Rumspringa: to be or not to be Amish


I confess that I first heard the word “rumpspringa” a few years back on an episode of the television series ER. A couple of teenagers show up at the iconic Chicago hospital with some serious and previously undiscovered illness and it developed the kids were Amish, on their rumspringa taking a taste of the world outisde the closed society in which they had been raised beforing making a decision to join the Amish church and committ themselves freely to living with the many strictures and demands of that sect.


It was one of the better dramatic moments in that series that devolved to huge budget special effects in lieu of compelling characters and good writing and has since fallen off my personal radar screen. And I thought, “how interesting” and then promptly forgot all about the Amish and rumspringa until I recently scanned this book with the very striking cover photograph of the young Amish woman in traditional plain dress and white bonnet seated in the back seat of a car lighting a cigarette. I knew I would have to read this one and I was not in the least disappointed.

Tom Shactman, an award winning documentarian and author of many books has penned an in depth and very readable examination of the Amish and their tradition of rumspringa that focuses on in depth interviews with a large cohort of Amish youth and parents in various Amish communities in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Along the way we learn a great deal about this remarkable sect which quite intentionally isolates themselves from mainstream society the better to pursue their religious traditions. Shactman writes frankly and with great sensitivity about the subjects of his reporting and does not shy away from in depth and balanced examinations about various controversies which ahve arisen with respect to the Amish.

I was, frankly, fascinated to learn so much about this very unique subculture and in doing so come to understand a great deal about my own cultural origins and life choices. Shactman’s concise and easy to understand explanation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the second to last chapter is alone, worth the price of of the book. This one is Highy recommended to anyone who is curious about the Amish or wants to better understand their own culture and life choices.

Rumspringa: to be or not to be amish by Tom Shactman

A PS to Tiffany— Books issued by major publishers generally have classification information– a Dewey Decimal Number and Library of Congress number printed on the book’s copyright page. In the case of the volume reviewed above the publisher provided Dewey Decimal Number is 305.235 and that is the number that ther collection services department assigned to the work when it was acquired by the library system I work for. I assume, but do not know, that the publishers either employ librarians to make the classifications or engage the service of librarians through independent firms to provide this data prior to publication. Occasionally, acquiring libraries may disagree with the publisher’s suggested classification and very rarely such decisions can become controversial, though both are much more likely with independenty and privately published materials where there is no publisher provided classification and good librarians may disagree profoundly about what a particuar work is and how it should be classified.

Also, please remember I am a junior clerk and my explanations and understandings are those of an informed reader and not those of a library or publishing professional.