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 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’s 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 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, Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility—and its enduring importance to humanity.
Sagacious and enjoyable essays on the effects of gardens on human culture. I particularly found interesting the idea, which the author makes us aware of, that gardening may have pre-dated farming and things learnt, from it, could have been needed in the neolithic farming revolution. I had understood gardening to be something that arose when civilisation allowed people more leisure time to pursue the aesthetic. However when you consider the need, people have always had, to beautify sacred spaces and that the decorative use of body sometimes pre-dates the practical one of clothes, the idea of gardening preceding farming is, at least, feasible. We cannot prove this, at present. Maybe we never will. The author only, as said, presents the point. In doing so he opens our minds up to a new way of looking at the issue.
The contents, of the other sections of the book, likewise stimulate thought. I have no complaints about that content, but, unfortunately, the pace of the narration was too fast for me, plus the pitch was too high and the tone too light. A calmer, deeper rendition that complimented the thought provoking content would have been preferable. Being rushed was annoying.
Anyway that is my own assessment. I am still giving it five stars as the content deserves no less.
Maybe separate ratings for content and narration would be an idea, so one doesn't bring down the other.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Harrison's vision is always to connect how we live with insights from civilization's literary heritage. And he does a breathtaking job. His language is erudite but accessible and often poetic. The only nit I have with this audio book is the reader sounds a bit too much like a Top-40 radio announcer, and while his voice is good it's not well matched to the material.