Durable Trades, Durable Families

Durable Trades: Family-Centered Economies That Have Stood the Test of TimeRory GrovesFront Porch Republic Books, 2020; 293 pages, $19.88 The 1920 Nobel Prize for Literature went to Norwegian author Knut Hamsun for his novel Growth of the Soil. It is the story of Isak, who builds a farm and a life for himself out of a tract of wilderness and little else. Isak is one durable tradesman. He makes his beginning as a SHEPHERD and then spends a few pages meandering through FARMING, GARDENING, WOODWORKING, and CARPENTRY to find himself in need of a MIDWIFE. He and Inger, the woman who arrives to provide the various forms of help he needs, finish their first chapter as approved workmen: “They had done well, these builders in the waste: ay, ‘twas a wonder and a marvel to themselves.” A marvel to us as well. We who have built our lives out of . . . what? Structures we accepted as part of the landscape, forces that blew us through school after school, expectations that didn’t seem to have much wrong with them beyond not having any other ideas. We look at Isak and Inger and wonder how they did it, and why, if they did, we can’t. Rory Groves wonders harder. How does one leave the herd? What are the mechanisms by which one could exit a machine owned and operated by someone else? What are the Durable Trades, and how does one sign up for them? The durable trades, Groves says, are “types of businesses [that] have been least affected by external factors throughout history, place, gov­ernments, economic cycles, invention, and social upheaval.” They have “endured for centuries and still exist today,” are “family-centric,” and “still provide a living.” Groves proposes five criteria for identifying a durable trade: historical stability, resiliency, family-centeredness, income, ease of entry. He then uses these criteria to rank trades that have thrived on both sides of the Industrial Revolution. Finally, he studies the contemporary manifestation of each
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