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It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lecture and Other Essays

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  259 ratings  ·  39 reviews
When he accepted the invitation to deliver The Jefferson Lecture—our nation’s highest honor for distinguished intellectual achievement—Wendell Berry decided to take on the obligation of thinking again about the problems that have engaged him throughout his long career. He wanted a fresh start, not only in looking at the groundwork of the problems facing our nation and the ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Counterpoint (first published September 1st 2012)
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James Klagge
I own 28 books by Wendell Berry, and I've read well over half. I almost always buy a new book by him on principle, to be supportive of him. About half the books I own are fiction, the rest non-fiction. This book is non-fiction--a collection of lectures, essays, occasional pieces. I'm afraid the non-fiction gets repetitive. He is like an Old Testament prophet--saying the same thing over and over, until we hear. He doesn't tend to offer a lot of hope--though as I was reading along and thinking abo ...more
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Gem of a book, rearticulating many of the points he's made before, but one essay, on civil disobedience, breaks new ground, but with complete fidelity to the principles he has long espoused (civility, nonviolence, respect for the opinions of others). The closing piece, a remembrance of Maurice Telleen - cofounder and editor of The Draft Horse Journal, and the man to whom Berry dedicated his book The Unsettling of America - is a wonderful recollection of a decades-long friendship. ...more
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, eco-theology
reading wendell berry always makes me want to dedicate the rest of my life to resuscitating the vitality of the local economy and towards educating and cultivating love of place in myself & others. it makes me feel like there is no higher cause.

"Economy in its original—and, I think, its proper—sense refers to household management. By extension, it refers to the husbanding of all the goods by which we live. An authentic economy, if we had one, would define and make, on the terms of thrift and aff
Andrew Powers
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Totally see why so many people my age are all about Wendell Berry. We hear so much "deconstruction" of modern life that offers absolutely nothing in it's place, and Berry avoids falling into this trap. His criticisms of aspects of the American dream like the empty pursuit of "upward mobility" are always coupled with appealing alternatives. ...more
Kevin Spicer
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
So much here with WB is, as always, powerful, enlivening, and deeply moving to me. His argument about the broader decline of agriculture and the decline of American society is deeply compelling in the ways it deftly provides both material and cultural explanations for the world I inhabit.

I think there is a real sense in which he is completely right, that the organizing principle of our society, the pursuit of profit, by which mostly white Americans have been allowed a small share in the spoils o
Jan 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
I went to Berry's favorite bookstore in Kentucky (Carmichael's), so it seemed only appropriate that I pick up some of his work. That, and I'm a huge TJ fan, so anything labeled "The Jefferson Lecture," must be read. This was a good collection, like they all are. I struggle with his views a little - I didn't grow up in an agrarian/respect of the land setting. What he says makes sense to me, and I think we are seeing more and more proof that we have lost so much that we can never get back. But it' ...more
Jeff Zell
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The title is from Berry's giving of the 41st Annual Jefferson Lecture of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Reading this lecture and the other pieces in the book is vintage Wendell Berry. He once again, and with eloquence, questions the principles behind modern agriculture. Berry argues that bigger is not better. Technology may not be helpful. The government's favor toward huge agriculture is not beneficial for our long term future.

Berry reminds the reader that we need local ownership a
Elsbeth Kwant
Wendell Berry shows the hollowness of 'boomer enterprise with its false standards and incomplete accounting' and puts in its place restorative, locally adaped economies of family-sized trades and farms. Questioning 'growth' as ultimately misleading - 'it has failed to sustain the health and stability of human society and nature.' The cultural cycle turns on affection - rootedness ( 'like a human carrot', as Adam Nicolson said once). ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not only does Berry nail the issues regarding land abuse and our sad lack of affection for who we are, where we come from, and where we are now, but he also extends that to every aspect of stewardship: culture, imagination, nature, big ag, the food and coal industries, and our own hearts and actions. This is a must read.
Sarah Ransom
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book challenged my thoughts and encouraged my heart in regards to agriculture and a way of life. Berry doesn't hesitate to lay logical thoughts out and include family, faith and farming. He addresses real agriculture issues without hesitation or the need to be "politically correct". Just honest thoughts, logic and learning from the land. ...more
Mark Hazell
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Berry's wonderful Jefferson lecture, together with some other essays. ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Every so often you read something that significantly changes how you see the world.
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The title essay was Berry's 2012 NEH Jefferson Lecture, and in it Berry revisits themes that have been central to his work for over a half-century: he calls us to "grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world." And, Berry continues, "as imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And in affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy."

In later essays Berry again takes up familiar topics, r
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorite
A few quotes:

"It is a great oddity that a corporation, which properly speaking has no self, is by definition selfish, responsible only to itself. This is an impersonal, abstract selfishness, limitlessly acquisitive, but unable to look so far ahead as to preserve its own sources and supplies. The selfishness of the fossil fuel industries by nature is self-annihilating; but so, always, has been the selfishness of the agribusiness corporations. Land, as Wes Jackson has said, has thus been made as
Oct 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: essays

This is a fairly thin collection of presentations and essays from the last few years. In writing for decades now about agriculture and rural communities, Berry consistently approaches the same problems and arrives at similar conclusions; nonetheless, his perspectives are nuanced and his logos and ethos varied. This just happens to be his latest installment.

In this collection, a “problem of scale” is a central focus; complementing this focus are the ideas inherent in past essays such as “Think L
Sep 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I put Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder into the same category of men who love the land, have a profound sense of place, and write beautifully and passionately, though I read Gary Snyder primarily as a poet and Mr. Berry as an essayist. I admit that's giving short shrift to Mr. Berry as he's a poet and a novelist as well. (It's probably giving short shrift to Gary Snyder, as well, as he's also an essayist.)

It All Turns on Affection is the text of a lecture, which is oddly an award. Being invited to
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A great little book to read (125 pages). I am embarrased to say that this is the first book by Wendell Berry I have read - he has written fifty books! He is a true conservationist and is assured that the industrial revolution is the primry cause of the continual destruction of the land as we know it. He deplores the disappearance of the small farmer and the emergence of the hugh conglomerates that currently own and farm the land in a purely profitable manner. He really has it in for the Coal Com ...more
Dec 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
For the past six decades, Kentucky-based author Wendell Berry has thought deeply about the overlapping issues of agriculture, democracy, conservation, social justice and the human spirit, recording his findings in numerous books of essays, poetry and fiction. This latest publication contains his 2012 Jefferson Lecture — a lecture series that the National Endowment for the Humanities calls "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humaniti ...more
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
After the title lecture, I most enjoyed the two eulogies for late friends of Berry's. Indeed, they illustrate the principle stated in the title of the book--it all turns on affection. The title lecture was enjoyable and persuasive, and the other essays were also interesting, though in general I'll confess it was hard for me to suspend my skeptical faculties at times -- whether because I am too steeped in the conventional wisdoms of contemporary culture, or because I am in fact one of those "quib ...more
Dan Gobble
Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the wisest men I've ever read, by far! His writings have turned my mind "inside out like a sock" to loosely quote Hannah Coulter. In closing his Jefferson Lecture, Berry says, "Under the rule of industrial economics, the land, our country, has been pillaged for the enrichment, supposedly, of those humans who have claimed the right to own or exploit it without limit. Of the land-community much has been consumed, much has been wasted, almost nothing has flourished." (p.38)

Concern for the he
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Can't wait to get started reading these essays:
- It All Turns on Affection
- Landsman: Jim Leach in Conversation with Wendell Berry and Tanya
-- Starting From Loss
-- The Future of Agriculture
-- A Man of Courage Constant to the End
-- About Civil Disobedience
-- Maury Telleen, 1928-2011
UPDATE: This is an awesome book. Remember the Superbowl commercial about the farmer? Well, the farmer that Paul Harvey (voice-over in the ad) was talking about is Mr. Berry's (and others li
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I admire Wendell Berry for his consistent thoughtful resistance to the modern day exploitation of land and resources. He may be over the top in some ways, and I'm not sure how his vision of personal care and commitment to land could work on a large scale, but there is no denying his eloquence.

And so this book contains the lecture from which the title is taken. "It all turns on affection" - a motivation for committing oneself to a community, a watershed, a farm, an acreage. There is enough food f
Nov 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was not surprised to find out that our nations highest intellectual honor was given to the author of this book, Wendell Berry, for I have admired everything I have read by him. Once, I read this amazing essay about Shakespearean characters by Wendell Berry and it blew me away, his writing is thoughtful and clear. But what appeals to me most is his writing about agriculture and our lack of a land ethic that assures sustenance for the human mind, body and soul.
Sep 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hurts my brain and nurtures my heart. "Justice ... better be mitigated by mercy. And you don't get to mercy by a legal principle. You get to mercy by way of imagination, sympathy, tenderness of heart--which are not weaknesses." Absolutely! We need to think about training hearts as carefully as we think (as a nation, a culture) about training minds. ...more
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This little collection is just another jewel in a remarkable body of work. The Jefferson essay is quite good - but I liked the smaller pieces - and the interview even better. It helps me think about the way the world actually works - rather than the way it would appear that it works. He causes me to see things more the way they really are. Nothing could be better for a writer to accomplish.
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's interesting to note that many of the themes Wendell Berry has covered over the last 40 years have reached popular concern. I love his clarity and reverence for life. It All Turns on Affection considers the difference between the 1% and the rest of us. In his view we are motivated by affection, the 1% is motivated by profit. It makes all the difference.
May 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This collection of some of Wendell Berry's lectures explores various thoughts on nature, capitalism, mercy, agriculture vs. big business, civil disobedience, and more. Typical Berry terrain. It also includes an in-depth interview with Berry and his wife Tanya about how they live and work. I prefer Berry's poetry, but still thought-provoking. ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is a much shorter collection of essays that primarily focus on the local farmer and exploitation of the land. If you've read a lot of Berry, you've probably read similarly themed essays. One of the essays is actually an interview with Wendell and his wife. It gives a little different perspective. There are also two about people that have influenced him in his life. ...more
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the finest sources of turning on affection are "the people for whom the effort of conservation has ceased to be a separate activity and has come to be at one with their ways of making a living." At once it appears that those of us who do not manage the forests, farms or ranches can attune with keeping affection for the earth in our everyday pursuits. ...more
Brook Beasley
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars because there were 1-2 essays that didn’t really do much for me. However, “It All Turns On Affection” is incredible. One of those essays that you have to read over and over because it’s so impactful. 50,000 stars for that one and absolutely everyone should read it (or watch the Jefferson Lecture on YouTube).
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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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