The Riddle of Amish Cultureby Donald B. Kraybill
The Riddle of Amish Culture has become a classic work on one of America's most distinctive religious communities. But many changes have occurred within Amish society over the past decade, from westward migrations and greater familiarity with technology to the dramatic shift away from farming into small business which is transforming Amish culture. For this revised edition. Donald B. Kraybill has taken these recent changes into account, incorporating new demographic research and interviews and adding a chapter describing Amish recreation and social gatherings.
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Meet the Author
Donald B. Kraybill is Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. Widely recognized for his work on Anabaptist groups, he has authored and edited many books, including The Riddle of Amish Culture and The Amish and the State, both available from Johns Hopkins.
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This is an excellent survey of the perplexing Amish, with information gained from field work, interviews, and source materials. Kraybill went to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the largest concentration of Amish in the U.S. (and so in the world), to prepare a scholarly but readable study. He gives a fairly brief history of the movement, placing it in the context of the Radical Reformation, and then goes on to its successful transplanting to the United States, where it grew from 5000 people in 1900 to more than 180,000 at present. He is thorough in documenting various phases of Amish life, including clothing styles and religious and social structure. He tries to answer hard questions like why the Amish are not allowed to drive automobiles but can still ride in a car driven by someone else. I think there is sometimes a vague idea about the Amish that they are just hopelessly locked into some distant time period and refuse to "catch up" with modern society. Instead, the reader finds out that the Amish are constantly making compromises with the outside world, but with the goal of keeping the community together, for the good of each member's salvation. I have also recommended the classic Harrison Ford movie "Witness." It's probably Ford's greatest role, the barn-raising scene is beautiful, and you can watch the movie and then read the book and find out what the Amish are REALLY about!