The Simple Life

The Simple Life : Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture

3.95 (42 ratings by Goodreads)
  • Hardback
By (author) 

List price: US$28.59

Currently unavailable

Add to wishlist

AbeBooks may have this title (opens in new window).

Try AbeBooks

Description

Traces a persistent strain in American thought and conduct: the effort to turn away from materialistic society and to live instead a `simple life' devoted to plain living and things of the mind and spirit.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 376 pages
  • 162.56 x 233.68 x 33.02mm | 680.39g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • 0195034759
  • 9780195034752

Review Text

This is intended to be a historical study of the "tension between accumulating goods and cultivating goodness," "between prosperity and piety," in the American experience - and even if you accept that threadbare dichotomy as a given, the result doesn't amount to much: three cynosures - John Woolman, John Burroughs, Scott Nearing (his pro-communism excepted) - amid successive examples of entanglement between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Shi, a historian at Davidson College and author of Matthew Josephson: Bourgeois Bohemian, thinks Max Weber went astray in suggesting that Calvinism spurred material accumulation - somehow, they just came together. (Ronald Reagan is "a classic illustration of the synthesis.") So this isn't a repository of clear, incisive thinking. The reader will find rehashes of how colonial Puritans and Quakers, merchant and working classes, "came to emphasize material gratification more than pious self-restraint"; how the Revolutionary patriots 'based the same libertarian arguments that had been applied against British trade restrictions to reject traditional restrictions of their own social mobility"; how the republican "cult of domesticity" was smothered by entrepreneurial values; how romantic Transcendentalism demonstrated "the difficulty of the simple life as a societal ethic"; how, in the Gilded Age, an Andrew Carnegie sought (in his own words) to "set an example of modest, unostentatious living" - and "patrician intellectuals" railed against (in Charles Eliot Norton's words) "the ever-rising tide of ignorance and materialism." Then it's on to the Progressive plea for "conscientious consumption" and the book's best section: a modulated, inflected appreciation of the Saturday Evening Post's Edward Bok. In tracing the displacement of Ernest Thompson Seton's Woodcraft Indians by the Boy Scouts, too, Shi provides a graphic close-up of the dilution and institutionalization of reformist movements. There are a couple of unpublicized New Deal examples - the TVA "as an instrument of cooperative simplicity," the Department of Interior's homestead program - and then we're into 60s communes and such. The ancient dilemma of God-and-Mammon has had more penetrating treatment, in its American setting, than this formulaic sorting-out - but in the Progressive era at least, there's some well-developed illustration. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

42 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 24% (10)
4 50% (21)
3 24% (10)
2 2% (1)
1 0% (0)
Book ratings by Goodreads
Goodreads is the world's largest site for readers with over 50 million reviews. We're featuring millions of their reader ratings on our book pages to help you find your new favourite book. Close X