articulation of your own values. So many of the essays in this collection served to organize and flesh out ideas and beliefs (some that I’ve held in amorphous, sort of unconscious ways) that I’ve held for years. They also posed new questions and concepts that are nourishing food for thought. I highly recommend this collection for anyone who feels out of step with current technological and industrial cultures.
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for an introduction to Wendell Berry's essays, this is an excellent place to start. The essays in this collection are selected as a broad overview of Berry's agrarian vision, summed up by a thoughtful regard towards one's locale, community, land, dependence, and how all these contexts fit together. This volume requires some careful time to read and digest, which is exactly what Berry would ask you to do.
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a newcomer to North America, I found this collection of Wendell Berry's essays a fascinating and compelling read. The range of Berry's topics ranges far more widely than I expected - from society to economics, as well as agriculture. Though these topics are all, in a way, connected.
Kim Zinkowski
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Must read to understand the ailing cultural decline of our society since the industrial age
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Life changing.
Mar 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, philosophy
Wendell Berry’s name is synonymous with agrarianism, but also with liberal Christianity. This collection of essays mirrors both of these points of view. First, with regard to his agrarianism…

Berry is no doubt an extraordinarily talented wordsmith. “All good human work remembers its history.” (pg. 77), and “We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.” (pg. 201) are some examples of his approach to a topic that is discussed much too often but not followed up on with action. This collection
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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."
“People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” 701 likes
“In a society in which nearly everybody is dominated by somebody else's mind or by a disembodied mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn the truth about the activities of governments and corporations, about the quality or value of products, or about the health of one's own place and economy.
In such a society, also, our private economies will depend less and less upon the private ownership of real, usable property, and more and more upon property that is institutional and abstract, beyond individual control, such as money, insurance policies, certificates of deposit, stocks, and shares. And as our private economies become more abstract, the mutual, free helps and pleasures of family and community life will be supplanted by a kind of displaced or placeless citizenship and by commerce with impersonal and self-interested suppliers...
Thus, although we are not slaves in name, and cannot be carried to market and sold as somebody else's legal chattels, we are free only within narrow limits. For all our talk about liberation and personal autonomy, there are few choices that we are free to make. What would be the point, for example, if a majority of our people decided to be self-employed?
The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth. This alignment destroys the commonwealth - that is, the natural wealth of localities and the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community - and so destroys democracy, of which the commonwealth is the foundation and practical means.”
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