Our Only World: Ten Essays

Wendell Berry. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $24 (196p) ISBN 978-1-61902-488-5
“Valid criticism,” poet, conservationist, and national treasure Berry (The Unsettling of America) declares in his latest collection’s opening essay, “attempts a just description of our condition.” The book goes on to vivisect, with uncommon lucidity and common sense, the accruing damages of the “industrial economy and its so-called free market,” as well as our “commerce of violence” that profits from the “destruction of land and people” as shown in the essay “Our Deserted Country,” about the wastelands created by industrial agriculture. Berry’s crusade is not for conservation but repair, and in another selection, “Local Economies,” he offers a “reasonable permanence of dwelling place and vocation” as one remedy. Adhering to an uncompromising ethic that combines stern humility with compassion, Berry rallies a sense of hope (though “the task of hope becomes harder”) and responsibility for confronting growing physical and political problems, represented here by the tortured political rhetoric he unpacks in “Caught in the Middle.” Moreover, he offers a range of practical, “small solutions”—changes of principle, not policy—that both chasten the reader and inspire him or her to continue “our long, necessary, difficult, happy effort” to protect “our only world.” These essays are classic Berry, balancing the fiery conservationist prophet with the lucid and thoughtful poet; the reflective farmer with the visionary writer. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/26/2015
Release date: 02/01/2015
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