The Simple Life
Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture

David E. Shi
With a revised introduction and epilogue

"A balanced, sensitive and comprehensive account of a major theme in American cultural history."-The Nation

Reviews

"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."
Charlotte Observer

"Shi's genius is in tying diverse social and cultural threads together and weaving an excellent book about the history of ideas."
Choice


"Exemplary . . . Shi's study can serve as a handbook to guide us in facing the insistent and inevitable challenges of the future."
Sierra

"Shi manages time and again in specific instances to be lively and illuminating."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"A candid, informative, scholarly examination throughout American social history of the drive to simplify one’s life and find meaning by the means of deliberately giving up excess material vanity . . . a thoughtful book, filled with carefully assessed observations, The Simple Life is strongly recommended reading for anyone contemplating simplification of their personal lifestyles and circumstances as a means of improving the quality of their lives and themselves."
Midwest Book Review

"Meticulously researched . . . it should stand as a seminal study of an enduring theme in U.S. social history."
Sojourners

"Mr. Shi's study is interesting for the light it sheds on America's moral development."
New York Times Book Review

"The most recent expression of a complex intellectual tradition which has shaped American cultures for centuries. If many of Shi's sources for this tradition are familiar, he does a masterful job of bringing them together."
The Nation

“Combines creative synthesis with a fresh exploration of neglected materials, especially in the fascinating chapters on the twentieth century.”
—Michael Kammen, Cornell University

“Shi has written a magnificent book, weaving together disparate themes from American history into a wonderful new web of meaning.”
Christianity Today

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Description
Our current less-is-more impulse may have contemporary trappings, says David E. Shi, but the underlying ideal has been around for centuries. From Puritans and Quakers to Boy Scouts and hippies, our quest for the simple life is an enduring, complex tradition in American culture. Looking across more than three centuries of want and prosperity, war and peace, 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. "Difficult choices are the price of simplicity," he writes in the book's revised epilogue. We may hedge a bit in the practice of simple living, and now and then we are driven by motives no deeper than nostalgia. Shi stresses, however, that the diverse efforts to avoid anxious social striving and compulsive materialism have been essential to the nation's spiritual health.

Page count: 344 pp.
Trim size: 6.125 x 9.25

 



Paper
List price: $26.95
978-0-8203-2975-8
7/1/2007

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David E. Shi is the president of Furman University, where he is also a professor of history. His books include In Search of the Simple Life, Facing Facts, and The Bell Tower and Beyond.