Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “What Are People For?” as Want to Read:
What Are People For?
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

What Are People For?

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  2,046 ratings  ·  214 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about What Are People For?, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about What Are People For?

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,046 ratings  ·  214 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of What Are People For?
Aug 31, 2013 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 were consumed by consuming. The former didnt seem like a digression from the latter. They all spoke passionately, provokingly, eminently responsibly to the same
Josh Barkey
Jul 25, 2009 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.
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,
Jan 31, 2008 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
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well, isn't that a touch of irony.

I was probably fifty words away from finishing a review of this book and then my laptop randomly shutdown (with plenty of power).

It's an irony given one of the most interesting essays in this book: "Why I am not going to buy a Computer". I don't know what my life would look like if I was able to give reasons for not buying a computer, but I'm closer to being able to give those reasons.

*sigh* I think I'll just cut this review a bit shorter as nobody needs my
Deborah Stevens
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is my first (not last!) foray into Berrys nonfiction. There is much to appreciate here- particularly his independence of thought. ...more
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
From the imperfections of life, one could take refuge in the perfections of art. One could read a good poem- or better, write one.
There is a sense in which I no longer go to work. If I live in my place, which is my subject, then I am at my work even when I am not working. It is my work because I cannot escape it.

If I live in my subject, then writing about it cannot free me of it or get it out of my system. When I am finished writing, I can only return to what I have been writing about.
John Elliott
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having previously read Berrys Port William novels, it was compelling to see his views come to life with even greater precision and force in essay form. While provocative, his takes on conservation, economics, and technology are imminently well thought (and lived) out. Especially enjoyed the essay entitled Feminism, the Body, and the Machine, of which I have included an excerpt:

The higher aims of technological progress are money and ease. And this exulted greed for money and ease is disguised and
Mar 26, 2012 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
Davey Ermold
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic-works
I agree with another reviewer on here: the second section can be laborious to work through, but section three is one delightful essay after another.

Berry has this knack for carving his own path. His philosophy, his worldview is consistent and humble. Whether one agrees with him or not, reading his essays gives one insight into the spectacular simplicity of country life, and draws one to consider if we shouldnt be looking to go back.
May 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first encountered Wendell Berry in freshman English at OBU. The essay we read seems to be in this volume, "Word and Flesh" (at least this essay makes the same points I remember from 1992). At the time I disagreed with him, particularly that problems, including environmental problems, cannot be approached globally but can only be addressed locally.

I came back to Berry near the turn of the millennium, when I read his poetry and fell in love. The poetry invited me into the essays, and Berry has
Jan 15, 2009 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
Jan 03, 2015 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.
Apr 26, 2019 marked it as to-read
Apparently, Berry doesn't know the answer to the question in the title of his book.

An excerpt on poetry appears in Ryken's The Christian Imagination (pp. 39798).
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wendell Berry is an author Ive 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
Andy Littleton
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was my first Wendell Berry book, and I plan to read more. I feel very undereducated on the issues that Berry is discussing, but I now feel encouraged to continue to learn and apply the principles Berry applies to his life. I also appreciate his engagement with religion, both his critiques and assumptions. I would highly recommend this collection!
Feb 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
A mystic poem. Literary criticism essays. A series of philosophical essays about the purpose of mankind, work, creation, and the relationships between them. Angry letters he's received in response to his essays. His retorts to those letters. Wendell Berry is a man from another time, looking at modern culture unconvinced that any real progress has been made.

Excellent, thought-provoking writing.
Mar 22, 2016 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,
Aug 17, 2012 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
Mar 30, 2015 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
Jonathan Hiskes
May 13, 2013 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 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".
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.
Dec 02, 2012 rated it liked it
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 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Always insightful, a voice crying in the wilderness, wise words from a man who understands much of what we have lost in modern society.
Dec 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: simplicity, favorites
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.

Feb 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019-to-read
I actually finished this book more than a week ago, but I am only just reviewing it now because I continue to feel ambivalent about it. For one thing, as a collection of essays, I find that some are deeply meaningful and have personal significance, but others are dry, irrelevant (either due to being dated or too specific), or misguided in their objective.

Wendell Berry is not an eloquent writer, but he is a good one, in that his message is clear and his words convey a beautiful simplicity that
Josiah Neumann
My boy Wendell Berry may not be too stoked that I'm reviewing his book on a computer. Because Wendell is a rural type of guy. His affection towards the rural life is strongly held, and his passion has begun to rub off on me.

What Are People For?: Essays is a collection of essays written in the 80s. The book has an obvious progression in three parts. It has a strong literary focus towards the beginning and the essays shift toward a more blunt criticism of modern society.

The first part is the
Ellen MacGillivray
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up at a yard sale when I was much younger, and it remained unread for years. I am fully glad I had not tried to read it earlier, as it would not have struck me the same way. I'm sure I would not have understood its true implications nor did I have the passion then for nature and community. However, I found it to be an insightful, gripping read.

Although a compilation of essays, you can read it through as each piece of writing have similar themes and overall messages, which are
Jason Bushnell
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ive been chipping away at these essays for a couple of months and finally finished today. I enjoyed some more than others, but the environmentalist and minimalist pleas really struck a chord with me, and says in better words some of the mindset I try to hold myself to as an inevitable consumer. Ultimately, my takeaway is that I can do better.

The probability is overwhelming that if we had belonged to the generation that we deplore, we too would have behaved deplorably. The probability is
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts
  • The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist
  • Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making
  • The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection
  • Waiting for God
  • The Turtle of Oman
  • His Family
  • The Weight of Glory
  • Disruptive Witness
  • The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen: Opening Your Eyes to Wonder
  • The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything
  • Every Moment Holy
  • A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith
  • A Million Steps
  • Fear and Trembling
  • Happy Birthday, Molly: A Springtime Story (American Girls: Molly, #4)
  • Molly Saves the Day: A Summer Story (American Girls: Molly, #5)
See similar books…
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."

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to new book this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our lis...
3 likes · 0 comments
“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.” 159 likes
“Eating is an agricultural act.” 96 likes
More quotes…