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The Amish (The Companion to American Expe) [Hardcover]

Donald B. Kraybill , Karen M. Johnson-Weiner , Steven M. Nolt
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 15.50 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

23 April 2013 The Companion to American Expe

The Amish have always struggled with the modern world. Known for their simple clothing, plain lifestyle, and horse-and-buggy mode of transportation, Amish communities continually face outside pressures to modify their cultural patterns, social organization, and religious world view. An intimate portrait of Amish life, The Amish explores not only the emerging diversity and evolving identities within this distinctive American ethnic community, but also its transformation and geographic expansion.

Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt spent twenty-five years researching Amish history, religion, and culture. Drawing on archival material, direct observations, and oral history, the authors provide an authoritative and sensitive understanding of Amish society.

Amish people do not evangelize, yet their numbers in North America have grown from a small community of some 6,000 people in the early 1900s to a thriving population of more than 275,000 today. The largest populations are found in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, with additional communities in twenty-seven other states and Ontario.

The authors argue that the intensely private and insular Amish have devised creative ways to negotiate with modernity that have enabled them to thrive in America. The transformation of the Amish in the American imagination from "backward bumpkins" to media icons poses provocative questions. What does the Amish story reveal about the American character, popular culture, and mainstream values? Richly illustrated, The Amish is the definitive portrayal of the Amish in America in the twenty-first century.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (23 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421409143
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421409146
  • Product Dimensions: 25.5 x 19.1 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 118,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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The authors successfully address the seeming exoticism of the Amish without sensationalism... Particular attention is paid to debunking myths surrounding the teenage rite of Rumspringa, a time of contemplation before full commitment to the church through baptism. The scholarship is enlivened with quotes and personal anecdotes, and the final section on the future of the Amish raises fascinating questions, even for casual readers.

(Publishers Weekly)

Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner and Nolt have provided masterful research that enlightens the reader about this misunderstood religion and culture... The Amish is a must-read for anyone willing to look beyond the horse and buggy image and gain eye-opening knowledge of people keeping a wary eye on the modern world while holding fast to their past beliefs and traditions.

(Jeff Friend Foreword Reviews)

In sum, Kraybill, Johnson-Weiner and Nolt have offered us a highly readable and thoroughly engaging lens into The Amish, and in doing so offer readers an opportunity to reflect on themselves in this book.

(Joel Gehman

Given its wide scope and up-to-date information there really isn’t a book like this on the Amish today. I would place it among a handful of Amish must-reads.

(Amish America)

This is a great read for audiences from high school to professionals... highly recommended.


The book’s thoroughness is praiseworthy, along with its unbiased approach. It doesn’t overpraise the Amish, nor does it criticize their ways. If you’re wondering how traditional societies cope with the modern era, this book is perfect.

(Ben Wolinsky Olive Branch United)

It is an essential work on the Amish for both those who begin with little knowledge and those who would like to update their understanding of this unique plain Christian community.

(Rod Janzen Annals of Iowa)

Book Description

This companion book to the American Experience documentary on PBS takes an in-depth look into Amish life in America.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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5.0 out of 5 stars great informative book 15 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book on Amish society well produced and easy to read, giving me a better understanding of the reasons behind how they live.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive research on the Amish 29 July 2013
By Saloma Furlong - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a comprehensive look at the Amish culture and religion. It is well-researched and well-written and is divided into five sections and twenty-two chapters. Each chapter begins with an extract of the material to follow. I am focusing my review on several sections that stood out from the rest of the material in the book for me.

The extract of the first chapter begins with a glimpse of how a "national crusade for educational progress"... had a bump on the back roads of rural America" when in the fall of 1954, some 100 Amish people were arrested for refusing to send their children to school beyond the eighth grade. I thought this chapter was going to be about Amish education, but it was actually about how the Amish are a thriving people and their constant struggle with modernity. This is the only chapter in which I felt the extract did not match the contents of the chapter. All the rest of them were right on.

In the second section there is a chapter on religious roots that I consider one of the best in the book -- from the extract to the end. For so long, I have been trying to put into words the Amish belief system, and I always feel I fall short. And here it is, well conveyed. The chapter begins with an Amish church service being held in the upstairs of a barn, and just as the people in the congregation turn to face their benches to pray, the host rises and pulls the barn door shut. Afterwards, when a visitor asks why he did that, the elderly bishop states, "Because Jesus taught us to pray in private." This conveys the humility of the Amish faith. Theirs is also a faith steeped in martyrdom and deep traditions, which is best described in the following chapters on sacred rituals in the gathered community, the Amish way, and their symbols and identity.

In the third section, there is a chapter called "Rumspringa to Marriage," which is another one of my favorite chapters in this book. I want to say "Bravo!" to the authors for challenging seven different myths and giving real information about what rumspringa is and is not. For example for "Myth Two: Parents encourage their children to explore the outside world," the authors state "Some pundits say that the church has established a cultural `time out' for that purpose, but this is simply false." They quote an Amish woman as saying, "Rumspringa as people talk about it is a lie. What group of parents that love their children would say, `Go out and do whatever you want and decide whether you want to be like we raised you'?" After reading this chapter, I no longer feel so alone in trying to shatter the myths about rumpspringa. The one thing I would have added is that there are several Amish communities that require their young people to become members of the church before they are allowed to date. That gives the church authority over the young people's actions, which does not allow for any relaxing of the rules of the Ordnung.

I have pondered the reason why the people in mainstream culture have latched onto the idea that the Amish allow their young people a time to make a conscious choice about whether they stay or leave. I think there is a desire to superimpose our values on their culture. We are the ones who value choice and therefore deem the Amish a better society if they give their young people a conscious choice. But that is not at all what the Amish are about. Their culture is about sacrificing personal freedom for the sake of the community. Having a conscious choice about being Amish is the polar opposite of the experience of most Amish youth who know they are expected to join the church, be baptized, marry, have and raise children in the same faith as their parents, their grandparents, and many other generations before them and live out their lives in an Amish community. If they do so, they experience a close community throughout their lives, while we get our personal freedom. As the Amish put it -- it's impossible to have both.

The chapter on Amish education is literally the only chapter in the whole book with which I disagree, almost completely. I would have liked for the authors to grapple with the ethical and moral dilemmas that result from exempting one religious group from compulsory education and child labor laws. It was argued in the 1972 landmark Wisconsin v. Yoder Supreme Court case that the Amish culture would not survive if they were bound by the same laws as everyone else. This begs the question of whether it is ethical or moral for the Amish to deprive their children of an education beyond the eighth grade so that the culture can survive. This is not unlike many of the other aspects of Amish culture, in which they are held to a different standard than the rest of society.

Rather than deal with these issues, the authors focus on the long and contentious struggle for the Amish to become exempt, the demise of the little red schoolhouse, and the explosion and structure of Amish schools. They also write about teachers, diversity of Amish schools, the academic outcomes of Amish schooling, and "different world, different aims." Unlike the rest of the chapters, this one feels unbalanced to me.

At the Amish conference in June 2013, one of the authors stated publicly that there are some Amish groups that would like to educate their children beyond the eighth grade, but out of solidarity with other Amish affiliations, they are not doing so. They are concerned that it will cause controversy in more conservative groups because the authorities can point to the Amish groups allowing more education as a way to force the more traditional groups to follow their example. The author may have a point but it's not the only area in which the conservative Amish struggle with authorities and the liberal groups do not, such as with the issues of triangles on buggies, compliance of building codes, and outhouses.

It took me years after leaving the Amish to realize that level of education is not determined by the Ordnung of the Amish church. The expectation that parents limit their children's education lives somewhere outside the rules of the church, but is deeply ingrained in the Amish psyche. If it were included in the rules of the church, it would technically be open to debate every six months when the bishop of each church district reviews the rules of the Ordnung because all the members of the church get a vote about whether they agree. It is rare that anyone disagrees, but this point of distinction is still a valid one. It begs the question of why education is a controversial issue if limiting education of children to the eighth grade is not one of the rules in the church.

If I could change anything about the culture that I was raised in, it would be that the Amish educate their children beyond the eighth grade, even if it's for two more years in their own schools. I think so much good would come of this. If indeed more people leave the community as a result of realizing they have a choice, then the people who decide to stay would have made a more conscious choice to do so.

Overall, the authors did a very good job of looking at two sides of the various issues and they wrote with a unified voice in "The Amish." I appreciate that the book as a whole represents an exhaustive amount of research and an unwavering commitment to writing and editing as a team. The end result is a body of work that will be excellent reference material for years to come.

Disclaimer: I did not receive a free copy of this book in exchange for a review... I purchased the book from Amazon.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of the book " The Amish" 28 July 2013
By John A. Lehr - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Excellent review of the history and customs of the Amish. We have many new settlers in our area of northern New York and I have dealt with them personally. They are not wrong in their lifestyle and deserve to be left alone by the various state and local governments.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent starting point on Amish Culture. 31 July 2013
By June Howell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I live in Lancaster Co. among the Amish and taught elem art in an Amish school as a part of the Lampeter-Strasburg Sch district. I also belong to another Anabaptist sect & therefore am familiar with their culture and religious practices. I found the book to be easily read and well researched.Even though I do not always agree with the authors' interpretation, I realize that their view of the Amish spans the US & Canada & I am focusing on southern Lancaster Co. Amish .

If you want to know more about the Amish culture, this is an excellent starting point. Many,many aspects are covered.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Landmark book on the Amish and companion to the PBS series (also on DVD) 7 July 2013
By Steven I. Ramm - Published on
This book is the "Companion" to the similarly titled show on PBS's American Experience series. The series was released on DVD in 2012 (and I loved it) but it took until 2013 for the book to be published. It's just as good, but different, in the fact that, while the TV series only took a few hours to watch, the nearly-500-page book will take a lot longer to consume. It's thoroughly researched and will probably stand as a reference book for years to come. There are a few photos (in black and white) and some charts but most is text and there is a helpful Index. The three co-authors give the religious background for the Amish and then put them into perspective in the 21st Century, where they need to deal with modern technology and curious tourists. (I live less than an hour from Lancaster County, PA which is one of the largest Amish communities and so I visit that area at least a few times each year.)

I'll still recommend the DVD as the first step is understanding the Amish but, if you have seen the TV series and want to dig deeper, this is the book for you.
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 9 July 2013
By Virginia Walborn - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For anyone truly interested in knowing the truth about the Amish
this is a wonderful book. There are so many TV shows not
showing you the facts that these are wonderful people & we
should all try to live as they live their lives.
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