"Dazzling . . . a prose epic." --The Washington Post
A mountain peak, a rolling pasture, a boulevard alive with sound and light--each of us carries, deep inside, a dream of paradise. In this magisterial contribution to the literature of ecology and the environment, our nostalgia for the myth of paradise--the primeval, self-sufficient, nurturing garden where mankind was born--is the starting point of a brilliant inquiry into what our place in Nature has been and ought to be.
Writing in lively, imaginative prose and drawing deftly upon disciplines as varied as biology, geology, anthropology, history, physics, and music, Evan Eisenberg examines the ways in which people have envisioned and tried to re-create the earthly paradise even as they have dealt with the often disastrous effects of their increasing manipulation of the environment. An encyclopedic survey of efforts to heal the dangerous rift between culture and nature, The Ecology of Eden is a landmark work that is enormously suggestive, informative, and a joy to read.
"It's a question many writers have tackled, from Paul Ehrlich to E. O. Wilson: How can we survive while population grows, resources dwindle . . . and the threat of global climate change looms ominously? Few have explored it with more originality or historic sweep. . . . A rich harvest, filled with many kernels of wisdom about the future of our elusive Eden."
--San Francisco Chronicle
"An ambitious, thickly braided narrative that makes the clearest bid to nudge the dialectic along. . . . Eisenberg traces the story engagingly, energetically, with a remarkable breadth of learning and a metaphor-maker's eye. . . . A vision of substance and genuine insight." -Los Angeles Times Book Review
Many nature writers choose humanity's relationship to wildness as their topic. Evan Eisenberg examines the question with an eye toward Eden, "the wild place at the center of the world from which all blessings flow."
Humans left Eden; indeed, having left Eden is a defining human characteristic in almost all cultures. Eisenberg identifies three basic before-the-fall dreams: Eden, a paradise in space and time; Arcadia, the perfect pastoral blend of city conveniences and wilderness beauty; and the Golden Age, a time when things were really good. Humans almost universally think that sometime "before" or in some "other place," we (and all other species) lived in harmony and balance. Through examples ranging from cyanobacteria poisoning the early atmosphere with oxygen to ants raising aphids like cattle, Eisenberg reveals the fallacy of this notion. What humans have done that's different from previous world changers is allied ourselves with the annual grasses--quickly using up half a billion years of soil formation. With our crops, pets, and viruses, we've nullified continental ecological boundaries. The globe has been remade before, but not this fast or this far. We'll probably have to scale back our influence--the question is how and how much. This is where humanity's environmental battles will be fought in the future. Eisenberg trips up a bit in lumping environmentalists into two camps: planet managers (conservationists) and planet fetishers (preservationists), but he definitely seems to see the ecological pivot points on which our civilization rests.
This is a witty, charming, and well-referenced book, full of scary environmental facts and comforting ecological truths. His conclusions are not new--that humans need thriving cities, not sprawling suburbs, to avoid overwhelming the wilderness that's left. But Eisenberg's insight into how we can be at peace with our world is valuable advice, if we can stop dreaming and heed it. --Therese Littleton