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The Shepherd's Life: A People's History of the Lake District
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The Shepherd's Life: A People's History of the Lake District

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  10,136 ratings  ·  1,388 reviews
Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Doubleday Canada (first published April 2nd 2015)
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Cassie I noticed a few of these but don't really blame the author. In the olden days (say, up to 10-15 years ago), checking for continuity, unintended change…moreI noticed a few of these but don't really blame the author. In the olden days (say, up to 10-15 years ago), checking for continuity, unintended changes in voice, factual errors, and duplications and omissions is what editors did. But books are now published on such a thin margin, and in many cases in such a hurry, that much less real editing goes into them anymore. This is a pet peeve of mine but of course I'm not willing to pay twice the price for the books I buy, and editors deserve to earn a living wage. Many of them have not.(less)

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Petra X flooded out, tank burst, books destroyed
The book started off badly for me. Apart from too much Wordsworth - I suffered through him in school, it was the author's attitude, that of an inverted snob. It seemed he had never got over his schooling where he was not academic and had no desire to travel anywhere and no ambition to do anything but what his father and grandfather had done before him. The teachers, and he felt, quite correctly, that society holds up those who want to go away to university and 'make something' of their lives tha ...more
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was kismet that I found this marvelous book.

Back in the spring I saw a positive review of The Shepherd's Life in one of the library journals that I read for work, and since I knew I was traveling to England in a few months, and that I wanted to read English books on the trip, I ordered a copy. I already had a few English novels I wanted to take with me, and thought it would be nice to have a memoir in the mix.

What was interesting is that, at the time, I didn't pay close attention to the set
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
There are two problems with this book. The first is, that despite Rebanks' acknowledgment of his editor's sterling work, the editing is frankly quite horrendous. We get almost verbatim the same paragraph about eleven pages apart (on pages 51 and 62), and there are numerous other instances of repetition throughout. The first page of the book was so poorly written that I almost gave up on it before I had even started in earnest.

The second problem is Rebanks himself. There's something oddly unlike
Feb 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
There's a field of history condescendingly labelled "peasant studies." Now, normally these peasants are long, long dead so we live with the awkwardness. But James Rebanks is no dead peasant. And he's rightly proud of his place and work in this world. So let's us urban readers figure out how to enjoy his book for what it is, instead of turning it into a voyeuristic look into the life of a farmer.

It's a book that tells of a world we forget, that we don't know, that we ought to. A world that revolv
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I dithered back and forth between a rating of four or five stars. While listening I marveled over the author's
- beautiful prose.
- ability to make the daily/seasonal chores of sheep farming comprehensible and meaningful.
- ability to movingly interweave a biography of himself and his family with a clear and captivating account of sheep farming in the fells of northwestern England’s Lake District.

Few can explain the fundaments of a job so clearly, so moving and so interestingly. His love of what
(Nearly 3.5) My husband valued this more as a memoir than as a cultural document; the opposite was true for me. As a memoir it’s fairly unexceptional, but it’s valuable as a picture of a rare and dwindling way of life in the British countryside.

Some favorite lines:

“My grandfather is, quite simply, one of the great forgotten silent majority of people who lived, worked, loved and died without leaving much written trace that they were ever there. He was, and we his descendants remain, essentially n
May 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Initially I was intrigued by this book and was really interested in reading about this way of life. However, as the book progressed I became increasingly annoyed by the author's voice. It is very much I am the farmer and therefore custodian of this land and anyone who is a tourist or visitor to the area has no idea (and implicitly) no right to any part of the land. He has become the elitist type of person he proposes to rail against. I was still interested in the harsh life of the farmer, but he ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature-writing
For me, this book saved itself in the last 30 pages or so when we were taken through the trials and tribulations of the lambing season. There is no doubt that James Rebanks loves his life and his life's work but he must have very broad shoulders to carry all the chips we hear about early on in the book - against his schooling, against tourists, against offcomers (second homers or others making their homes in 'his' patch). As a keen fell walker (he sneers at us and feels very superior) and someon ...more
Brandon Forsyth
Jul 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Absolutely lovely. I savoured this book, while simultaneously devouring it in every spare moment I had. Rebanks writes beautifully, whether he's describing his love for his family and his farm, or detailing his frustrations with the English school system and his occasionally rocky relationship with his father. THE SHEPHERD'S LIFE is an eloquent defense of a vocation and lifestyle that has been increasingly marginalized in recent times, and Rebanks' charming underdog defiance never dips into sent ...more
When people think of the Lake District the first thing that comes to mind is the landscape; the majestic fells, the lakes and tarns nestled among the peaks and valleys and the harsh beauty of our National Park. It is a place that has inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years, and has 16 million visitors every year. However, for a number of people they are completely dependent on this landscape to make their living. James Rebanks is one of those people.

The Rebanks family have lived and
As a teacher who loves poetry, the landscape of the Lake District, the literary tradition it's so part of, and the historical importance of places like this in reshaping our view of nature and beauty, I have mixed feelings about this shepherd's diary.

I'm the teacher he belittles and antagonises as a young student, and I'm the walker with the tour guide he barely tolerates in the lanes between the fields. I'm one of the university students he can't wait to get away from at university.

Never mind
Max Carmichael
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
I thought I would like this book from the first chapter, in which Rebanks dismisses school and the educational system. As someone who spent 8 years in higher education and has depended mainly on degrees from good schools to make a living, I know well how overrated education is.

From there until the book's end, the story of his local sheep farming tradition and his personal adaptation to the modern world held my attention and my sympathy.

But afterwards, reflection set in. I grew up in a New World
Sep 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
I disliked the authors's stance intensely. He seemed to be trying too hard to prove himself a hard man of the Lakes, so much so that he won't disclose what he studied at Oxford nor why he applied there given his disdain for those who don't happen to have been brought up where and as he was. Not a good read. ...more
Apr 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

Description: Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations.

It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter
Jul 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Rebanks gives honest insight into how it feels to be part of an ecosystem created by complex relationships between farms, flocks, and families. The beauty and functionality of the mountainous fells of northwest England didn't just happen. They have been fashioned over centuries by people who with great skill and effort sustained their lives in an egalitarian communal system that works.

When I began reading, I was put off by what I took to be Rebanks' defensiveness, but I was completely won once
On my recent trip to Edinburgh and visit to Waterstone's, I bought this book. It suited the purpose of my visit to Edinburgh to the annual yarn festival. When I picked up the book to read it, I wasn't prepared for such a profound treatise on the relationship between geography and the people and animals who inhabit it. Rebanks is a third generation sheep farmer in the Lake District and many more generations of farmers preceded his grandfather. Wordsworth moved to the area at the end of the 19th ...more
Book Riot Community
I’ve already written about just how much I love this book, but damn son, it turned out a deep dive into the world of shepherding was just what I needed this month. I can now tell you what a tup is, or pick a Herdwick sheep out of a line up, and I’ve got a whole new level of respect for my knitwear.

— Rachel Weber

from The Best Books We Read In March:
Auntie Terror
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travelling
This is a beautiful narration of a kind of life which, as the author puts it, seems almost fallen out of time, compared to the modern world. It is the story of his finding his own way in this traditional world, but just as much the story of his whole family, and the story of how shepherds as such have grown to be a part of and shape the Fells as a landscape for poets to dream and fanatsize about. Also, of course, it's a story about the life of the sheep there.
The author is almost cruelly open in
V C Willow
Sep 01, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A potentially interesting read was marred by the author's voice. The premise of the novel was intriguing, a look into a rural and traditional way of farming. However, Rebanks' arrogance, relish in ignorance and elitism intrudes into every aspect of his writing. He clearly thinks that we should all wonder at the genius of his farming in the Lake District, but only from afar as he clearly feels a sense of entitled ownership to the land to the exclusion of all others. This is further compounded by ...more
Apr 28, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should have known, given how very popular this book is, that I wouldn't like it. I seem to be blessed - or cursed - with an inability to like what "everyone" else likes. I did want to like this book, even expected to. And there were indeed phrases and passages that satisfied (iron-ore-tinged raddle was described as "the blood of the mountains"); and there were heartfelt confessions that drew me a little closer and made me feel a little more kinship than either I or the author would probably li ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good indeed, thoroughly enjoyed this.

Rebanks starts his tale with a vivid picture of a bored, underachieving teenager behaving badly at school and wanting nothing more than to leave to work on the family farm.

His teachers, trying to 'improve' boys like him, suggest alternative careers. This only increases his anger and resentment towards them - he feels they just don't understand his situation, and those of the other families that have lived and worked in the Lake District Fells for hundre
Tanja Berg
This is a delightful, well-written, and decidedly unromantic story about farming life. The book is divided into seasons, as is natural, from a farming point of view. The author tells of his life and the book follows a somewhat chronological timeline. What is most fascinating about this, is that it describes a way of life which is - despite modern inventions such as antibiotics - much like it has been for centuries. It's a story not told. It's muck, blood and cold rain. A story of sheep that are ...more
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars.

I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't get there. I was intrigued by the presumably big premise; his desire to tell his family's story (and farming families similar to his) - people who are so rooted (no pun intended) to the land and endeavor to preserve a way of life that has been handed down for centuries and generations, amidst a rapidly changing society that either doesn't care or views such a life as a romanticized nicety. In the author's words: "I am wondering wh
Peter Boyle
Apr 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nature, non-fiction
James Rebanks on his farm

We reared sheep on our farm growing up so this book caused quite a few flashbacks for me. Twilight searches for a missing ewe, the fluffy feel of a fleece on shearing day, the messy miracles of lambing season - these memories came flooding back as I savoured James Rebanks' evocative prose.

The book is structured around the four seasons and the many tasks required to sustain a herd on the author's Cumbrian farm - we keenly feel the wearying hardship of winter and deep relief that spring brings. It
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
3 Stars - Good book

I really enjoyed this book. It let me see a piece of the world that I see romanticized all the time but never the reality.

I will be the first to acknowledge that farming is hard and taxing work. I knew that before reading this - kind of common sense. However, I didn’t realize that farming is intelligent work. Now let me say that I don’t mean, or have ever thought, that farmers are simple minded. I just didn’t realize how much they have to consider: economics, politics, histor
Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It's not often I read a book that I instantly want to go around shoving into other people's hands: "Here! You HAVE to read this book!"

I intended to buy this book as soon as I discovered Herdy Shepherd (James Rebanks) had written a book. I wanted to support him & what he does. I did not expect the book to be so masterfully written or so utterly engrossing. I will never be able to hear about the Lake District again without thinking of the shepherds in this book.
Jul 31, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The structure of the book and the descriptions of nature were beautiful. Rebanks has a very distinct own voice and one that was - to me - not always easy to understand because we view the world so differently. Nevertheless this book gave me what I hoped for: a peek into a rural life that is so very different from my own. I hope the nature and style of living Rebanks described will be preserved for future generations, because it would be a great loss if it were to die out.
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
When I read this book, I was reminded of the medieval paintings of shepherds with their flocks, generally shown in idyllic landscapes. This book paints a rather grimmer picture than that. Still, it does illustrate one of the few human occupations in the western world still essentially the same in all the important ways as in the earliest non-foraging human societies.
Feb 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Hmm, I am torn in two about this book. On the one hand I loved reading about the shepherd way of life but on the other hand the author comes across as an unlikeable person. He seems kind of arrogant and does not understand people who do not live the same way. The editing was confusing and it jumped around the generations all of the time. I'd rather have all stories from the same generations and time-period grouped together.

Three stars because I did enjoy the mood of outdoor living and the relati
Apr 17, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
ome people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks's isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations.

It's a life lived according to the demands of the seasons: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be
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James Rebanks runs a family-owned farm in the Lake District in northern England. A graduate of Oxford University, James works as an expert advisor to UNESCO on sustainable tourism. He uses his popular Twitter feed - @herdyshepherd1 - to share updates on the shepherding year. The Shepherd's Life is his first book. ...more

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