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The Amish (The Companion to American Expe) Hardcover – 23 Apr 2013

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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: 17.8 x 3.8 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 757,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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)

Written by the foremost contemporary authority on the Amish along with experts on linguistics and Amish history, this impressive, illustrated volume positions itself as the best and most comprehensive book on the Amish in the twenty-first century. Based on twenty-five years of sociological and demographics research, face-to-face interviews and in-person observation, the twenty-two chapters cover every aspect of Amish life... The Amish is invaluable for the reader seeking a first, serious encounter with the subject, but readers with some prior knowledge of the Amish will benefit greatly from its comprehensive, national scope. For libraries with limited space, this is the one book on the Amish to own.

(J. Denny Weaver Nova Religio)

Ten years in the making, The Amish is one of a kind... The book draws on a combined seventy-five years of observation and analysis of Amish life by three of the most insightful scholars in the field of Amish studies... It does an exceptional job of conveying the cultural logic behind Amish practices... The book is a major contribution to understanding and theorizing Amish difference amid unity in the twenty-first century... The Amish is beautifully written and the consistency of voice is remarkable... This is interdisciplinary work at its best.

(David L. McConnell Mennonite Quarterly Review)

[ The Amish] is a valuable, detailed and large (520 pp.) introduction to the Amish... The book, wisely documented with photographs (to be more appreciated, because of Amish shunning them), is a very precious documentation of Amish life and religious culture in present America - and therefore not only our best choice of 2014, but a bibliographic milestone not to be missed.

(Fabio Mora Polifemo)

About the Author

Donald B. Kraybill is Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Karen M. Johnson-Weiner is a professor of linguistic anthropology at SUNY-Potsdam. Steven M. Nolt is a professor of history at Goshen College.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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) 22 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Landmark book on the Amish and companion to the PBS series (also on DVD) 7 July 2013
By Steve Ramm - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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"
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great book. 24 Oct 2013
By B. Wolinsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In 2006, a crazed gunman took an Amish school hostage, killed the kids, then killed himself. Immediately afterward, the victims' families called on the killer's family, offering support. One might ask how they could be so forgiving, and the answer is that they were taught all their lives to forgive and move on. They learn, by their elders' example, not to show anger or hold grudges. It's one of the habits that are essential to their survival.

The point of The Amish is that tradition is the core of their perseverance and success. Before we go further, please don't think that "tradition" is what you see in Fiddler On the Roof. On the contrary, the opening song Tradition from that musical is really making fun of tradition. Amish traditions are designed to keep everyone productive and make sure that they all get along.

I went straight to the chapter Gender and Family because it's exactly what every non-Amish wants to know about. I wanted to know if their gender roles are rigid, if the men control the women, how the families interact, etc. The answer I got from reading this great book is as follows; while the "work" roles are separated, the "social" ones are not. Girls are taught domestic work, while boys are taught farm skills and craftsmanship, but if there are no girls around, boys will do the dished, and vice versa. Socially, things aren't taught as they are with skills. Boys will be given dolls to play with, and girls will be given toy trucks (the parents don't care) and the genders play together without restriction. It's also possible, though not mentioned in the book, that the kids are not influenced by stereotypes. Take the average children's book featuring animal characters; the father has a newspaper and a pipe, the mother does the cooking, little sister wears a pink dress, and the brother wears sneaker and has a scooter. It's the same thing in cartoons and kiddie shows, but without a TV, and a limited number of non-Amish books, the kids won't see it. Go into the average liberal household, and you'll see parents discouraging thee year old boys from playing with dolls. But with the Amish, they don't care. Genders are separated at times, but never segregated.

Like the Native Americans, Amish women recuse themselves from preparing food during "that time of the month," so obviously, the men will have to pitch in for those days that the wives are out. Assigning heavy chores to boys makes sense, because the men have greater upper-body strength. By assigning girls to learn cooking, it free the men to do heavy labor. But that doesn't mean that the men snap their fingers when they want things; both genders have to respect each other. I was reminded of the book Rolling Thunder (about the Medicine Man of the same name) who argued with some feminists about "sexist" gender roles. The feminists argued that assigning women to do cooking was chauvinistic, but Rolling Thunder argued "where you come from, are you allowed three days vacation every time you menstruate?" The feminists replied "that means she can't see her children for three days!" What can you do? Everyone's entitled to their ways.

Transgressions-like unmarried pregnancy or adultery-are punished by "shunning," which is a form of temporary excommunication. To the Amish, this is not a punishment, but a way to avoid bad influences. Native Americans are known to do this if a member of their tribe violates their rules; in Looking For Lost Bird, a Navajo family is ordered to leave the reservation, because their 13 year old son is punching female students on the bus. Like the Amish, the Navajo used to have a tradition of having boys and girls work apart from each other, but thanks to modern life, they were thrown together. Some families can't reconcile this with modern gender-mixing, and you get trouble. Even in modern families, shunning can be used, as it is in the New York Times article Angela Whitaker's Climb (compiled in Class Matters.) In the story, the mother won't let her grown children near their siblings out of fear that they'll be a bad influence, and her method works. Keeping the kids away from trouble is a major part of Amish child-rearing, but only in an Amish community could this work. In Amish life, you don't have unemployment; the kids are working in some way from the time they can hold a spoon, so they're never left without something to do. On the opposite side, you have single parent families in towns with no jobs. What will the kids do with their time?

My only fault with this book is the lack of first-person accounts. The chapter on Rumspringa shows that the media portrayals and the documentary were greatly exaggerated and sensationalized, so I would prefer to hear what the individuals have to say. I've also read that the Amish were not happy about the movie Witness, where Harrison Ford defends his Amish hosts with his fists. Their spokesman was quoted as "our tradition bars us from filing a lawsuit to keep this movie out of the theatres." I would also have like to hear about Edward Gingrich, the only Amish man ever convicted of murder.

Overall, The Amish is a great book. It's a tie-in with the American Experience documentary, though it will take considerably longer to read this huge volume than watch the program. 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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Excellent starting point on Amish Culture. 31 July 2013
By A Customer - 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.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Extensively researched and beautifully written 28 Jun 2013
By Joel Gehman - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I read this book cover to cover in one sitting. It is extensively researched and beautifully written. It offers a rare blend of detailed academic scholarship coupled with a compelling human narrative. The overall organization of the book is excellent, with a total of 22 chapters (!) organized into five major sections: roots; cultural context; social organization; external ties; and the future. The text is rich in detail, nuance and sophistication. The authors somehow manage to be exhaustive without appearing to have done violence to their topic, subjects and setting. Academic readers are sure to revel in the endnotes. As just one example, consider Chapter 7 on "Symbols and Identity." The third paragraph (p. 116) notes: "Amish cultural norms prescribe how to act toward and think about moral objects--material items, ideas and activities. Like other societies, the Amish distinguish between desirable or 'clean' moral objects and forbidden or 'dirty' ones. Boundaries and labels distinguish between things that purify the community and things that pollute it..." Of course, this sounds (to me) like something Mary Douglas might have written, especially her work on Purity and Danger, but also Natural Symbols, Risk and Blame, etc. And neatly tucked away in the endnotes (p. 435, en 1) we find the following: "Our analysis of distinctions in a group's moral order rests on the classic work of Bourdieu, Distinction; Douglas, Purity and Danger; Wuthnow et al., Cultural Analysis; and Wuthnow, Meaning and Moral Order." 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 and their own cultural milieu. What's more, academics from diverse backgrounds will also see themselves in this book -- including anthropology, culture studies, ethnography, geography, history, political science, psychology, religious studies, sociology, and many more I am sure.
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