Published last year, Donald B. Kraybill’s The Amish: Why They Enchant Us could have headed off the travesty that has been the Amish in the City TV series. Alas, it appears that the show’s producers didn’t read this small but extremely informative and highly readable volume. It goes far to dispel the stereotype of the Amish as curious, quaint, even backward. Rather, they are thoughtful, intelligent, even sophisticated. What’s more, as Kraybill tells us, these buggy-driving, suspender-wearing people are growing and thriving in an instant-gratification world.
But those aren’t new revelations. Kraybill, probably the most distinguished scholar of the Amish, and other researchers have long been providing keen insights about these plain people. The Amish: Why They Enchant Us is instead meant to be a concise overview, a sort of primer for us
English (non-Amish). And the book succeeds marvelously. In just 48 pages, Kraybill explains Gelassenheit, the Ordnung and the notorious Rumspringa. Other sections address Amish history, education, business, recreation, government relations, uses of technology and more. The comprehensiveness of such a small book is impressive.
About the only thing missing is further treatment of clothing and beards. Kraybill simply says such distinctives
signal submission to the collective order and serve as a public symbol of group identity. Because physical appearance is one of the great Amish identifiers and a common source of questions, a bit more explanation would have been warranted. For example, why don’t men have mustaches and why don’t they wear belts?
But then being Amish is about more than just appearances. Kraybill has provided a valuable, accessible resource, if not for the producers of exploitative TV shows on the Amish, then for the people who watch them.