Our Only World: Ten Essays

Wendell Berry

Book cover

I thought this book was good, but not great. I generally like Wendell Berry and his outlook. Unlike some/many of his other essay collections, this did not include a bunch of, or even any, “reruns”–all were published since 2010 or so, and while they ran in magazines and such, I don’t think they have been collected elsewhere. Some of them are speeches rather than essays, which I found added an interesting variety.

The book started off on a very weak foot. The first essay is called “Paragraphs from a Notebook,” and it is just as disorganized and aimless as the title implies. Why any editor thought it was a good choice to kick off the book, I have no idea. But it does get better from there. I can’t say there are any sections that struck me as completely new, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The essay “A Forest Conversation” contained some interesting stuff about sustainable forestry that I hadn’t encountered before.

The essay “Caught in the Middle” was a bit annoying to me. He launches off by discussing, as the title suggests, how it can be hard to be someone who doesn’t fully identify with either political party. He proposes to talk about his thinking on two hot-button issues, abortion and gay marriage. After talking through his perspective, though, he comes to support the most thoroughly liberal position on each: there should be no laws regarding abortion, and that the state should keep its nose out of the business of marriage! Which is great, but I do find it tiresome when people make such a big deal about being so independent-minded and not liking either party, especially when they don’t back it up! It’s like, the Democrats are right, just admit it!

I also learned some interesting stuff about the Land Institute and the 50-year Farm Bill, which I learned more about in Dan Barber’s book (review forthcoming!). Finally, the last essay in the book is a nice one, encapsulating a “start-at-home” ethic that resonated with me.

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars