Picks and Pans Review: The Shaker Holy Land
by Edward R. Horgan
Shakers, one of many cults that flourished in the 19th century, are remembered mostly for their beautiful, simple-lined furniture. Only two of their communities survive, one in Maine and one in New Hampshire. Other settlements have been restored as tourist attractions. The author is a high school librarian in Ashburnham, Mass. He stresses the Shakers' influential early communities in central Massachusetts, where Mother Ann, the founder, based her ministry after she arrived from England in 1774. The author claims the cult's insistence on celibacy didn't cause its decline. Mass production, he says, made the Shakers' handmade goods relatively expensive, and they lost their self-sufficiency. As the 19th century ended, the young headed West, communal living became less popular, and it became illegal in some places for religious societies to take in orphans and other unwanted children. One student of Shaker life is quoted: "To find a group of people who have been living righteousness for 200 years instead of just talking about it is a rare and beautiful experience." (Harvard Common Press, $15.95)
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