THE ECOLOGY OF EDEN by Evan Eisenberg


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An unsuccessful synthesis of the natural history of mankind, and of the history of mankind in nature, —real and imagined.— Eisenberg examines scientific, historical, anthropological, and theological ideas of the ways in which humans fit in to the natural world, from the ancient myth of the Garden of Eden to the medieval great chain of being and modern notions of deep ecology and bioregionalism. He does so with labored asides and tangential arguments that are sure to impress the reader with the author’s breadth—but not his depth. It’s not enough for Eisenberg to discuss the idea that humankind first compromised itself in nature with the introduction of agriculture, our first attempt to manage the world; he must also tell us everything that he has discovered about the way wheat grows, the way rain falls, and the way a plow works, all in the style of an encyclopedia article. Eisenberg’s resulting rambling stroll through all of human knowledge reads like a thick stack of unassimilated notecards, the winnowing of which can yield powerful big-picture volumes like Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory, with which this shares only a sprawling style of inquiry. (Eisenberg’s end-of-book narrative notes, maddeningly enough, are often more interesting than the main text, especially when he takes detours into meaty matters such as anti-Semitism in contemporary environmentalism.) Eisenberg hits on many points of interest and delivers nicely ex cathedra condemnations, in the manner of, say, Charles Reich, of what is wrong with the world (—We and our allies have already junked so much of nature that the machinery is starting to sputter—). But he fails, in the end, to pull all his observations together to deliver what he promises in his introduction: a book that tells us how and why we came to be exiled from Eden. Huge, unformed, half-baked, and often interesting, this is the basis for a fine book—but not that book itself.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-394-57750-7
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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