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Live What You Preach Is Book Only Lowell Morgan Could Write



Part memoir, part philosophy, part prediction—E. Lowell Morgan’s collection of essays, Live What You Preach, is impossible to pigeon-hole, but ultimately, that unpredictability makes the book readable and surprising.

Divided into three parts, the 200+ page volume reads like three books at times, with each section focused on separate but interconnected themes of independence, self-reliance, and survival.

The first section, “The Early Years,” is a fun ride, rife with stories of Morgan’s growing-up years, teenage antics, mostly pleasant memories of being a young man in Cherokee, Alabama which is situated where that state and Mississippi come together, not far from the Volunteer State line, at the “base of Wildcat Mountain,” near the Tennessee River.

Morgan does an excellent job in this first group of essays capturing not only his life and the lives of the people he called friends, but recreating the region through a clear sense of place.

The readings here are enjoyable and recognizable to anyone reared in the South—particularly if you are male and likely share many of the same exploits, or something like them.

The middle offerings, and the longest section, focus on “Living Plain.”

In an earlier life, Morgan was an academic; he was research coordinator for the Animal Science Department at Auburn University. What he discovered there was upsetting and life-changing: the way we raise animals with extensive use of hormones to stimulate, for instance, milk production, was in Morgan’s estimation the root cause of any number of problems in humans, all tied to consumption.

The spark that eventually led him to leave all that behind and “live plain” was ignited there. And while it did take years—and the influence of his wife Rita—to make the shift from consumer to self-sufficient, his experience at Auburn was the first catalyst.

By living plain, Morgan compares his family’s lifestyle to that of the Amish, complete with herbs and hunting, canning and preserving, making your own clothing, saving seed, blacksmithing, horse shoeing—you can make your own list. But, readers will likely be surprised at just how many skills are necessary when you try to do it all yourself, and how important family is in making sure everything gets done.

The second section—after some commentary on law and wealth and the drawbacks of the modern world—reads much like the Foxfire books of the 70s, but with a main focus on the value and intrinsic rewards of making molasses, building rocking chairs, having a working team of mules, owning your own land, having a close-knit family, etc. The essays here are less “how to” and more “why you should.”

Even if Morgan takes on a didactic tone at times (and that should come as no surprise when you think about the book’s title), the second grouping of essays was by far my favorite because of their scope and, for lack of a better word, practicality. He almost makes you want to toss the trappings of contemporary life and find a simpler way.

One of the more recent essays in this section is titled “Seasons,” written in 2021, based on the reference to Hurricane Ida. This essay offers some of Morgan’s best prose—elegiac, detailed, and seemingly with one purpose in mind: to talk about the beauty of nature and how to best be part of it.

“The reds and orange and yellow leaves almost make the air golden in the early morning sunshine,” Morgan writes. “We have two porch swings on the east side of the house. There is no better place to have morning coffee than in a porch swing at sunrise in autumn in Tennessee.”

The third section is “Materials for the Seminars.” A self-described “prepper,” Morgan is convinced that civilization as we know it will eventually fail, and in this section offers his ideas and solutions for survival—suggestions he shares in seminars he has conducted across the U.S.

A casual reader might look at these final essays as apocalyptic, but I think that’s short-sighted. Morgan’s advice here on being self-reliant while still being valuable to community (in whatever form it takes) is worth noting and worth our attention.

If Morgan is right, and the world does make this cosmic shift, here’s his mantra in a nutshell: “This is what I’m talking about, making plans and having a place to go where you are a valuable asset and are a welcome part of a group.”

That’s solid guidance no matter the situation because it means you are productive, valuable, and proactive.

One last note: only someone who has experienced a life like Morgan’s could write this book. The voice is genuine, the ideas here are informed, and the writing is good.

Lowell will be giving a reading next Tuesday, September 12, 2023, at the Perry County Public Library in Linden, hosted by the library and Friends of the Library, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. You can purchase a copy there, and have it signed. Refreshments will be served.

Live What You Preach is also available wherever books are sold online, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and from the publisher, Dorrance. The hardbound is $31, and the ebook is $26.


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