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Paradise: A History of the Idea That Rules the World    by Kevin Rushby order for
by Kevin Rushby
Order:  USA  Can
Carroll & Graf, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

So, think about it. What is your idea of paradise? Is it determined (constructed) by your religious beliefs (as is the case for so many in the western world because of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions)? Is it, on the other hand, a more down-to-earth (secular and hedonistic) notion that is based on consumerism and the pursuit of pleasures?

However you imagine (and enjoy) your paradise, for purposes of perspective and edification, you might want to give an evening or two to reading Kevin Rushby's intriguing new book, Paradise: A History of the Idea That Rules the World. Chronologically - for the most part - covering everything alphabetically from Adam and Eve to Zoroaster, Rushby stops along the way to chat about all sorts of subjects related to our cultural notions of paradise. Readers, once going beyond the Adam and Eve paradigm will explore such disparate ideas as Buddhism, the Crusades, department stores, the Enlightenment, Frankenstein, gardening, heaven, the Inquisition, Jerusalem, and Omar Khayyam; going further, readers can learn about the lure of luxury, millenarianism, the New World, the Ottomans, Puritans, the Qur'an, Revelation, sexual relationships (ah, now we have your attention!), the Taliban, utopian communities, Voltaire, witchcraft, Xenophon, and yogis. To say all of this in another way, there is something that is quite interesting and readily accessible for everyone in this compact treatment of a complex (philosophical?) subject. Read Paradise, and you may find that your perspective on your (immutable) version (and others' baffling versions) of paradise will be affected.

Kevin Rushby's brief catalogue of paradise is both anecdotal and interesting; however, it would be inaccurate to characterize the journalistic style of Paradise as the fully documented and indisputable work of rigorous scholarship. Still, by fusing bits-and-pieces of historical examples, Rushby has fashioned a highly readable and worthwhile survey of his topic. Readers, I am convinced, will find themselves tempted and curious to learn more about many of the tantalizing details that Rushby too quickly (and somewhat superficially) explores; in his defense, though, Rushby's approach to the subject is very much limited by the constraints of format and space. Nevertheless, Paradise ultimately becomes the tantalizing catalyst for more extensive and focused reading on a most fascinating subject. Read Rushby today. Tomorrow, move on to the original sources from which Rushby has taken his tidbits about paradise.

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