February 6, 2012

Book Review: Paradise Lust by Brook Wilensky-Lanford

Paradise Lust cover via brookwilensky-lanford.com (source)
 In Paradise Lust Brook Wilensky-Lanford chronicles 16 searches for the Garden of Eden.  The quest for the Garden is international in scope from Venezuela to Syria and Zambia to the North Pole.  I wanted to read the book for two reasons.  First, the author is an alum of my alma mater and second, the book title and jacket cover illustrations are intriguing.  Furthermore, I borrowed the book from the library for leisure reading but so enjoyed the content and writing style that I wanted to share a review with our readers.

While reading the book I discovered that it is about trees!  The Tree of Knowledge is a central figure in the biblical tale of the Garden of Eden and is usually assumed to be an apple tree.  However, "apple" is an old word for fruit tree.  Wilensky-Lanford adds arboreal specificity to the tales of the Tree: a fig in Babylon, a sequoia relative in the North Pole, pitch pine in Peebles, Ohio, and a willow-currant hybrid in the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  While trees figure largely in the book, Wilensky-Lanford also focuses on river and marsh ecologies and the role these ecosystems played in claims about Eden.

Paradise Lust is more than a straightforward retelling of other people's stories.  The book contains an extensive annotated bibliography and the list of sources for the photographs and illustrations suggest much time perusing in domestic and international archives.  I find it useful to situate authors within a cohort based on writing style and Brook Wilensky-Lanford reminds me of Sarah Vowell (of The Wordy Shipmates, Unfamiliar Fishes, etc.).  I hope Wilensky-Lanford has a long career!

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