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.