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The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  4,125 ratings  ·  349 reviews
Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged f ...more
Paperback, 246 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Counterpoint (first published 1977)
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Oct 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who has felt emptiness in shopping malls
maybe you'll find this at a garage sale in a beat up box for twenty-five cents. you'll pull it from the box. rub two dimes and five pennies together. you'll read it and research rain barrels. you'll sell that book to some used bookstore. you might. and a thin bookstore employee will set it on a shelf where some manicured hand might find it and bring it back to her loft. maybe she'll turn the pages and sigh at her consumption. maybe. or maybe she wont. maybe she'll walk more. and ride her bicycle ...more
Heather Shaw
Every once in a while, a book comes along at the right place and at the right time, and that book has the power to change your life. This was that book for me. It moved me out of the city and into the country, and inspired me to grow food for people. It changed the way I view my relationship to the earth, and my responsibility to it. Don't read this book if you want to live comfortably with your current worldview. ...more
Arleen Jenson
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Having spent five years at a land grant institution, I can safely say that everything Mr. Berry accuses agricultural education programs of is true, even today. All of my ag professors, save one, laughed at the idea of "organic" and "sustainable" and would only allow the non-regulated trend of "all-natural" a measure of respect, because... frankly... they make a ton of money off of false advertising.

I moved to the city after graduating, and took work on a small organic farm half an hour outside o
May 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book is the classic that all Wendell Berry readers should read first. It goes through his ecological ethic and his belief that morality and ecology are inseparable; that our disconnection from the earth and our disconnection from each other are part of the same problem. This quote from his essay Think Little is a perfect introduction to his philosophies. See []

Most of us, for example, not only do not know how to produce the bes
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Over the past 5-6 years, Berry's writings have changed me, shaping my worldview more than perhaps any other single author's ever have. This book continues in that vein, both frustrating and inspiring me. I give it 4.5 stars. It is a flawed book. Full of polemic, often lacking in nuance and charity. But it speaks so much truth to power. And it speaks so much to me personally, to my family and personal history -- growing up on a modern, industrial, somewhat-large-but-relatively-small family farm t ...more
Oct 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I initially read this book very slowly because I wanted to be sure I was understanding and absorbing its messages. Then I was distracted by my husband's hospitalization and serious complications following surgery and needed lighter reading material for several weeks. Now I've finally finished and am more convinced than ever that Wendell Berry really is a prophet. He makes me feel very grateful to be living in Sonoma County, CA, where many local farmers subscribe to the same approach to small-sca ...more
Paul Cloutier
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A funny thing happened with this book, I read it last year before the election and felt it was beautifully written but sort of idealistic and naive. Then after the election, I reread it, and my mind was much more prepared for it. It is truly a masterpiece of American literature and letters. I think if you want to understand how things have gotten to how they are, politically, culturally and economically, or even if you want to understand one of the possible causes of ennui in America today, then ...more
Aug 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever read an obscure book that no one you know has heard of, and felt that it was so good that it should be required reading for every human being? That's how I felt about this book.

Wendell Berry is a hero for many, including Barbara Kingsolver, who references many of Berry's ideas in her novel "Animal Vegetable Miracle". I've been meaning to get into his stuff for quite some time, and when I read this book it resonated with so many things I have believed or thought of, but never articu
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Agribusiness has been destroying our soil fertility, killing beneficial insects (like bees), decimating our waterways (through eutrophication that kills fish and all aqueous life), and striping the nutritional content from our food (you can grow crops on industrial chemicals, but you can't make them nutritious) for roughly eighty years. As a consequence Americans are unhealthier than any other population in the world (along with European nations with the same practices), and life on the planet i ...more
Feb 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anth-sosh
A great, although uneven, criticism of the reigning agricultural and cultural mentality in the U.S. It's impressive that Berry wrote this more than 30 years ago since the argument seems just as timely today. The first two and last two chapters were the strongest. In between, he gets into an abstract discussion on the relationship between our connection to the land, ourselves, and other human beings. The vagueness of some of his terminology and expressions in these chapters resulted in my losing ...more
Cameron M
Nov 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wendell Berry is a prophetic genius and a fantastic writer. This is his second book that I have read, following his "Bringing it to the Table."
I was expecting this book to be more focused on strictly agricultural and agrarian principles, but in reality, everything that he wrote about worked together and is cycle- he got that. It all ties in together and runs off of one another.
I absolutely recommend this book to anyone beginning to question the status quo of "agribusiness" and our food economy
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: agriculture
This book was very inspiring and insightful in helping me see the reality of how historic methods of farming are equally, if not more, productive as modern methods dependent on expensive equipment and fossil fuels. Similar (and certainly not unconnected) to the explosion of processed food, we seem to have bought into the myth of whatever is newer and shinier and more modern being superior. It left me excited about attempting things I had previously thought romantic fantasies (such as using a dra ...more
Tim Michiemo
Apr 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Farmers, Agriculturalists, Christians, Rural-Dwellers, Discontent City-Dwellers
4.2 Stars

Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America is an amazing book that is about agriculture yet offers invaluable lessons on how to be a humble creature in God's created world. Berry's book is an extended critique on agribusiness and how it destroys the values and culture of rural farming. Berry's book offers a greater vision of agriculture as one of nurturing God's creation, rather than exploiting. He explains that agriculture requires that we be devoted to place and culture, rather than ex
Jun 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
I proudly did not finish this book. I will recommend Berry to no one and will in fact be throwing my copy away.
Why you ask? (all the trigger warnings)

Berry, on pg.102-104, claims that suicides only occur in industrialized settings, as cities cause "despair" and "a wound that cannot be healed." The cause of this is not mental health, genetics, family situation, etc. Rather, to Berry, suicides are caused by not living in an agricultural space. This mindset, with no statistical or research ba
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend. Essentially a polemic. Stirring. Insightful into the effects of the industrial revolution, not on small-landowners and agriculture, but upon the broader American culture and mindset.

Berry's main convincing argument for me centers on questions like these, "How can people be moral when they are not expected to be moral in matters of production and consumption? How can they be moral when they are encouraged in everything else to take the role of exploiter? How can you care for an
Oct 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: ecology
I don't know how to review this book. I basically vascillated between feeling deep in my soul that I was reading Pure Truth, and being completely disengaged and skimming.

I don't think I've ever highlighted so much in s book that wasn't read for part of my schooling. And yet, the book spends so much time on picking apart specific people's positions, articles, speeches, etc. I think I should have found that dull even if I wasn't reading the book 43 years later. I would have hoped that in later ed
Kinzie Gaunce
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Powerfully and cogently argued. Mr. Berry argued with such passion, in fact, that the reader is tempted to accuse him of hyperbole. Unfortunately, I can say from my own experience, but virtually all of his predictions have been fully born out in the agricultural world just in the last 30 years of my experience. If predictive power is one of the marks of the validity of a mental model, then his model undoubtedly possesses that mark.
Max Potthoff
"If we do not live where we work, and when we work, we are wasting our lives, and our work too." Wide-ranging and thoughtful, "The Unsettling of America" is Berry at his best. With broad strokes, Berry creates a vision of a 20th-century America held hostage by "agriprofessionals" and the atomization of our lived experience. Our work and our labor has become separate from ourselves, Berry argues, and placed in the hands of an ever-increasing number of "specialists". Inherently, this is a critique ...more
Jan 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
I had to read this book for class or else I never would have made it past the introduction. While Berry makes some fair points about classism, he does it by comparing the plight of white land owning farmers having to sell their land to that of native americans being violently forced off of their land. he also makes comparison to african americans, but lets just say his choice of words less than savory.

Berry is an extremely priviledged white man who feels the need to use racial slurs just to conv
Paris Achenbach
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
a little theoretical and abstract at times, and i wish there was a more recent edition, but still incredibly and ridiculously relevant to our agricultural issues. wendell berry is certainly a prophet of sorts and his writing contains nuggets of wisdom and concepts that don't really exist in modern commentaries about our food system ...more
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was the first book I ever read by him. The ch "The Body and the Earth" is worth the price of the book. ...more
Kevin Van Slyke
A challenging critique of the last half century of agricultural policy and the coinciding societal shift away from rural, communal living to urban individualism.
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“It is a rule, apparently, that whatever is divided must compete. We have been wrong to believe that competition invariably results in the triumph of the best. Divided, body and soul, man and woman, producer and consumer, nature and technology, city and country are thrown into competition with one another. And none of these competitions is ever resolved in the triumph of one competitor, but only in the exhaustion of both.

For our healing we have on our side one great force: the power of Creation,
Shelby Deeter
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Berry's fiction and non-fiction have such a fluidity in their values that reading both grants you a fuller picture of what it means to live thoughtfully in Creation. The Unsettling of America has some of my favorite Wendell Berry essays in it and was a wonderful and convicting read. I closed the book feeling I know more about myself as a human and created being. I understand more the value of hard, worthy work and the gravity and weight given to us in being caretakers of this beautiful earth God ...more
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best book by Wendell Berry I’ve yet read, and his most famous as well. It is a beautiful criticism of industrial agriculture, and I mean that quite instrumentally: it is a pleasure to read. What I like most about agrarian thought is its fierce partiality to specificity and place. It is a rejection of rootless ‘human capital’ forever trying to swap its way up. I also like how someone reading this might not know if Wendell is extremely conservative or extremely progressive. The ideas don’t map ...more
Jan 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What to say about this book. It is equally convicting and motivating without using guilt as a driving force (which is hard to do, considering how culpable we all are in this). It took me so long to get through because each page made me want to pause and reflect and look up agricultural real estate. I also appreciated the breadth of topics covered. 5 star, definitely want to read again in 5-10 years.
Faisal Ghadially
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although based on agriculture, the book reflects on humanity and the American way of life. It shines a light on how we got to where we are based on scuttle indoctrination of the definition of success, and how to go about getting there (hint: one never gets there).

It is sad to see how each generation views the future as a conquest to be colonized for the present—essentially stealing it from the next generation.

We have moved away from the cyclical nature of the community, family, and social respon
Kathryn Pritchett
Loved this book! A suggested reading assignment for a conservation conference I was attending, the book at first seemed like an odd choice since it was first published in the late '70s. But Berry's concerns both came true and continue. So much felt like what I saw happen over the last decades to the farming community I was raised in. Eloquent and important--highly recommend. ...more
Lara O'Kelley
Dec 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic insights. He puts to words what so many have thought, who find the modern societal structure of 9-5 working, processed-made-without-love- but lots of chemicals “food”, etc so oppressive and soul killing. Read this book if you ever get the chance. It’ll turn you into a farmer yet! Or at least a gardener :)
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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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