Author: Eric Brende
Concept: MIT grad student, Eric Brende and his newly acquired wife Mary decide to try an experiment – live without technology amongst a group of Anabaptists (some Amish) for eighteen months.
I’m hugely into sustainable living and homesteading, even if I am unable to do so now. So I devour these sort of books. Further, living in central PA, I grew up with the Amish next door, figuratively speaking. I buy my eggs and raw milk from Amish farms. I know my farmer and all that. Suffice it to say, the Amish are hands-down the most hard-working folks I’ve ever met/seen. So I respect them immensely.
But…there is a problem. Religion. I’m an unapologetic atheist and assume I always will be. Brende, a Catholic, seems to never feel accepted by his Amish peers, because of his religion. Although he admits he has never felt so connected to a community, it’s as if he allows this religion difference to keep him an outsider. (Nowhere in the book did I read anything resembling the Amish caring that he is Catholic.) I do know religion is at the core of the Amish way of life, but I also see around me that way of life dismantling. This saddens me, for Brende does make one simple, but brilliant, point: life without mechanized technology essentially forces you to interact with and depend on your neighbors or community.
A lot of the Amish nearby nowadays drive cars, use telephones, etc. The teens are dabbling in hard drugs (there was a cocaine bust here a few years ago), and there are now teenage pregnancies. I’m not one for religion, but I’m all about living a good, decent, hard-working life. The loss of the Amish way of life in my area would be a tragedy, in my opinion.
Brende is a pretty arrogant dude. His wife is barely mentioned throughout the book. It seems to be all about him. The reader learns a lot from his interactions with the men in the community, but we never hear about the women’s experiences. I would have loved to have heard Mary’s voice, how she coped with being an educated, modern woman transplanted to a world of traditional gender roles and duties.
All in all, it was a good read. It had far too much profuse philosophy and grandiloquent language for my taste, but I skimmed over those parts and focused on the actual day-to-day experiences of the couple. Has it inspired me to cut down on possessions and interact with my neighbors more? Sure, but I already felt that way. Since I’m not interested in arrogant men, philosophy, or religion I didn’t come away from this book with anything new. But I loved learning more about the Amish ideologies.
And I sincerely hope they don’t ever change their way of life.