About forty miles east of where I live is a very large Amish settlement. I always feel sorry for its quiet inhabitants when I see tourists stick cameras in their faces as they come into town to do their shopping. The Amish culture is an exotic one that still attracts a good deal of voyeurism. Of course, it also inspires a great deal of admiration: the response of the Amish to the massacre at one of their schools last year was met with nearly universal praise and awe.
An Outsider among the Amish
Beacon, $24.95, 256 pp.
The term “Amish” is in fact a generic title for a large number of different communities that vary from one another over the question of how to keep themselves “plain” and separate from the world. Joe Mackall’s sympathetic but critical new book focuses on the most conservative branch of the Amish, the Swartzentrubers of Ohio, who live without electricity, indoor plumbing, cushioned furniture, or household decoration-apart from feed-store calendars and some thirty-day wind-up clocks.
The author is a longtime friend of a Swartzentruber family, whose life and work he describes in careful detail: the ways they negotiate with the outside world (the “English”), their farming methods, the structure of their church and...