cover image The Way of Ignorance

The Way of Ignorance

Wendell Berry, . . Shoemaker & Hoard, $24 (180pp) ISBN 978-1-59376-077-9

Called "the prophet of rural America" by the New York Times , Berry has spent the last 40 of his 71 years simultaneously farming a hillside in Kentucky and issuing a stream of poems, novels and essays (including The Gift of Good Land and The Long-Legged House ) that are probably the most sustained contemporary articulation of America's agrarian, Jeffersonian ideal. If the tone of the book's mostly brief 19 essays is sometimes angry and despairing ("We are destroying our country," begins one essay), one can hardly blame Berry. The mere title of one of the essays, "Some Notes for the Kerry Campaign, If Wanted," brings the reader up short—memories of the last presidential campaign are receding so quickly into the past that Berry's amorphous call for a return to "our traditional principles of politics and religion" is both quixotic and sad, a remnant from a vanished era. Many of the essays are taken from talks given to such organizations as the Crop Science Society of America and the Land Institute, and an air of preaching to the converted hangs over the book. The collection is not without its qualities, chief among them Berry's always well-honed prose, but if the agenda he proposes is to ever reclaim its rightful place in the body politic, it will have to be reframed in much more forceful and contemporary terms. (Nov.)