This is the Sunday Times Number One Bestseller. Some people's lives are entirely their own creations. James Rebanks' isn't. The first son of a shepherd, who was the first son of a shepherd himself, he and his family have lived and worked in and around the Lake District for generations. Their way of life is ordered by the seasons and the work they demand, and has been for hundreds of years. A Viking would understand the work they do: sending the sheep to the fells in the summer and making the hay; the autumn fairs where the flocks are replenished; the gruelling toil of winter when the sheep must be kept alive, and the light-headedness that comes with spring, as the lambs are born and the sheep get ready to return to the fells.
James Rebanks is a shepherd based in the Lake District. His first book, The Shepherd's Life, won The Lakeland Book of the Year 2015. He is also known as the Herdwick Shepherd, whose account of shepherding has a strong following on Twitter. His family have farmed in the same area for six hundred years.
"A very good book"
– Alan Bennett
"Affectionate, evocative, illuminating. A story of survival – of a flock, a landscape and a disappearing way of life. I love this book"
– Nigel Slater, author of Toast and The Kitchen Diaries
– Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk
A powerful – and quietly electrifying – meditation [...] Page by page, he builds what amounts to a 21st-century pastoral manifesto. The book is an unsentimental education, part history of farming in the Lake District, part personal memoir. And yet it still soars [...] Rebanks's prose is beautifully sure-footed"
– Helen Davies, Sunday Times
"A remarkable achievement [...] Utterly unsentimental, The Shepherd's Life is, nevertheless, profoundly moving [...] The human values that imbue The Shepherd's Life are, perhaps, ones that Britain, disillusioned and scandal weary, could do with being reminded of right now"
– Melissa Harrison, Financial Times
"Rebanks's enthusiasm and talent for poetic writing is infectious [...] [His] words create not only a gorgeous landscape painting of the Lake District and its inhabitants, human, animal, bird and fish, but also a useful social document [...] What is most striking about this book is its authenticity; this is the real thing"
– Carol Midgley, The Times
"A wonderfully detailed and candid account of a life that is both individual and typical of this role in rural society [...] told with perfect pitch, in prose that flows as easily as speech, cleaves hungrily to the particular, and shifts without strain between the workaday and the imaginative"
– David Craig, Guardian
"Absorbing, often funny, and beautifully written [...] a testament to the importance of maintaining a connection to the land"
"Captivating [...] A book about continuity and roots and a sense of belonging in an age that's increasingly about mobility and self-invention. Hugely compelling"
– Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Exceptional [...] Rebanks's way with words is akin to that of that of an expert shearer with the clippers – swift, deft, skilled – and the resulting prose is lean, vivid, tough and handsome. I loved his book. It is one to restore faith in writing and the business of publishing – a story not like any other, told from the inside by someone whose passion for his subject lights up almost every sentence"
– Tom Fort, Literary Review
"An unforgettable survivor's book that raises important questions, not least about education [...] one of the most truthful depictions of contemporary rural life that I have read"
– Richard Benson, Independent
"More than a tribute to a rare and doughty tribe. If hills could speak, this is surely a tale the fells would tell"
– Horatio Clare, Telegraph
"An enlightening, exquisitely written account [...] I was beguiled by this book, an eloquent love-letter to a cherished way of life"
– Brian Viner, Daily Mail
"May well do for sheep what Helen Macdonald did for hawks"
– Stephen Moss, Guardian
"Punchy, well-read and occasionally lyrical [...] a glorious book, alive with the author's voice, which is strong and individual, as befits a man who makes a living in this ancient but precarious way. Most striking is its honesty"
– Herald Scotland
"Rebanks offers a fascinating account of his life in farming that is in equal parts memoir, social commentary and procedural. Even for the most committed urbanite, it's a brilliant read"
– Alexander Larman, Observer
"James Rebanks's unsentimental, sharply detailed memoir about his life as a shepherd gripped me from the first page"
– Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal
"A timely and important book, with flashes of beauty in its spare and honest prose"
– Sadie Jones, author of The Outcast
"In James Rebanks we hear a new voice from the fells. The toil and the beauty in The Shepherd's Life are utterly compelling"
– Nicholas Crane, author of Coast
"A vivid, honest, unforgettably written account not just of one shepherd's year, but of an ancient way of life"
– Lucy Dillon, author of A Hundred Pieces of Me
"The Shepherd's Life is a reader's delight. No tourist wandering the iconic Lake District is Rebanks; coming from centuries of farmers he is as 'hefted' to the fells as the Herdwick sheep he keeps. He lives, breathes and works his landscape – which gives him an inside edge as sharp as shears over most of the flock of current countryside-writers. Rebanks has written a marvellous autobiography – of himself, his family, and the hills themselves. For they are indivisible"
– John Lewis-Stempel, author of Meadowland
"What came through was the stolid humility, gentle stubbornness and genuine care you need to live this life. Many books are written about a thing but this book is of a thing and is valuable for it"
– Cynan Jones, author of The Dig
"The Shepherd's Life is that rare thing, a well-written book about the life of the land by a man who gets his living from the land. It's a paean for a peopled landscape, and a powerful counterblast to the doleful environmentalism that would empty our land of its people"
– Philip Walling, author of Counting Sheep
– Alan Cumming, actor and author of Not My Father's Son
"Irreverent, honest, achingly beautiful and totally authentic. Rebanks challenges us to understand what would be lost if no one remembers the seasons of a shepherd's life or the culture of sheep farming. His joy is as contagious as his writing"
– Linda Lear, author of Beatrix Potter: The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Genius
"Truly extraordinary [...] written with a mastery of vivid, concrete detail that makes you gasp"
– WI Life
"A wonderful book which will surely become a Lake District classic. Powerfully written and unflinchingly honest, it provides a vivid insight into the realities of hill farming life"
– Angus J L Winchester, Professor of Local & Landscape History, Lancaster University
"A gorgeous book, unsentimental but exultant, vivid and profound, and a fierce defense of small-scale farming"
– Maryn McKenna, National Geographic
"A beautifully told tale suffused by a profound sense of belonging and a clear-eyed love of the land and its people."
– Sunday Morning Herald
"His prose is earthed and conversational; it feels as if you're leaning over a gate, listening to his ruminations. The book exudes tough passion, and a sense of belonging and love that holds you rapt to the very last line"
– Intelligent Life