Wild: An Elemental Journey

Overview

In Wild, Jay Griffiths describes an extraordinary odyssey through wildernesses of earth, ice, water, and fire. A poetic consideration of the tender connection between human society and the wild, the book is by turns passionate, political, funny, and harrowing. It is also a journey into that greatest of uncharted lands-the wilderness of the mind-and Griffiths beautifully explores the language and symbolism that shape our experience of our own wildness.

Part travelogue, part ...

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Overview

In Wild, Jay Griffiths describes an extraordinary odyssey through wildernesses of earth, ice, water, and fire. A poetic consideration of the tender connection between human society and the wild, the book is by turns passionate, political, funny, and harrowing. It is also a journey into that greatest of uncharted lands-the wilderness of the mind-and Griffiths beautifully explores the language and symbolism that shape our experience of our own wildness.

Part travelogue, part manifesto for wildness as an essential character of life, Wild is a one-of-a-kind book from a one-of-a-kind author.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Royte
The lesson of Wild is simple: Our bland consumer culture is not only killing any wildness within us, but also turning wilderness into suburbia. Millions of indigenous people are “in limbo,” caught between nature and the city as corporations pursue their land, minerals and plants. Having lost knowledge of their land, adults become alcoholics, and 13-year-olds “careless with their one-dollar lives” sniff gas.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In her second book (after A Sideways Look at Time) Griffiths narrates her seven-year exploration of the wildest places left on the globe-the Amazon rain forest, the Arctic and New Guinea, among others. The book is divided into five sections representing the "elements": earth, ice, water, fire and air. Her search for what remains wild is as much a linguistic and spiritual journey as it is a physical one, although she does take real risks, like drinking psychedelic ayahuasca infusions with shamans deep in the jungle. Griffiths's central thesis-that by developing and destroying our last wildernesses we are impoverishing our lives-is not an original one, but she brings fierce conviction and impressive scholarship to her work. Although Griffiths has great erudition and a real sensitivity to language, her ultraromantic perspective, in which civilization is always bad and nature always idyllic, lacks nuance. For someone so inspired by nature, Griffiths doesn't allow her observations to speak for themselves; instead, every event becomes another opportunity to condemn modern man. The lack of a narrative arc makes the book a collection of variations on a theme, and although Griffiths is a gifted writer, after 60 such essays, the mind starts to wander. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Griffiths (A Sideways Look at Time), a freelance writer whose work has been seen in the London Review of Books, the Guardian, and the Ecologist (among other publications), has written an exhaustive and at times exhausting book on all things wild. She divides the text into six categories: "Earth" (jungle), "Ice" (polar regions), "Water" (sea), "Fire" (desert), "Air" (mountains), and "Mind" (internal). While her text is filled with some accounts of her worldly adventures in such regions as Amazonia, Nunavut, Indonesia, Australia, West Papua, and Mongolia, it is mostly a treatise on wilderness in general, with her take on its role in history, sociology, religion, and, yes, our human character. Although there are interesting facts-and more than a little etymology of words relating to forms of wildness-the text is also preachy, and Griffiths often comes off as pompous, self-absorbed, and pretentious. Furthermore, the book is laced with gratuitous vulgarity, which is a shame. An optional purchase.-Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exuberant and erudite exploration of the meaning of wilderness and its place in our lives. Griffiths (A Sideways Look at Time, not reviewed) traveled over seven years to some of the world's wildest and most remote places seeking to understand how wildness expresses itself. She has categorized her journeys by the four elements-earth, water, fire and air-adding a fifth, ice, and concluding with a trip into the recesses of the human mind. The first chapter, "Wild Earth," is an expedition into the Amazon basin, where she becomes immersed not just in the physical wildness of nature but in the culture of the indigenous people. When shamans introduce her to the hallucinogenic drink ayahuasca, she feels herself being transformed into a jaguar, an experience she describes vividly. The next, "Wild Ice," takes her to Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, where she lives among the Inuit and bears witness to the beauty of the land and the destruction by white newcomers of the native culture. In "Wild Water," she learns about the wildness of the ocean and the creatures in it from the Bajo people of Indonesia, sea gypsies who live on a small island off Sulawesi. The hot, dry Australian outback is the setting for "Wild Fire." There she lives among the Aboriginal people, comparing their spiritual understanding of the desert with the less felicitous attitudes of the white settlers. The highlands of West Papua are the setting for "Wild Air," and there she is again traveling with native guides through exceedingly rough country and climbing high mountains. In Griffiths's eyes, indigenous people are blessed with a wisdom and spirituality that the rest of us, herself excluded, just don't get; a persistenttheme is the harm done to the native people and their environment by intruding whites, especially Christian missionaries. Griffith's love for words and her skill in using them, her easy familiarity with a host of poets, novelists, naturalists and anthropologists, her openness to new experiences and her willingness to reveal so much of herself, make this a fascinating journey.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585424030
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/28/2006
  • Series: Wild Series
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

Jay Griffiths

Jay Griffiths is the author of A Sideways Look at Time, winner of the 2003 Barnes & Noble Discover Award for nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in Utne, the London Review of Books, The Guardian, The Observer, The Ecologist, and Wild Earth.

Good To Know

"My first published work was a series of features on the anti-road building protests in Britain," Griffiths recalled to us in our interview. "Environmentalists began taking direct action, building whole villages of treehouses in the woods which were threatened by road-building. They tunnelled under the route of the proposed road and protested with style, wit and raw courage."
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    1. Hometown:
      Powys, Mid-Wales, U.K.
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English Literature and Language, Oxford University

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