Reinventing Eden traces the Garden of Eden myth from the Mesopotamian regions where agriculture - and the creation myth - first began, through the Greek and Roman empires, the Enlightenment, and the modern capitalist world. With eloquence and insight, Merchant shows how the drive to conquer nature, and to explore and settle the globe, springs from this utopian pastoral impulse. Time and again, human manipulation of the environment is our downfall: Eden is achieved by fencing off pristine beauty in national parks and wildlife preserves, while leaving the majority of the Earth in ruins.
In her challenging book, environmental historian Merchant (The Death of Nature) attempts to put the current ecological crisis into perspective by examining historical thoughts regarding the loss of Eden and attempts to recover it. One idea is rooted in the scientific revolution of the 17th century: this optimistic scenario asserts that Eden can be regained by re-creating the garden through suburbs, malls and bioengineered food. A more recent idea, embraced by environmentalists, simply states that the earth is in a long decline from Eden in its pristine state. Some colonists thought the New World was already an Eden. Others saw it as a land that needed to be converted into an Eden so its natural resources could be harvested as profitable commodities. In the latter scenario, the fallen Adam redeems himself by becoming the heroic American Adam who transforms nature a female object, or Eve into a fruitful garden. Merchant points out the flaws in many of these Garden of Eden narratives: the first scenario, for example, leads to a totally artificial world and ignores the fact that we can't dominate nature because it is chaotic, complex and unpredictable. Merchant proposes a new narrative in which men, women and the earth work together, giving the needs of nature equal weight with the needs of humans. Unfortunately, her proposals for cooperation between corporations, communities, government agencies and environmental groups are not original. Coming after her penetrating treatment of the historical narratives, this part of the book is disappointing. Yet she covers a wealth of information and sheds light on the thinking of generations of scientists, philosophers and environmentalists. Illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.