A splendid gathering of 50 years’ worth of essays “cultural and agricultural” by the eminent Kentucky farmer, poet, novelist, and social critic.
In 1969, Berry (b. 1934), who had previously written a couple of novels that received little attention, published The Long-Legged House, his first book of nonfiction. The timing for the book of essays on the Ohio River backcountry was just right, anticipating the wave of interest in things ecological and place-oriented, and Berry’s neo-transcendentalism (“it is another world, which means that one’s senses and reflexes must begin to live another kind of life”) found an audience that would grow significantly in the coming years. This comprehensive anthology, whose first volume reproduces his entire 1977 manifesto, The Unsettling of America, is made up of selections made by Berry and his longtime editor, Shoemaker, who, for nearly 40 years, has made it an unceasing project to continue to expand Berry’s audience and influence. The Gift of Good Land (1981), an early collaboration between writer and editor, gives attention to such country comforts as horse-drawn farming as contrasted to industrial agriculture, which “considers only the machine.” The second volume of this sweeping collection, comprising 1,650 pages altogether, offers further arguments in favor of an agriculture and rural culture that are anything but simple—and, according to the author, in constant need of defense against those who would attack them “morally as well as economically.” Conservative in the deepest sense, and often resembling T.S. Eliot as much as Edward Abbey, Berry goes on to insist that “the distinction between the physical and the spiritual is, I believe, false,” urging instead that the truly relevant contrast is “between the organic and the mechanical.” Over a consistently developed line of argument through the decades, it’s abundantly clear what side Berry falls on and what he stands for—which is, as he has long said, what he stands on.
Essential for environmentalists, back-to-the-landers, and students and practitioners of the essay form.