Book Report

Book Report

I belong to an Environmental Book Club and I encourage all of you to begin or join one.

Invite like-minded friends to create one in your area–there is no end of books to read concerning the environment.

What books to read?  There are old ones:  Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher, 1973; new ones:Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010) and Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, 2013, Bill McKibbon; This Changes Everything, Naomi Kline, 2015; novels, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver, 2012; overlooked:Grassland, 1995, and all Richard Manning’s other books; 10-15 years ago: Collapse:How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond, 2005; Ishmael and its sequels, Daniel Quinn, 1992, 1997;  these are my favorites, but the list can go on and on.  The problems brought up in these books have yet to be solved, so, in spite of their age, they are still relevant.

And then there is Wendell Berry.  Nearly every contemporary book about the environment mentions Wendell Berry in one capacity or another.  Our group became curious about him and decided to read one of his books.  Upon checking  further we found out he has authored dozens of books:novels, poems, essays, philosophy–which one to choose?  It was suggested that we each choose a book that especially appealed to each of us (and was available at the library) and at the next meeting each person would make a brief report on their choice.  Amazingly, no two chose the same book.  It has been the consensus that that was the best meeting we have ever held.


book Our Only World  His latest book, Our Only World, a collection of 10 essays, released last February is a great book with which to start.

I’m going to quote a few passages from different chapters to wet your appetite:

Chapter 1  Paragraphs from a Notebook

… the one truly revolutionary revolution perhaps in the history of  the human race:the Industrial Revolution, which has proceeded from the beginning with only two purposes:to replace human workers with machines, and to market its products, regardless of their usefulness or their effects, at the highest possible profit–and so concentrate wealth into ever fewer hands.

This revolution has, so far, fulfilled its purpose with very few checks or thwarts.  I say “so far” because its great weakness obviously is on its dependence on which  it calls “natural resources,” which it has used ignorantly and foolishly, and which it has progressively destroyed.  Its weakness, in short, is that its days are numbered.  Having squandered nature’s “resources,” it will finally yield to nature’s correction, which, in prospect grows ever harsher.

Go to page 19, where he offers a “complex and difficult solution”.

Chapter 6  Caught in the Middle

In the present political atmosphere it is assumed that everybody must be one of two sides, liberal or conservative.  It doesn’t matter that neither of these labels signifies much in the way of intellectual responsibility or that both are paralyzed in the face of the overpowering issue of out time:the destruction of land and people, of life itself, by means either economic or military.

The collapse of families and communities–so far, more or less disguisable as “mobility” or “growth” or “progress”  or “liberation”–comes with the collapse of personal character and is a social catastrophe.  It leaves individuals subject to no requirements or restraints except those imposed by government. The liberal individual desires freedom from familial and communal responsibilities.  The conservative individual desires freedom from restraints upon economic choices and acts, which often extends to freedom from social, ecological, and even economic responsibilities.  Preoccupied  with these degraded  freedoms, both sides have refused to look straight at the dangers and the failures of government-by-corporation.

“On Being Asked for a Narrative for the Future.”   Mr Berry laments that  while the theme of climate change grows ever more famous and fearful, land abuse is growing worse, noticed by almost nobody.

What is land abuse?  Land abuse is soil erosion, toxic pollution of soil and water, loss of biodiversity, the destruction of farming communities and cultures.  The solution to erosion is to keep the ground covered all year with perennial plants.  Sounds simple, sounds easy, but at present, Mr. Berry goes on, 80% of our farmable acreage is planted in annual crops.  So how do we fix this?


Wheat field west of Elgin

Perennial grain crops -including wheat–are being developed at the Land Institute in Kansas.

Read on:

So who exactly is Wendell Berry?

Read his bio from wickepedia:

Why did we name ourselves Ruthless Readers?  How did that come about?.  One evening I absent-mindedly called  Rose “Ruth”– Immediately someone called us “ruthless” and our name was born.

Our meeting takes place on the 3rd Friday of every month beginning at 6:30 pm with a covered dish supper.  We start discussing our topic immediately when we begin to eat.

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