The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture

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University of Georgia Press, 2007 - 332 pages
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.

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User Review  - bkinetic - LibraryThing

A scholarly, well balanced and readable analysis of the historical struggle between materialism and post-materialism in American culture. The trouble is that the post-materialism so often regresses. Read full review


two The Quaker Ethic
three Republican Simplicity
four Republicanism Transformed
seven Patrician SimplicityAt Bay
eight Progressive Simplicity
nine Prosperity Depression
ten Affluence and Anxiety

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About the author (2007)

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.

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