Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Paradise Lust

Searching for the Garden of Eden

by Brook Wilensky-Lanford

Paradise Lust is a pleasure. Wilensky-Lanford tackles her subject with an appealing mix of serious research and tongue-in-cheek humor. Neither too academic nor too whimsical, the storytelling in Paradise Lust is often irresistible.” —The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date August 07, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4584-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $15.00

About The Book

Where was the Garden of Eden? St. Augustine had a theory, and so did medieval monks, John Calvin, and Christopher Columbus. But when Darwin’s theory of evolution permanently altered our understanding of human origins, shouldn’t the search for a literal Eden have faded away? Not so fast.

In Paradise Lust, widely acclaimed on its initial hardcover publication, Brook Wilensky-Lanford introduces readers to the enduring modern quest to locate the Garden of Eden on Earth. It is an obsession that has consumed scientists and theologians alike, including the first president of Boston University and a knighted British engineer. Today the search has been taken up by amateurs. These quixotic seekers all started with the same simple-sounding Bible verses, but ended up at a different spot on the globe: Florida, the North Pole, Ohio, China, and, of course, Iraq.

Inspired by an Eden seeker in her own family, Wilensky-Lanford writes of these unusual men and women with sympathy and wit. Paradise Lust is a century-spanning history that provokes surprising insights into where we came from, what we did wrong, and where we go from here.


“The stories she has collected in Paradise Lust are certainly weird, and at times strangely wonderful. . . . Paradise Lust is a pleasure. Wilensky-Lanford tackles her subject with an appealing mix of serious research and tongue-in-cheek humor. Neither too academic nor too whimsical, the storytelling in Paradise Lust is often irresistible.” —Andrea Wulf, The New York Times Book Review

“A gloriously researched, pluckily written historical and anecdotal assay of humankind’s age-old quixotic quest for the exact location of the Biblical garden.” —Elle

“One of the most enduring and mysterious places in the Bible, the Garden of Eden has fascinated people around the world since ancient times. Those who believe that it is a real place are . . . a diverse and prominent group of personalities that Brook Wilensky-Lanford describes in her lively new book. . . . The desire to put Eden on the map is a timeless quest to discover our origins, all told in charming detail.” —The Daily Beast, a “Daily Beast Must Read”

“Witty and exhaustively researched.” —Carl Hartman, The Associated Press

“Absorbing . . . In writing Paradise Lust, Ms. Wilensky-Lanford faced the unenviable task of translating intellectual history into popular history, and her approach relies heavily on speed and whimsy. . . . But her interest in her subject is deep, her narrative is expertly layered, and her interpretations of the seekers’ motives are more than convincing.” —Jennie Erin Smith, The Wall Street Journal

“It’s impossible to say where the Garden of Eden lies, if it ever really existed, but the ‘where’ isn’t what Wilensky-Lanford is after. She leaves that question to a colorful cast of ‘Eden seekers’ that includes explorers, clergymen, scholars, engineers and educators, whom she profiles in an effort to better understand Christianity and the eccentric, amusing and inspiring people captivated by Eden. . . . There is such a rich amount of insight, drama and adventure to be found in the process of not finding the Garden of Eden that readers will not feel any such letdown. Wilensky-Lanford approaches her subjects with respect, enthusiasm and conscientious research, and succeeds in doing what the best one-subject historical studies do, which is to reframe history, freshening up long-familiar events.” —Liz Coville, San Francisco Chronicle

“Each sojourn Eden-ward is . . . a personal journey into the mirage where unattainable desires and reality meet.” —Caroline O’Donovan, The New Republic

Paradise Lust is an entertaining history of a story we all know, whether we believe it or not. It is also a thoroughly researched and engaging examination of faith’s role in our lives. This is Wilensky-Lanford’s first book, and it bodes well for her of-this-world future.” —Michael Kroner, Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Humorous, meticulously researched and detailed. . . . an all-around good read.” —RagMag

“A charming, century-spanning journey about the search for the Garden of Eden. . . . This is truly a fascinating read.” —Carol Ann Strahl, Buffalo Rising

Paradise Lust takes us on a fascinating journey—and one that sheds much light on the meaning of biblical literalism. I won’t tell you whether or not she finds Eden, but she did find a great topic.” —A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically

“A bright, bouncy, vastly entertaining account; the perfect guidebook to a fascinating land that may be anywhere or nowhere.” —Philip Zaleski, editor of The American Spiritual Writing series

“This charming exploration of the enduring place in the Western imagination held by the story of our Edenic origins is all about the searchers, not the search.” —Brian Bethune, Macleans

“In seeking out the seekers for the biblical Paradise, Brook Wilensky-Lanford has created a paradisiacal oasis of a book. Read for information, curiosity, or edification, and receive its pleasures in good faith. But beware: there are bitter roots in the milk and honey.” —Andrei Codrescu, author of The Poetry Lesson

“Spin a globe and jab your finger down at random. Chances are good that some wild-eyed theorist has, at some point in the past, placed the ‘historical’ Garden of Eden wherever your digit just landed. In this lively, charming survey of attempts to definitively locate a mythic nexus, Brook Wilensky-Lanford does not stint on madcap details. Eden in Ohio? Readers will be believers after imbibing this wealth of folly.” —Barnes & Noble Review

“A spirited chase through history, geography and religion . . . Wilensky-Lanford has certainly done her homework . . . A lively journey.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Part adventure story, part historical narrative, Wilensky-Lanford spins the history of explorers who searched for the Garden’s precise earthly coordinates. With adept, well-researched prose, she traces how, from four verses in Genesis . . . scientists and pseudo-scientists, preachers and theologians, have claimed ‘scientific proof’ of Paradise’s location—in Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, Florida, Ohio, the North Pole, and elsewhere. . . . Quick-witted and quirky . . . Wilensky-Lanford isn’t satisfied with asking only ‘where,’ she also deftly explores ‘why?’ . . . meditating not so much on the Garden, but on humanity’s first steps from it.” —Publishers Weekly

“Adam and Eve most definitely lived in Ohio. Or China. Or the North Pole, or Mesopotamia. Actually, the real location of the Garden of Eden (if indeed there was a Garden of Eden) is something of a mystery. In the thought-provoking Paradise Lust, author Brook Wilensky-Lanford explores why this Biblical paradise still fascinates so many. . . . A sly and entertaining account.” —Amy Scribner, BookPage

“[A] smart social history which covers theories both crackpot and credible.” —Lise Funderburg, More Magazine

“Where was the Garden of Eden? God only knows. But among us mortals, no one knows more than Brook Wilensky-Lanford about the adventurers, scholars, and wing nuts who have told us, verily, that it was in China, or at the North Pole, or—. This is their story, and it is as charming and sly as the serpent who instigated the original Trouble in Paradise.” —Patricia O’Toole, author of The Five of Hearts and When Trumpets Call

“Scholarly and smart, yet accessible and fun with just the right amount of wit, Paradise Lust is original, impressively researched, and hard to put down.” —David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity

“Wilensky-Lanford writes with charm and erudition about a pursuit we take either all too seriously or not seriously enough: that peculiar but utterly human longing for a lost Eden.” —Paul Collins, author of Banvard’s Folly

“There is great pleasure to be taken from Brook Wilensky-Lanford’s affectionate, witty, and carefully-researched survey of crackpot Biblical archaeology, past and present. But the real prize is in the wisdom: including the point that modern science, despite its fancy track suit and pneumatic shoes, chases just as desperately as did the naked and barefoot ancients after their always-elusive quarry, Truth.” —Les Standiford, author of Bringing Adam Home

“Be wary, reader, of this tempting fresh fig of a book. If you bite you shall perhaps acquire more knowledge than you counted on and experience an undue degree of bliss. . . . The search for a literal Eden is a more American story than you might think. Wilensky-Lanford delivers her comprehensive survey with a wit and levity that serves as perfect fulcrum to the doomed gravity of her subjects.” —J.C. Hallman, author of In Utopia and The Hospital for Bad Poets

“A fascinating book on a little-discussed topic: the centuries-old quest to locate the Garden of Eden.” —Ronald Numbers, author of The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design


In the beginning, I was just following a family rumor my father told me: my great uncle William, who died before I was born, had been looking for the Garden of Eden. William was a practicing scientist, an allergist at Columbia University’s medical center. If he thought he could find a Biblical place on the rational Earth, the news was surprising, to say the least.

Was it all a joke? Where was Eden supposed to be? Did he ever go? William’s daughter Phoebe confirmed that the rumors were true. Sometime in the 1950s, her father had planned to visit Eden by plane—she didn’t remember where. “Needless to say,” she wrote me, “nothing happened beyond cocktail chatter.”

I imagined William with a martini at the Union Club, mapping the Book of Genesis on a napkin. Perhaps an olive reminded him of the forbidden fruit. A stickler for accuracy, he noticed the Bible never says “apple,” just “fruit.” He gave serious consideration to what species of fruit it might have been.

Cocktail chatter or not, William believed that Eden was a real place.

There must be a rational explanation for this, I thought. It should be easy enough to figure out where he thought Eden was, and why. Little did I know.