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World Made by Hand
World Made by Hand
Author: James Howard Kunstler
In "World Made by Hand," an astonishing work of speculative fiction, Kunstler brings to life what America might be, a few decades hence, after catastrophes converge. For the townspeople of Union Grove, New York, the future is nothing like they thought it would be. Transportation is slow and dangerous, so food is grown locally at great ...  more »
ISBN-13: 9780802144010
ISBN-10: 0802144012
Publication Date: 1/6/2009
Pages: 336
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.

3.6 stars, based on 46 ratings
Publisher: Grove Press
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover
Members Wishing: 13
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

Spuddie avatar reviewed World Made by Hand on + 412 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
Speculative "post-earth-changing-event" fiction set in a time slightly in our future, about 20 years after the United States economy collapsed due to the lack of availability of oil, there were several nuclear bombs dropped on major cities, and this was followed with a couple of serious flu epidemics which depopulated the country to about a quarter of its former self.

The folks of Union Grove, a smallish town in upstate New York, like everyone else in the country, live in a whole new world. A world without cars, electricity, and supermarkets. A world without mass-produced goods, medicines, and a world where former bank presidents and real estate agents work in the fields like peasants in days of yore. The middle-aged ones still clearly remember the days of cell phones, computer and commuter trains. The younger ones--and there aren't that many, since exposure to the flu viruses seem to have sterilized most people--gape in awe as their elders try to explain what a car is and how it used magic fluid to 'drive.' It wasn't necessarily the smartest folks who survived--it was those who were adaptable to change, who were willing to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

This is the story of a month or so in the life of Union Grove, primarily of Robert Earle, a forty-seven-year-old former software executive who is now a carpenter, earning his keep (most business is conducted by barter) by repairing and revamping things around town. Several different factions exist in the area, including a big farm cooperative, a gang of hoodlums who run the 'general store' which sells salvaged goods, and a rather freaky religious cult. What this story tells us is that regardless of how much things have changed, some things remain constant: the capacity for human beings to do evil, and the capacity for human beings to do good, and that the capacity for both resides within each of us.

This was a good story, an interesting story with a few well-fleshed and real characters that you came to care about (although a lot of the secondary ones seemed to be almost caricatures in a way) and it was a well-written story, but it wasn't a truly unique concept and the book seemed to run out of steam at the end. I'm reminded of Pat Frank's 1959 classic Alas, Babylon, among others. Definitely worth a read though if you enjoy this sort of book.
lilguppy avatar reviewed World Made by Hand on + 30 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
I thought this book was a bit slow to start but after the basic storyline was set, the characters, the town, the plots and subplots were introduced and the story picked up and became a book I couldn't put down. The author realistically illustrated the truth about what could happen in this scenario from the creepy, the immoral, the violent and the closest ideal in that situation. I was glad to see that the author didn't run from religion as a reality, especially in the lives of those facing the tragedy and change this book presents. If you like post-apocalyptic sci-fi with shreds of truth and reality, you'll really love this book.
Naiche avatar reviewed World Made by Hand on + 90 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
This book is about the story of a declining society, a peaceful post-industrial society living off the remnants of modern technology and the fertility of the lush Hudson Valley. This is very much a transition phase, with a younger generation growing up that was born after the fall, and new people moving in to town that will destabilize the power structure.

I'm quite torn about this book.

On the one hand, there are some real problems with world-building, including a totally unrealistic assessment of how much actual WORK it takes to run a pre-industrial society. There are some odd plot twists that I didn't understand the point of. Additionally, the author is apparently incapable of writing a convincing female character.

On the other hand, there is some seriously fantastic writing going on here. The complexity of feeling and motivation is extraordinary. The inner life of the central character is fascinating, and both his strength and his deep denial are delicately handled. The pacing is seductive, with both the book and the plot moving at no faster than a horse's trot.

In many ways, the book is about dealing with grief, and about deciding whether to surrender gracefully to overwhelming disaster, or to pick yourself up and fight even when it's unclear whether you're on the side of the angels. One of the book's charms is that it presents both youthful vigor and graceful decline as valid options, and lets the reader decide.
reviewed World Made by Hand on + 10 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It is somewhat different from the usual apocalypic TEOTWAWKI fare. Kunstler is a good writer, (and a goode lecturer - you should check out his podcast on iTunes), and the book was an interesting speculation on what life might look like in the U.S. some 20 years or so after the collapse of the oil economy combined with a few well targeted nuclear terrorist attacks against the governmental infrastructure. I can buy the "peak oil" scenario, but the terrorist nuke attacks are a bit far-fetched and were not terribly believable as the author didn't really spend any effort explaining how that was pulled off. Still, I liked the characters and I think Kunstler did a good job of showing how quickly our politically correct society would revert back to more traditional roles - i.e. a male dominated society and the return of tribalism. Worth your time to read.
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reviewed World Made by Hand on + 14 more book reviews
This out of the way corner of New York seems to have been spared the worst of the apocalypse that played out in distant population centers devastated by nuclear terrorism and disease. At least in this town, it is a gentler post-apocalyptic world than most. For one thing, everyone seems to be extremely well-fed. And there are signs of enterprise and economic revival. But there are also hints of the kind of darkness that might arise, as various groups coalesce around ambitious leaders who seek to impose their will on the community. A thoughtful story that combines philosophical reflection with action.
susieqmillsacoustics avatar reviewed World Made by Hand on + 884 more book reviews
I really liked this book. It is very character driven and I became attached to the townspeople in the little community of Union Grove. It is a world that has lost many things we take for granted (i.e. electricity, cars, machines, etc.). It is the story of this community that is struggling to sustain itself with no news of the rest of the world or means of importing or exporting any trade. There are good and bad elements resulting and while there are some disturbing events that occur, there is also hope and potential for a promise of a future. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
quackers avatar reviewed World Made by Hand on + 45 more book reviews
World Made by Hand paints a picture of a world where America has been thrown back centuries into the past. Electricity and gasoline engines are no longer available for the most part and Americans who were used to living in modern convenience now live as their ancestors did, struggling to keep healthy, fed and warm in a post-industrial, agrarian world where nothing is made by machine, everything is made by hand.

I feel like the book is quite realistic in its portrayal of what would happen in these circumstances. The story takes place many years after the critical events that changed society -- terrorism, war, loss of oil/trade with other countries, then widespread plague, famine and mass deaths. The result is that life returned to the way it was in the 1800s. If you can imagine what life was like for people then, it would probably bear a strong resemblance to the world in this book. Travel, news and communication from other places outside your community, food and goods shipped from other places--these are all things of the past for Robert, the main character. The pace of the book seemed slow, particularly for the first 1/3 of the book, mirroring the slow, tedious life described in the story.

This book made me think about how our lives are different from those of older generations and, after reading it, I actually appreciate more the modern conveniences of life today. That is not an easy thing for me-- I have fond memories of life in the 1960s and 70s before computers, cell phones, etc. I am even a little envious of the quiet, farm life my grandparents and great-grandparents had. In general, I usually wish for a return to simpler times rather than the other way around. Yet, life in this book seemed so depressing to me, I couldn't wait to go microwave a dinner, turn on the TV, and check my phone & email for messages.

Even though the world described in World Made by Hand is one that I personally have wished for at times, I didn't really care for this book. Why did the story seem so depressing to me? One reason is that Robert, the narrator, was constantly making comparisons between his past (our modern lifestyle) and life after the change. You read about isolation, loss of family and friends, and how difficult their lives are as they struggle to get by. These thoughts are contrasted by Robert's memories of the life he once had, when everyone worked specialized jobs (computer, sales, lawyer, etc) instead of daily manual labor, had access to food and goods from around the world, medicine and expert medical care, and so forth. There were a few points in the story where Robert's narrative touches on something positive--for instance, when he reflects on the beauty of a quiet day in the country--but these are rare breaks in the monotonous, depressing litany of his and everyone else's loss and want. The overall theme seems to be of inevitable decay.

As a person interested in homesteading and survival preparedness, this is far from the first time I have considered the difficulties of life without 24 hour grocery stores, cars, electricity, etc. It comes as no surprise that, without these things...yeah, life would be hard. And yet, maybe because of the realistic tone of the book, such a life has seldom seemed more dismal.

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