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The Hidden Wound

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  734 ratings  ·  124 reviews
This book-length essay is a rigorously honest, deeply felt exploration of the hidden wound of racism and its damaging effect on American whites. Available for the first time in paperback.
Paperback, 150 pages
Published December 3rd 2005 by North Point Press
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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Briana Saussy
I love Wendell Berry-pretty much all of his writing, whether its his poetry or his fiction or his essays rocks my world. The Hidden Wound is not my favorite work but its in the top three for sure. Berry wrote this during winterbreak at Stanford in 1969-when student riots were breaking out around campus and students were voicing the need for a Black Studies program. In his typical style Berry unflinchingly lays out the tangled web of race relations in this country by focusing on the role of black ...more
Father Nick
May 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, hidden-wound
In order to provide a meaningful summary of this book, I need to fill you in on some details about my classwork, so please indulge a brief digression. The last ten weeks of classes were fairly typical for me—a few intense academic courses and a few that, while necessary for my education, didn’t seem to demand as much from me. One of these less important classes, “Pastoral Practice and Racism,” was in my schedule because one class I had initially enrolled in was intended to satisfy a cultural req ...more
Ginger Bensman
I stand in awe of almost anything Berry writes and The Hidden Wound only cemented my admiration. The Hidden Wound was written more than 40 years ago but is so timely, it might have been written yesterday. It's a thoughtful, eloquent, and deeply personal exploration of the damaging consequences of racism, both to the oppressed and the oppressor. ...more
Justin Lonas
Nov 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I think rather highly of Wendell Berry, but find his oeuvre somewhat uneven. When he is on to something, he is prophetic. When he is cranky about a hobby horse, it shows, and his prose suffers.

This short book, which I only recently heard of, is among the finest of the former category. In traveling back through his childhood experience of America's racial caste system, he cuts to the heart of the social and economic dislocation crushing the American soul. Jim Crow and slavery are only the half of
Caroline Mann
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Flannery O’Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” Here, in The Hidden Wound, you get to watch as someone does just that. However, I am suspicious that not everyone would be able to discover with such incisive and beautiful language as Berry.

In a time when many white people (myself included!) are trying to reckon with their relationship to race and racism, Berry does the same, only he is doing his reckoning back in 1968 and 1988, respectively- a reminder that our present moment is nothi
My thoughts on this book are complicated. The book was written in the late 1960's about the author's relationship to his own racism. He uses two Black people from his childhood as his points of reference for his feelings about Black people and his own exposure to racism. For that time and place, he does a remarkable job of taking responsibility for the racism of his country. He understands the power that his family and even he, as a child, have over Nick and Aunt Georgie. He loved them both but ...more
Mar 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Wow, Wendell Berry wrote this book when he was only 34. At the Wisconsin Book Festival, Rick Bass said it was his favorite Wendell Berry book. It is an amazing chronicle of a man looking honestly at his beliefs and his culture regarding racism and trying to wipe away the cob webs and face the real life effects on blacks and whites alike.

This book was published in 1970 and I don't think our culture has yet faced the "wound" as Berry tries to in this book as illustrated by the reaction to Barack
Carl R.
May 15, 2012 rated it liked it
No one, but no one exemplifies the phrase “Less is more” than Wendell

Berry. In The Hidden Wound, an extended essay (100 pages and change) written in 1968-69, with an afterword in 1988, he takes on the subject of black-white race relations in America. He begins with KY boyhood memories of a couple of workers on his grandfather’s farm, then attempts to extrapolate from his experience with them to the inner lives of American blacks and whites in history and the future. He’s on risky ground, and his
I found this book extremely moving. Berry has a way with words. I had not read any of his work prior to this book, but I have a much greater desire to read some now. He explains the issues in such a profound yet emotional manner... it has really caused me to reflect upon my own situation and the way I interact with those around me.

"... These are in the best sense instructive texts, and their aim is revolution of a sort. But they are not political texts. They are not interested in the superficia
Jul 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
How a white Southerner addressed racism in the Sixties...and with the re-emergence of the book in the Eighties through the auspices of the late, lamented North Point Books...he's addressed it for all time. As a friend told me, He's got it. He's one of the few white people to 'get it,' too. I'm sure Berry's views have widened since. This is a brave, honest book from someone who appreciates community and the land. ...more
Jun 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay, ant-racism
Summary: An extended essay on racism in America, our collective attempts to conceal this wound upon American life, and its connections to our deformed ideas of work.

Wendell Berry wrote words that would be exceptional for most whites today. These were written in 1968 by a white man of the South, making them all the more exceptional:

“If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet
Janisse Ray
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a very important book.
Dec 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommended to me by Alex Lima, this book does at least two things with great efficiency and poetry. It gives a sense of what whites lose from racism. Berry does this by telling from his childhood in which a black man and black women play pivotal roles in developing his sense of justice. It also shows how this wound is systematic -- infecting the church and other institutions.

For these two aspects alone, it probably deserves 4 or 5 stars. But since I am looking for material just like this, I fo
Jun 25, 2011 added it
After reading a bit about racism and U.S. race history in college textbooks, it was fascinating to read Wendell Berry's thoughts on the subject. His words were personal and refreshing. Being white himself, I don't think I can say he understands the issue completely (I don't think he would say that, either), but he seems to be keenly aware of the limits of his knowledge and describes every nook and cranny of knowledge within those limits. That is, I think he expresses his experience of race from ...more
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The poet and essayist Wendell Berry wrote a book about racism. Yes he did. It is moving and provocative and full of his insights and his uncertainties. He reflects on the damage racism has done to humanity through the lens of his own experience and his long-articulated passion for the land.

It is the last book I tackled in 2017. I am simmering in it and expect the flavors to grow richer like a good stew. Written in 1968-9, with an afterword added in 2010, Berry raises credible questions and propo
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I had never read a Wendell Berry book, but I knew lots of folks who had, so I was interested in his take on racism, which is the focus of this book. Berry has an itereting thesis that racism was an outgrowth of capitialist expansion and both were an attempt to distance oneself from the land and manual labor. Beginning with reflections from his childhood growing up in segregated Kentucky, he provides some unique insights into the nature of black-white relastionships and its connection to urbaniza ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
"I am a good deal more grieved by what I am afraid will be the racism of the future than I am about that of the past." This is easily some of the best writing about American racism from the source of a white ally I've ever read, and considering the time it was written (1968-69) and when its afterword was added (1988), it remains remarkably incisive and relevant still today. I'm sure this does not surprise Berry one bit, either, given the conclusions he's drawn within it. ...more
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps one of the best books about the toll racism takes on white people.
Sep 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books I've ever read. ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
"The Hidden Wound" by Wendell Berry is an essay that was penned during the turbulence of the civil rights unrests from 1968-1969. Berry here sets his own thoughts and experiences to the pen, and all the insights of his agrarian perspective and characteristically incisive prose reveal a depth of wisdom and understanding underlying this sensitive topic that few others writers are able to achieve. The hidden wound, according to Berry, is the indelible and diseased mark that slavery has left on this ...more
David Doel
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really two books. The first was written during the Christmas break of 1968 - 1969. It is the better part of the book. The second (labeled Afterword) was written 20 years later. Parts of the afterword were good but other parts were disappointing. I will focus the rest of my review on the earlier composition.

Wendell Berry's interpretation of the evil of racism is somewhat different than what you hear elsewhere. The hidden wound is not in the slave, but in the slave owner. Admittedly, Wende
Annie Norman
Jun 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
In this text, written from 1968-69, Wendell Berry writes of the “hidden wound” of racism, heavily influenced by the civil rights movement happening at the time. In the afterword, which he wrote in 1989, he wrote that, “The Hidden Wound is in some ways the least satisfying essay I have written.” There were several points he made that I underlined, but there was also a lot that I found off-kilter. My review is probably also influenced due to the fact that I read this after two phenomenal books - T ...more
Nicholas Christenson
Jan 28, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
very well written and highly sincere , and really an interesting read which made me consider in new lights a lot of potential tensions in how i've thought about race in america . while i think his depiction of the alienation of white (read bourgeois) society is profoundly true , i disagree with some of his other conclusions (i'm not sure his agrarian vision of society is so actionable) , so for the moment many of these potential tensions will stay just that .. ...more
Larry Massaro

Despite his strong reputation, Wendell Berry is a writer I’ve hesitated reading because of a few factoids I’ve picked up about him over the years: that he’s a Christian writer, a regional writer, and an agrarian and environmental polemicist and activist. None of these is negative, but I’ve had this nagging sense that Berry’s themes would ultimately feel marginal and anachronistic to me. Berry famously “returned to the land,” bought and actively works a small farm close to where he grew up in rur

Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Hidden Wound is a Wendell Berry essay on race. It is part memoir that recalls his family's complicity in slavery and reflects especially on the two black laborers on his grandfather's farm as he grew up, and part reflection on the problem of race in American history. Berry remembers with real love the laborer Nick and their interactions while exposing the twisted values of white culture. "We knew and took for granted: marriage without love; sex without joy; drink without conviviality; birth ...more
Joshua Carney
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
this was my second nonfiction Wendell Berry read.

in this book Berry expounds on the thesis that white people didn't just injure black people with slavery, they injured themselves as well.

as with most berry writings, the writing itself is enthralling. Berry's strategy is one of biography. He shares extensively about his experiences with Nick and Aunt Georgia, two slaves that worked on his grandfather's farm. From this vantage point, Berry explores issues of race and racism.

i was a little surpr
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: class-race
It is surprising to me that I have not heard of this book sooner. It is really profound in its ability to acknowledge that whites also experience the costs of racism. It does the great Wendell Berry work of reminding us about the land and our connection to it, but Berry explicitly highlights how historically African Americans have been "hired" to tend to the land more closely than whites. He argues that such a configuration - influenced by the massive growth of capitalism - cost us a connection ...more
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Hidden Wound is not an easy read. As any good book of the subject of race and power, it has parts that you readily agree with and others that make you uncomfortable as they stretch you.

Wendell Berry writes on the topic of racism in American Culture. He argues that racism has harmed African Americans (and other minorities like First Nations) but it has also harmed European Americans. That we as a society have harmed ourselves because we have not taken in the fullness of our society, but inste
Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who was moved or disturbed by Obama's speech on Race in America
I am very glad and blessed to be reading this at this moment in American history, when Obama can stand up and have the country's attention about the importance of race in America and deliver such a nuanced and thought provoking speech. I wish I could hear what Wendell Berry thinks about it.

Beyond that though, this book, like most of Mr. Berry's books, is set in my hometown/county of Henry County. I love hearing about the history, natural, cultural and otherwise of a place that, while beautiful,
Jul 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've said it before and I'll say it again - when the world seems completely upside down, I need to read some Wendell Berry to turn right side up. His voice of reason desperately needs to be heard in our highly polarized times...this little book is a good read.

pg. 18 - speaking of how the western church has lost focus on its mission..."to be saved, believe! The mystical aspects of Christianity completely overshadow the moral. But it is a bogus mysticism, mysticism as wishful magic, a recipe by wh
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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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