Select one of the keywords
What Are We Doing Here?: Essays    by Marilynn Robinson order for
What Are We Doing Here?
by Marilynn Robinson
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2019 (2018)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

In the preface to What Are We Doing Here?: Essays, Marilynne Robinson tells us that it is a 'collection mostly of lectures given in churches, seminaries, and universities over the last few years', that deal with her worries about the present supposed polarization of America. She believes that the way the country came into being was much more complex than being inherently founded as a capitalist country established under British law. We learn about historical events and times that she believes are being misrepresented, and her strongest criticism becomes the lack of looking at history or writers in the past outside of the other events that influenced them.

Robinson spends a lot of time going over that history, particularly of the maligned Puritans in New England. They were far from being the black-cloaked, humorless witch burners that some see them as today. For one thing, there was not such a thing as a Puritan religion, since European heretics from many religions fled to escape persecution at home to a place where they attempted to set up a kinder, more open society in which women had more power and few crimes resulted in capital punishment. Much of the freedom that these immigrants enjoyed were caused by the civil wars in England when the mother country was too immersed in its own troubles to pay much attention to what was going on in the colonies.

The American South was another matter. The Carolina colony established by Charles I was punitive, with the same sort of class divisions that existed in England, including a death sentence for heresy. Poor people had few rights and many potential punishments, and capitalism flourished. When present day people assume that our legal system was founded on that of England, they forget the many democratic principles that came from the Puritans of New England, and the way that the South was influenced by ideas of northern colonial writers and leaders, that softened the English laws and led to the Revolutionary War.

Now, Robinson believes, we have become so intent on the US being a capitalist country, guided far more by self-interest than regard for community, that it accounts for much of our divisions and polarization. One of the essays, 'Our Public Conversation: How America Talks About Itself,' goes into wonderful detail about these concerns. All the essays are interesting, as Robinson talks about religion, art, history, science, education, and philosophy and how we as people and Americans changed and evolved into our present troubles. It is a thought-provoking book that should be read slowly, allowing time between essays to ponder what she says.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews