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What Are People For?

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  2,222 ratings  ·  240 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)
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Aug 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 we’re consumed by consuming. The former didn’t seem like a digression from the latter. They all spoke— passionately, provokingly, eminently responsibly— to the same
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,
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.
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
Nov 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: environment
What are People For? by Wendell Berry

There are seventeen essays in this collection and a small number of pages of poetry.

Berry is an excellent essayist and I consider the essays on Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey to be the gems here. Both are five stars easy. Berry understands these men and writes so eloquently and reverently of their humanity and even their flaws.

His essays that are most specific or narrow in subject matter and about people are the best. Some of the others like the Responsibi
Laura Clawson
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Favorites from this collection: Waste, The Pleasures of Eating, and Feminism, The Body, and the Machine.
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 r
John Elliott
Sep 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having previously read Berry’s 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 disguis
Deborah Stevens
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is my first (not last!) foray into Berry’s nonfiction. There is much to appreciate here- particularly his independence of thought.
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
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
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. 397–98).
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 shouldn’t be looking to go back.
Mar 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays, brainpickings
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, wri
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 b
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 releva
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.
Nov 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wendell Berry is an author I’ve 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 po ...more
Dec 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I haven't met with writing by the inimitable Wendell Berry that didn't strike a deep chord in me. Novel, poems, essays: they are all earthy and sharply piercing, delivering wisdom to the places desperately needed in my own soul.

This collection of essays surprised me. I think I expected to be a bit bored by them. The second half of the collection particularly had me leaning in to not miss a thing, but the whole was excellent. Berry is honest, often brutally so, but not in an unkind way, and often
Misael G
Oct 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you’re ready to feel complicit in an economic system that is wasteful and destroying our world, read some Wendell Berry. He is unflinching in his view of industrialization, and sometimes, it’s enough to make you wonder how it’s even possible to live in harmony with the created world. I agree with the reviewer who said that Part III is the best part of the book. I’ll have to re-read these, but “God and Country” and “Economy and Pleasure” were among my favorites.

“Rats and roaches live by compet
Katie Bliss
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a group of essays by Berry, the first of which were almost book/author reviews, and these were my favorite parts. He is so well-spoken/written, and I actually got some great ideas of books and authors to check out this next year, which is exciting. His other essays spoke about various topics, but the main theme is how can humanity be of benefit to the earth. Berry is a huge proponent of not doing unnatural things to the earth, animals, etc. to just make more money or save time - rather, ...more
Austin Spence
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the collection of essays from "The World Ending Fire" more as they dealt with a broader sense of philosophies on agriculture, environmentalism, and sociology. While a few of the essays were in both collections, this one included more literary critique and feedback on some contemporaries of Berry at the time, in the realm of nature writing. Berry is still my most trusted voice in starting small and growing into oneself in a community, then the world. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and ...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!
Apr 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This collection of essays gave me much to think about. It was a great introduction to Wendell Berry and his thoughts and loves.
Tim Huber
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of these essays are pure gold, others slightly less so, but all show forth Berry’s perception, depth of understanding, whit and joy in creation.
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.
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. I ...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
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. ...more
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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." ...more

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