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The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  644 ratings  ·  59 reviews
The continuing war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the political sniping engendered by the Supreme Court nominations, Terry Schiavo — contemporary American society is characterized by divisive anger, profound loss, and danger. Wendell Berry, one of the country's foremost cultural critics, addresses the menace, responding with hope and intelligence in a series of essays that ta ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 17th 2006 by Counterpoint (first published 2005)
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Jack Wolfe
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
I can't recommend Wendell Berry enough, especially to left-leaning young people like myself, i.e. the urban smartass atheist hipster class. Like Marilynne Robinson, he has a way of being both humble and mindblowing at the same time, and you can't read his books fairly without questioning some or all of your beliefs regarding the environment, science, religion, work, art, the whole damn meaning of life, etc. He's a nice Christian farmer, yes, but he's also a smart and cutting writer: a liberal lu ...more
Jan 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I recently found myself wondering what kind of person reads Wendell Berry essays. I wondered this because the breadth of his subjects could appeal to many but also because he doesn't fit neatly into categories, especially political ones like liberal or conservative. My conclusion, which is underscored by this set of essays, is that anyone who appreciates dialogue, actual conversation, and cares about the world should read Wendell Berry. I'm hesitant to break down or summarize the contents here b ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wendell Berry's "The Way of Ignorance" is a collection of essays primarily focused on conservation, especially that of the family farm. He addresses the economy, ecological issues as well as the social ramifications of the demise of the family farm. Berry's strength is when the essays deal with land use, the pros and cons of technological advance in farming and avoiding the "way of ignorance" in dealing with these and similar issues. I was surprised when Berry delved into other areas, such as re ...more
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wendell Berry is smart and down to earth and a very good writer. The bulk of these essays are about conservation. Humans need to be a part of the land and community. He is critical of both liberals and conservatives and comes off like a loving and a kind of grumpy farmer/grandpa type. Good reading for this era of hyper-partisan memes and know-it-all political talking points. It's ok to not know everything, but arrogant ignorance is the killer.
Jason von Meding
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are some great essays in here! “Secrecy vs Rights” and “Rugged Individualism” stand out for me. I found part 2 more challenging, and that I quite often disagreed with the arguments made. I think he makes way too many assumptions about all people that do not share his faith. In “The Way of Ignorance” his own arrogant ignorance looms large...ironic, right. Or fitting. Overall, he is quite brilliant.
Benjamin Richards
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
I should have loved this book; my first and only reading of Wendell Berry, but when he became lost and muddled in some of his writing I found it incredibly difficult to keep up with him. I would read and re-read a particular sentence and think "I have no idea what you are talking about" such was the lack of cogency when at his worst. There were a few gems in there too, the essays towards the front of the book.
Brian Wasserman
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
If you are expecting Emerson, look somewhere else and read Mary Oliver's Upstream.
Mark Hazell
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Berry's essays are always elegant and thought provoking
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some interesting essays in here, but my favorite by far was ironically the one by Courtney White at the end about land health and working restoration.
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wendell Berry shreds modern conventional wisdom in a plain-spoken style that is refreshing in the age of hype and scream.

Kentucky Monthly’s 2005 Kentuckian of the Year (January 2006, page 8) almost effortlessly lays bare the follies of 21st century civilization. Sins are reconstituted as virtues when they lead to profit. Communities are robbed of their vitality, and individuals of their livelihoods, in the name of the “free market” and “free enterprise.” Water is sold in bottles. Farm families b
Nov 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Wendell Berry is touted as a classic philosopher-farmer. This is the second selection of essays I have read of his and I sadly have to admit that I am a bit underwhelmed. I find that he occasionally says something profound or has a whole page that really encapsulates a topic with finesse, but most of the time I find his writing a bit dull and wandering. I agree with much of what he writes, but I suspect that his arguments are not strong enough to win over anyone who does not already agree with h ...more
Sep 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
I was right, he got more on-point in the 2nd & 3rd sections. Not exactly the Berry I remember from yore. He seems to have settled and lost some brashness in the autumn of his life, which is great, but I liked his swagger in Home Economics and that ilk better.

In the end, he hasn't really changed his tune on any topics. This new collection is better described as a new application, to "new" problems, of an established set of views. I was reminded of his dogged ability to see the big picture, th
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
I saw Wendell Berry speaking recently on You Tube about the deplorable condition of some of the rivers and trees near his home because of mountain top removals. He was so calm and articulate but just at the last minute, before the film cut out, he looked at the camera and you could see the anger and sadness he was feeling. This book communicates his wisdom and knowledge so beautifully and his ideas about preserving not just so called pristine wilderness but agricultural lands and rural communiti ...more
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
More thoughtful writing from Berry. The far majority of the essays in this volume are focused on agrarianism and the need to care for the land. He also includes an essay on the Gospels which fits in quite well thematically with the other work. In general, Berry's approach to these subjects is indicated by the title--taking on the mantle of ignorance in the service of learning from an encounter with the other. So the farmer needs to "listen" to his land, to learn its ways and needs. In the same w ...more
Patrick Gabridge
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that you shouldn't read all at one gulp. I'm a big Wendell Berry fan, and he writes with such deliberate clarity and thoughtfulness, and I feel I want to read the book in the same fashion. (Though I actually read most of it on an airplane, which might be a bit of a cognitive disconnect.) My favorite essay was actually the one about his friend who logs using teams of horses, and why that makes sense in so many ways. Wendell Berry challenges the reader to think about how the various ...more
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
On rare occasions, while reading, I will come across a phrase, a sentence or a paragraph that resonates so strongly with me, I feel compelled to share it on my social media accounts. I wish I could cut-and-paste this entire book into a status update.

In this collection, Berry focuses particularly on political divisions and the false dichotomies that have only become more pronounced in the nearly 10 years since these essays were published. There are also essays on his predominant theme of agraria
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
I've liked Berry's earlier writing on agriculture and I'm also a fan of his writing style.

When I saw this anthology of recent writings, and saw that some of his essays concerned recent events, I was excited to jump into this book.

However, I came away disappointed. When Berry strays away from agriculture and nature and wades into political realms he turns out to be just another small-minded conservative. After reading his lame attempts to rationalize that evolution and Genesis should be taught si
Aug 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I *loved* this book. It took me 2 years to read it because it cannot just be skimmed. The words need to be savored and need to sink in. (And I'm in a season of life where I can't just sit down and read a book). His way of connecting faith, economy and farming together is so refreshing. This is a book that both lays bare the problems of the system, and yet leaves me with hope. If we can identify and lay bare the problems, if we can do so with faith, then maybe, just maybe, there is hope for us ye ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
Way of ignorance indeed. Berry is admittedly an expert in none of the areas he touches on, but is blind to his being out of touch with the issues he presents.

He makes general assumptions about complicated matters which expose his confirmation bias. The writer is like a semi-knowledgeable manager who overextends their boundaries in a crowd of fools around the water cooler.

The author should stick to fiction and reinforces that an English Major is best suited to a translational role when approachi
Jun 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone!
Berry cuts to the chase. He directly addresses pertinent problems of injustice, pollution, lack of stewardship of land and lives. He does so, though, with hope, hope that is found within us--to change ourselves first and then the way we care for the life around us.

Wendell Berry is a prophet. His writing is not just for rural farmers who work the land but for all of us, to understand the interconnectedness of all lives.
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
One of the clearest, most down to earth, honest, and truest essay collections I've ever read. I have seriously contemplated getting this book for everyone I know and probably will give it to a lot of people. If I were to write, it would be basically the same subject matter and with the same convictions that Wendell writes from. I feel like he is a smarter, wiser, older, more literate me. I have been looking for the message that he writes my whole life. Scary, I know, but it's true.
Jacob McGill
Apr 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of essays from Wendell Berry, a farmer in Kentucky. I am greatly encouraged by this man's words and actions to help the local farmer and economy in the state of economy, and by extension, the rest of the U.S. He is very insightful, and has many sentences and paragraphs that cause you to slow down and reread and to just sit and think about the implications of the phrase. He is not only a good thinker, but also a good writer.
The Capital Institute
This collection of 19 essays on agrarian America and the country’s present relationship between agriculture and community addresses national and international issues. Berry campaigns against processes of globalization that destroy small enterprises.
Reviewers write that although Berry’s prose is superlative, there is a certain element of force and relevance that is missing, and could be brought about by Berry modernizing his arguments.

Dec 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good, I struggled a little more with this than with The Unsettling of America. I found a bit more of his religion dominant in this book and I it gives too much power to a community to be harsh with members that don't live the way the rest do. Their individuals freedoms are often subservient to the groups. While I do think their needs to be a balance and responsibility I don't necessarily believe Berry found that balance in these readings.
Carole B
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book is like looking through a window into the worlds of agriculture and conservation. It is an extraordinarily clear window- Berry combines his personal experience as a farmer in Kentucky with the experience of his neighbors and friends. He evaluates the environment of America in a calm, level way, honestly evaluating the changes humans have made for better or worse. I loved this book.
Nov 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've read several books of Berry's across the years. This little volume of essays (mostly written in 2004 and 2005) is wonderful. I especially liked The Way of Ignorance and Local Knowledge in the Age of Information.

If you've never read Berry, this is a good place to start. His themes are all about responsible citizenship. Though the minute I say that I know he touches on so much more. Berry is about humble leadership, integrity and making a difference.
Marty Greenwell
Apr 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Maybe just not in the mood, but after two or three of these essays, I found the going harder and more difficult. It might have been that not everything was profound, which I wanted. I might have had an expectation ...called a pre-meditated frustration. I like his take on agriculture and what needs to change. First book in years that I have not finished.
Mar 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
These are very good essays by Mr. Berry. He tackles some interesting issues: The Democratic Party, The Gospels, the purpose of a coherent community, renewing husbandry, and The Way of Ignorance. I've learned some very interesting words by Mr. Berry such as: smartassery, usufruct, sublunary, germinal, and exegesis to name a few.

"I'm a writer who is a farmer; I'm a farmer who is a writer."
Apr 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
There is really nothing I could say about Wendell Berry that would suffice, so I won't, except to say that this was a great collection of essays. It's cool to see him branch out beyond the ag issues he generally writes about, and even his occasional forays into traditionalist Christianity didn't make me feel alienated, just intrigued by his complexity. Yay.
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I have read of Wendell Berry's, of around 40 available. He is good with language, and wonderful with ideas. Being a collection of essays, you can pick and choose which articles to read, and get through one in under half an hour. Time well spent.
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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."
“The corporate approach to agriculture or manufacturing or medicine or war increasingly undertakes to help at the risk of harm, sometimes of great harm. And once the risk of harm is appraised as “acceptable,” the result often is absurdity: We destroy a village in order to save it; we destroy freedom in order to save it; we destroy the world in order to live in it.” 1 likes
“Our governments have only occasionally recognized the need of land and people to be protected against economic violence. It is true that economic violence is not always as swift, and is rarely as bloody, as the violence of war, but it can be devastating nonetheless.” 0 likes
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