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The Ecology of Eden Hardcover – June 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0394577500 ISBN-10: 0394577507 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 612 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394577507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394577500
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,143,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

In an encyclopedic effort encompassing fields as diverse as environmental studies, religion, urban studies, history and literature, among many others, Eisenberg (The Recording Angel: Music in Our Time) labors to determine "humankind's place in nature, real and imagined." In an extended and somewhat strained metaphor, he contrasts two extremes: that of the mountain and that of the tower, or respect for wilderness and control of nature, respectively. The first and last sections of this four-part work are the strongest. There, Eisenberg summarizes the ways humans have, over evolutionary time, dramatically altered the natural world, and he discusses possibilities for our living more in harmony with nature. The two middle parts?examining Edenic myths from various cultures throughout human history and looking at the ways those myths have influenced various aspects of Western civilization?are less focused and therefore less successful. Eisenberg's message, that a balance between "planet fetishers" and "managers" is both possible and desirable, is obscured by another extended metaphor, that of "Earth Jazz." Environmental harmony is possible, he contends, if we interact with the earth, responding to each other's nuances, in the same fashion that members of a jazz group play off of one another. Perhaps; but while Eisenberg himself plays many fascinating and surprising riffs here, his composition as a whole seems stretched, not quite balanced.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pipistrel on March 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read with disbelief some of the reviews, because I thought this book a work of genius - one of the very few that bridge the gulf between a scientifc and an arts view of history. My impression is that one reviewer is a fundamentalist Christian and that the others are mostly narrow scientists unfamiliar with ideas about myth and metaphor. Each seems to slate the book because it is not written from the standpoint of the reviewer's specialist interest. My own problem with the book was the many Americanisms and analogies from baseball and other sports about which I am too narrow to be informed, but I am not willing to knock off even half a star for that. I have made it my top recommendation for students of human ecology.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A stunningly erudite, beautifully written "ecohistory"; an account of Western man's relationship, aesthetic as well as practical, with nature. In the course of developing a persuasive argument for an original theory of living with the rest of the world, Eisenberg covers a lot of ground - Persian gardens, courtly love, Biblical history, the discovery of the New World - and clearly has read just about everything on his subject (and many others). Chances are, you will emerge with some provocative ideas and information you could not have easily obtained elsewhere. Although it seems dauntingly long at first, the persevering reader will find that the Ecology of Eden doesn't feellong in the reading;Eisenberg's prose is a pleasure and his careful structuring ensures that the argument is clear. If you have time to read only one book on the environment this year or next, make it The Ecology of Eden.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Though this book is packed with information it is not only interesting but fun to read. Taking us from the earth's beginnings to now, it teaches us to understand that nature is always changing and that we are only a part of that change. The insights are brilliant, the breadth of information amazing, and the writing extraordinary.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is the essential book for understanding the next wave of environmental consciousness. Eisenberg is a gifted writer and an engaging guide on a journey that takes us from paradises lost to the ecology of bioengineering. This is THE book you need to read to comprehend where we are, have been, and need to go in our relationship with this planet.
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By A. Foljambe on February 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
First of all, I'm not somebody who hands out five stars like Halloween candy, and I'm constantly amazed at the mediocre books on Amazon with reams of five star reviews. It's embarrassing. I say that so that perhaps you'll take my five star review of this book seriously.

If you're looking for a distraction, or a way to pass the time, avoid this book. It's challenging, and it takes a long time to get through it. It's time well spent. Eisenberg's erudition shows up on every page, and unlike so many writers of environmentally themed books, he has the breadth of knowledge to place his subject into a larger context. The theme of humanity's impossible search for a balance between nature and culture introduces the reader to the idea of Arcadia, an important cultural theme that has been neglected by the mainstream for many years (it was much more widely known and discussed in the nineteenth century). Eisenberg also presents this idea as an ongoing interaction between the Mountain and the Tower, representing wilderness and culture.

The book includes a very useful bibliography for researchers and people who want to learn more about particular subjects.

Any book that can range from the epic of Gilgamesh to the music of Duke Ellington is worth a read, in my opinion.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This author has a rare ability of turning prose into poetry. Much of what I could write about his work I could borrow from descriptions of other science/philosophy/biology writers such as Carl Sagan, Stephen Pinkard or Daniel Dennett (but with a poetic touch). He's THAT good. Maybe I'll add more to this review later but for now I can say it's BRILLIANT AND ENGROSSING. Super fine book.
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By T. Dodge on November 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
There is a wealth of insights regarding Man and his dependencies on the immense cast of largely unseen earthly agents. Eisenberg employs pre-Bible myths and ancient legends and more recent concepts to entice moderns to manage our resources. This was not an easy read for me, sometimes I was lost his erudite descriptions and discussions and sometimes the message failed to connect with me. But on the whole this was a most worthwhile volume.
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