Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden

Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden

by Brook Wilensky-Lanford
     
 

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It seems that ever since mankind was kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, we’ve been trying to get back in. Or at least, we’ve been wondering where the Garden might have been. St. Augustine had a theory, and so did medieval monks, John Calvin, and Christopher Columbus. But when Darwin’s theory of evolution permanently

Overview

It seems that ever since mankind was kicked out of the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, we’ve been trying to get back in. Or at least, we’ve been wondering where the Garden might have been. St. Augustine had a theory, and so did medieval monks, John Calvin, and Christopher Columbus. But when Darwin’s theory of evolution permanently altered our understanding of human origins, shouldn’t the search for a literal Eden have faded away? Not so fast.

In Paradise Lust, Brook Wilensky-Lanford introduces readers to the enduring modern quest to locate the Garden of Eden on Earth. It is an obsession that has consumed Mesopotamian archaeologists, German Baptist ministers, British irrigation engineers, and the first president of Boston University, among many others. These quixotic Eden seekers all started with the same brief Bible verses, but each ended up at a different spot on the globe: Florida, the North Pole, Ohio, China, and, of course, Iraq. Evocative of Tony Horwitz and Sarah Vowell, Wilensky- Lanford writes of these unusual characters and their search with sympathy and wit. Charming, enlightening, and utterly unique, Paradise Lust is a century-spanning history that will take you to places you never imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wilensky-Lanford, whose essays have appeared in Salon, Killing the Buddha, and The Exquisite Corpse, has carved her literary niche as a "private investigator with an open mind," exploring myth and the human social psyche. In her first book, she confronts a foundational Western myth, the Garden of Eden, and humanity's constant search to return there. Part adventure story, part historical narrative, Wilensky-Lanford spins the history of explorers who searched for the Garden's precise earthly coordinates. With adept, well-researched prose, she traces how, from four verses in Genesis naming four rivers flowing from the Garden, scientists and pseudo-scientists, preachers and theologians, have claimed "scientific proof" of Paradise's location—in Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Florida, Ohio, the North Pole, and elsewhere. Though quick-witted and quirky, Wilensky-Lanford isn't satisfied with asking only "where," she also deftly explores "why?" After traveling the globe on her Paradise quest, she arrives at the stump of "Adam's Tree" in a contested zone near Basra, Iraq, meditating not so much on the Garden, but on humanity's first steps from it. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

Praise for Paradise Lust

"A pleasure. Wilensky-Lanford tackles her subject with an appealing mix of serious research and tongue-in-cheek humor. Neither too academic nor too whimsical, the storytelling in Paradise Lust is often irresistible." — The New York Times

"Dense, absorbing… [Wilensky-Lanford's] interest in her subject is deep, her narrative is expertly layered, and her interpretations of the seekers’ motives are more than convincing." — Wall Street Journal

"An entertaining history… a thoroughly researched and engaging examination of faith's role in our lives. This is Wilensky-Lanford's first book, and it bodes well for her of-this-world future." — Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Paradise Lust takes us on a fascinating journey - and one that sheds much light on the meaning of biblical literalism. I won't tell you whether or not she finds Eden, but she did find a great topic." — A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically

"A gloriously researched, pluckily written historical and anecdotal assay of humankind’s age-old quixotic quest for the exact location of the Biblical garden." — Elle

"Witty and exhaustively researched” — Associated Press

"Succeeds in doing what the best one-subject historical studies do, which is to reframe history, freshening up long-familiar events… a celebration of the surprisingly peaceful co-existence of… radically different theories." -San Francisco Chronicle

"Eden’s dream fades, theories are debunked, but new ones sprout as this most original of stories remains timeless." —The New York Journal of Books

"If you want dramatic pronouncements about the latitude and longitude of the Garden of Eden, you’ll have to look elsewhere… But if you’re looking for a sly and entertaining account of the ongoing search for paradise, Paradise Lust is it." — Bookpage.com

"[A] smart social history which covers theories both crackpot and credible.” — More Magazine

"Part adventure story, part historical narrative, Wilensky-Lanford spins the history of explorers who searched for the Garden’s precise earthly coordinates… Quick-witted and quirky… Wilensky-Lanford isn't satisfied with asking only "where," she also deftly explores "why?"… meditating not so much on the Garden, but on humanity's first steps from it.” — Publishers Weekly

"A spirited chase through history, geography and religion… Wilensky-Lanford has certainly done her homework… A lively journey." — Kirkus Reviews

"In the thought-provoking Paradise Lust, author Brook Wilensky-Lanford explores why this Biblical paradise still fascinates so many… A sly and entertaining account." — BookPage.com

"Scholarly and smart, yet accessible and fun with just the right amount of wit, Paradise Lust is original, impressively researched, and hard to put down."— David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity

"Humorous, meticulously researched and detailed. … an all-around good read." —RagMag

"This charming exploration of the enduring place in the Western imagination held by the story of our Edenic origins is all about the searchers, not the search."—Macleans

"One of the most enduring and mysterious places in the Bible, the Garden of Eden has fascinated people around the world since ancient times. Those who believe that it is a real place are … a diverse and prominent group of personalities that Brook Wilensky-Lanford describes in her lively new book. … The desire to put Eden on the map is a timeless quest to discover our origins, all told in charming detail." —The Daily Beast, a “Daily Beast Must Read”

“A charming, century-spanning journey about the search for the Garden of Eden… This is truly a fascinating read.”—Carol Ann Strahl, Buffalo Rising

Kirkus Reviews

A freelance journalist debuts with a spirited chase through history, geography and religion as she chronicles the myriad and sometimes mad attempts to locate the Garden of Eden.

Wilensky-Lanford has certainly done her homework for this summary and analysis of the search for the "actual" Eden. Her journey began with a family story about a great-uncle who had toyed with locating Eden. As she began reading about the subject, she discovered its vast dimensions. After sketching the many earlier searches, she focuses on those within the last century, beginning with Boston University president William Fairfield Warren, who, in the late 19th century, placed Eden at the North Pole. Next: Friedrich Delitzsch, a German professor of Assyriology, argued for present-day Iraq and suggested that two of the four rivers mentioned in Genesis were actually canals. In 1901, the Rev. Edmund Landon West was convinced Eden had once lain in the area of Ohio's Serpent Mound. A Chinese businessman proposed a China site in 1914; in 1919 William Willcocks saw the possibility oftwo Edens; and so on. Besides her chapters on the various theories of Eden's location, Wilensky-Lanford offers sections on the recent history of the debate between science and religion, the explorations of Thor Heyerdahl, Mormonism, the use of satellite imagery to help pinpoint locations and the enduring meaning of "Eden." She ends back in Iraq, in Qurna, site of the remains of the so-called "Tree of Knowledge." Although the author occasionally cracks wise—she jokes about a gopher and Noah's Ark—she generally treats the seekers with respect, sometimes more than they deserve.

A lively journey, though getting back to the Garden turns out to be even more complicated than Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" lyrics imagined.

Andrea Wulf
Paradise Lust is a pleasure. Wilensky-Lanford tackles her subject with an appealing mix of serious research and tongue-in-cheek humor. Neither too academic nor too whimsical, the storytelling in Paradise Lust is often irresistible.
—The New York Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802119803
Publisher:
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
08/02/2011
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.11(d)

Meet the Author

Brook Wilensky-Lanford grew up on Mount Desert Island, Maine, studied religion at Wesleyan University, and is a graduate of Columbia University’s M.F.A. program in nonfiction. She has written for Salon,Triple Canopy,Killing the Buddha, Lapham’s Quarterly,andThe Exquisite Corpse. She lives in the Garden State.

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