When Thomas Jefferson committed the new nation to the “pursuit of happiness” he set up the primary occupation of every American. Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers is about that pursuit, about Americans seeking their Eden, their Promised Land, their utopia.
Seekers are all around us. They are seeking God, seeking freedom, seeking peace. In Chasing Eden we meet:
A young man shepherding the Shakers through their twilight years. The end of all but one of the Shaker villages is not as usually portrayed—a dour shuffling to the end of their days. It was true to its beginnings, a devotion.
A group of adventuring nineteenth-century landscape painters looking for God and for signs of the future greatness of their new nation in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Tourists today rushing up the Mt. Washington auto road were set on their course by these pioneers of seeing.
A doctor who achieves the American Dream by changing the boundaries and ruling himself and his family in, crossing over and crossing back, rewriting the definition of race.
Forty thousand Africans newly freed from slavery taking possession of the forty acres and a mule that were granted by one Civil War general and one secretary of war—only to have their land taken from them within months by another general and a new president.
Veterans home from World War II, having grown up in the Great Depression, ready at last to start their lives where everything is new in the suburbs. The spindly trees grow up; the children grow up and turn against them. A collision between peace and war, the American Dream and protest, children and parents.
The Pilgrims and the Wampanoags sitting down to a harvest feast, which would be spun into the Thanksgiving story, a fable that blinds us to the ingratitude and wars lying behind our holiday and our country’s founding.
This is but a modest gathering of Americans, all on the road to find out, all united by their longing and devotion. “All history is the history of longing,” says historian Jackson Lears, and in each era this longing gives form and force to our lives.
Howard Mansfield sifts through the commonplace and the forgotten to discover stories that tell us about ourselves and our place in the world. He writes about history, architecture, and preservation. He is the author of a dozen books, including In the Memory House; The Bones of the Earth; The Same Ax, Twice; The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down; and Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter which The Boston Globe called “a wholly original meditation that’s part observation of the contemporary built environment, part cultural history, part philosophical account, and at times something like a Whitmanian poetic survey.”
“All of his books are emotionally and intellectually nourishing,” said the writer and critic Guy Davenport. “He is something like a cultural psychologist along with being a first-class cultural historian. He is humane, witty, bright-minded, and rigorously intelligent. His deep subject is Time: how we deal with it and how it deals with us.”
Praise for Chasing Eden:
In this remarkable book, Howard Mansfield re-mystifies the cold, hard land of the American northeast. He unearths parades of seekers—Shakers who love God and TV, divorced men who haunt the hiking huts of Mount Washington, Pocumtucks who paddle downstream to offer a mercy that will go unreturned. His prose is at turns arresting with its poignancy and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s good to go on this jaunt with him. He has a knack for spotting the wild characters that lead us into the electric realm between memory and hope.
—Lulu Miller, author of Why Fish Don’t Exist and co-host of Radiolab
Many of us are content to lead our lives unconcerned with the big questions our short time on this earth constantly pose. This book focuses on those who do search—relentlessly—for meaning.
—Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker
Howard Mansfield journeys into stories in the same way one sets out to climb a mountain: with care and preparation. He is the most insightful of historians and journalists, and there are stories here, and reflections, that will leave you gobsmacked as to how you could have gone this long without hearing them, and holding them dear. The Eden that Mansfield is chasing is less a place than a promise—but no matter, Chasing Eden is necessary reading for anyone with a mind, a heart, and a conscience.
—J.C. Hallman, author of In Utopia: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise
Praise for other Howard Mansfield titles:
Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter
I was only halfway through this book when I began to quote from it. It is strong stuff and goes deep. It should be on every thoughtful citizen’s ‘must read’ list.
—Karen Dahood, BookPleasures.com
Turn and Jump: How Time and Place Fell Apart
Like Thoreau, Mr. Mansfield is a keen observer and, in his neck of New Hampshire, a granitic critic of the rushed life.
—The Wall Street Journal.
The Same Ax, Twice: Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age
The Same Ax, Twice is filled with insight and eloquence… a memorable, readable, brilliant book on an important subject. It is a book filled with quotable wisdom.
—The New York Times Book Review
The Same Ax, Twice is one of those quiet books that foments revolution.
In the Memory House
A wise and beautiful book.
—The New York Times Book Review
Provocative and elegant.
—Boston Book Review