Sunday, June 5, 2016

Engaging and informative -- The Amish

The Amish: A Concise Introduction by Steven Nolt may be the first non-fiction book about the Amish that I have read in its entirety.  (That comes after twenty years or so of reading hundreds of Amish fiction books and bits and pieces of related non-fiction books and online articles.) 

I found The Amish to be extremely engaging and informative.  Although I would call it scholarly in the sense of presenting much factual information, the tone is very comfortable and easy to read; an academic background is not necessary for understanding. "Concise" is a good description; at less than 150 pages, not a great deal of time is required to read the entire book.

Nolt fits his facts into a framework that helps his readers begin to understand these often misunderstood people and how they function in a society much different from many of their own beliefs and practices.  He debunks the image of the Amish as a group of people stuck somewhere in decades long past, out of touch with the modern world, and shows how they have used insight and innovation to grow and thrive into the twenty-first century while holding to long-standing principles.

Anyone with an interest in learning more about the background and lifestyle of the Amish should find this book a valuable read. 

On a more personal note, while I have no connection with the author of this book, I enjoyed his use of photographs, about 40 percent of which were taken by my husband (Don Burke) during many visits to Amish settlements over the past six years.

About the Book:

There seems to be no end to our fascination with the Amish, a religious minority that has both placed itself outside the mainstream of American culture and flourished within it. Yet most people know very little about the nuanced relationship the Amish have with society or their own communities.

Drawing on more than twenty years of fieldwork and collaborative research, Steven M. Nolt’s The Amish: A Concise Introduction is a compact but richly detailed portrait of Amish life. In fewer than 150 pages, readers will come away with a clear understanding of the complexities of these simple people. Writing in engaging and accessible language, Nolt explains how the Amish at once operate within modern America and stand very much apart from the world. Arguing that Amish life is shaped equally by internal and external social, political, and economic contexts, Nolt explores Amish identity as emerging from a complex cultural negotiation with modernity. He takes on much-hyped topics such as Rumspringa and reveals the distinctive Amish approach to technology. He also explains how Amish principles stand in contrast to contemporary American values, including rational efficiency, large-scale organization, and Western notions of individuality.

Authoritative, informative, and illustrated, this guide provides a vivid introduction to a way of life many find fascinating but few truly understand.

About the Author:

Steven M. Nolt is a professor of history and Senior Scholar at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. He is the author of A History of the Amish and the coauthor of The Amish.

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