Book Review: Our Only World: Ten Essays by Wendell Berry

By Janelle Vandergrift

From The Catalyst, Summer 2015

Our Only World: Ten Essays
By Wendell Berry
Counterpoint, 2015

Reviewed by Janelle Vandergrift

Before reading it, I assumed Our Only World would focus solely on climate and environment issues. Instead, Wendell Berry weaves an analysis of today’s social and environmental issues as one in the same.

Within ten essays, he manages to discuss work, forests, abortion, gay marriage, the role of the state, a U.S. Farm Bill, local economies, and more within a framework that emphasizes the need to look at these as part of the whole instead of on their own.

What are we to do about sustaining and improving “our only world?” On this, Berry believes that people must be engaged in solving the issues of our time on a local level. While he maintains his characteristic distrust of the state and a belief that “our ultimate reality is not political,” Berry suggests that we are not to give up our efforts for “better politics, better policy, better representation, better official understanding of our problems and needs.”

Berry’s discomfort with politics as the be-all and end-all of our work in the world reminded me that public justice is truly much more than a political ethic. Public justice exists in our communities, in our families, in our culture, in our front and backyards, and indeed must be enacted within our whole lives.

Despite its fair warnings of our current destructive patterns, Our Only World is a hopeful read. It ends by encouraging us to live in the present, not resigning ourselves to “the end of the world as we know it” tomorrow. If all of us could live such a thoughtful existence as Berry, I have no doubt that our only world would be a better one.

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