Books & Essays
The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture
University of Georgia Press 2001
From Puritans and Quakers to Boy Scouts and hippies, our quest of the simple life is an enduring, complex tradition in American culture. Looking across more than three centuries of want and prosperity, war and peace, David E. Shi introduces a rich cast of practitioners and proponents of the simple life, among them Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Scott and Helen Nearing, and Jimmy Carter.
In the diversity of their aspirations and failings, Shi finds that nothing is simple about our mercurial devotion to the ideal of plain living and high thinking. Though we may hedge a bit in practice and are now and then driven by motives no deeper than nostalgia, Shi stresses that the diverse efforts to avoid anxious social striving and compulsive materialism have been essential to the nation's spiritual health.
Book Review #1:
"A balanced, sensitive and comprehensive account of a major theme in American cultural history." ?The Nation
Book Review #2:
"Exemplary...Shi's study can serve as a handbook to guide us in facing the insistent and inevitable challenges of the future." ?Sierra
Book Review #3:
"Shi's genius is in tying diverse social and cultural threads together and weaving an excellent book about the history of ideas." ?Choice
Book Review #4:
"A masterly book?as fascinating as it is educational . . . Shi combines impressive scholarship with intriguing anecdotes and insights into the lives of presidents, religious leaders, naturalists, industrialists, and others who praised plain living."