Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition

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9780226317892: Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition
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Humans have long turned to gardens - both real and imaginary - for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them. With "Gardens", Robert Pogue Harrison graces readers with a thoughtful, wide-ranging examination of the many ways gardens evoke the human condition. Moving from the gardens of ancient philosophers to the gardens of homeless people in contemporary New York, he shows how, again and again, the garden has served as a check against the destruction and losses of history. Alive with the echoes and arguments of Western thought, "Gardens" is a fitting continuation of the intellectual journeys of Harrison's earlier classics, "Forests" and "The Dominion of the Dead". Voltaire famously urged us to cultivate our gardens; with this compelling volume, Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility - and its enduring importance to humanity.

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Review:

"The Year's Best Nonfiction"--Matthew Battles "Barnes and Noble Review "

"In this book's two great predecessors, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead, Robert Pogue Harrison took two preoccupying images of the human psyche and considered them with a depth and originality that revealed their unlimited and unbroken presence in every assumption and moment of our lives. Gardens he describes modestly as an essay, but it has, or at least suggests, the same kind of pervasive presence of an underlying human impulse in our relation to the world around us. He does it with eloquence, grace, and erudition rooted in the literatures of his four native languages (including Turkish) that informed his earlier books. The range of his perspective on the human myth suggests that he may be our Bachelard."--W. S. Merwin

"Harrison's engaging, verdant prose invites reads in, much like flowers and fountains encourage visitors to linger in resplendent gardens, and the extensive bibliography encourages reads to continue their education."--Choice

"I'm not sure that I'd sell my shirt for any living critic. But if there had to be one, it would unquestionably be Robert Pogue Harrison, whose study of Forests . . . has the true quality of literature, not criticism--it stays with you, like an amiable ghost, long after you have read it. Though more modest in scope, this new book [Gardens], is similarly destined to become a classic."--Jonathan Bate "Spectator "

"The year's most thought-provoking, original, and weighty garden book is Gardens. . . . Reading Harrison's book is like strolling down a path through a well-cultivated, richly sown, light-dappled woodland. . . . Just as in the making of a garden, there's no end to the wonder; the journey is everything."

--New York Times Book Review

"The rabbis of the Talmud counseled you that if you are planting a tree and someone tells you that the Messiah has come, you should finish planting your tree and then go out to investigate. Robert Pogue Harrison implies something similar in his rich and beguiling Gardens. Gardens, though they offer peace and repose, are islands of care, he writes, not a refuge from it. That is why they are important, since care is what makes us human. . . . In many ways Gardens is a personal essay as much as it is a work of scholarship. Mr. Harrison has planted his own garden of beautiful quotations and provocative speculation, and it is an absorbing and stimulating place to spend time."--Jonathan Rosen "Wall Street Journal "

"Gardening, to me, is foreign soil. . . . And yet I find myself completely besotted by a new book titlted Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition, by Robert Pogue Harrison. The author . . . is one of the very best cultural critics at work today. he is a man of deep learning, immense generosity of spirit, passionate curiosity and manifold rhetorical gifts. . . . As I read this exraordinary, luminous book, I found myself envying my green-thumbed buddies and their serenity-inducing, life-affirming ritual--earthworms and all."--Julia Keller "Chicago Tribune "

"Harrison is a cultural historian alive to the poetry of science as well as insights poetry offers to the natural history of humankind. In Gardens, he explores the meanings of gardening, from the lofty height of Homer and the Bible to the poignant plots tended by homeless people in New York. Our fascination with gardens endures, even as the gardens themselves come and go with the seasons. They're not meant to last, Harrison reminds us; it's their job to 'reenchant the present.'"--Matthew Battles "New Hampshire Public Radio "

Synopsis:

Humans have long turned to gardens - both real and imaginary - for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them. Those gardens may be as far away from everyday reality as Gilgamesh's garden of the gods or as near as our own backyard, but in their very conception and the marks they bear of human care and cultivation, gardens stand as restorative, nourishing, necessary havens.With "Gardens", Robert Pogue Harrison graces readers with a thoughtful, wide-ranging examination of the many ways gardens evoke the human condition. Moving from the gardens of ancient philosophers to the gardens of homeless people in contemporary New York, he shows how, again and again, the garden has served as a check against the destruction and losses of history. The ancients, explains Harrison, viewed gardens as both a model and a location for the laborious self-cultivation and self-improvement that are essential to serenity and enlightenment, an association that has continued throughout the ages.

The Bible and Qur'an; Plato's Academy and Epicurus' Garden School; Zen rock and Islamic carpet gardens; Boccaccio, Rihaku, Capek, Cao Xueqin, Italo Calvino, Ariosto, Michel Tournier, and Hannah Arendt - all come into play as this work explores the ways in which the concept and reality of the garden has informed human thinking about mortality, order, and power.Alive with the echoes and arguments of Western though, "Gardens" is a fitting continuation of the intellectual journeys of Harrison's earlier classics, "Forests" and "The Dominion of the Dead". Voltaire famously urged us to cultivate our gardens; with this compelling volume, Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility - and its enduring importance to humanity.

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