cover image The Amish

The Amish

Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt. Johns Hopkins Univ., $29.95 (520p) ISBN 978-1-4214-0914-6

In this companion piece to the PBS American Experience documentary of the same name, Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner, and Nolt (professors at Elizabethtown College, S.U.N.Y.-Potsdam, and Goshen College, respectively) present a comprehensive collection of history and modern research on the Amish, whose religion continues to draw converts and grow in number despite its strict doctrine of simplicity and humility. The authors successfully address the seeming exoticism of the Amish without sensationalism. Following a solid grounding in Amish history from its origins in Europe in the 1500s to middle America in the 1950s, the authors frame their expansive work around the “Amish struggle with modernity,” devoting attention to Amish religious beliefs and the way those beliefs are put into practice through ritual and tradition. The authors take care to describe the wide range of Amish practices, from those of more traditional communities living as they might have 200 years ago to others that allow their teenagers to have cell phones and drive cars. Particular attention is paid to debunking myths surrounding the teenage rite of Rumspringa, a time of contemplation before full commitment to the church through baptism. The scholarship is enlivened with quotes and personal anecdotes, and the final section on the future of the Amish raises fascinating questions, even for casual readers. (June)