NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2023 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE NEW YORKER, NPR, TIME MAGAZINE & MORE
“Masterful . . . A book of inner journeys told through extraordinary exteriors . . . One of his very best.” —Washington Post
“Dazzling.” —Time Magazine, Best Books of 2023
From “one of the most soulful and perceptive writers of our time” (Brain Pickings): a journey through competing ideas of paradise to see how we can live more peacefully in an ever more divided and distracted world.
Paradise: that elusive place where the anxieties, struggles, and burdens of life fall away. Most of us dream of it, but each of us has very different ideas about where it is to be found. For some it can be enjoyed only after death; for others, it’s in our midst—or just across the ocean—if only we can find eyes to see it.
Traveling from Iran to North Korea, from the Dalai Lama’s Himalayas to the ghostly temples of Japan, Pico Iyer brings together a lifetime of explorations to upend our ideas of utopia and ask how we might find peace in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Does religion lead us back to Eden or only into constant contention? Why do so many seeming paradises turn into warzones? And does paradise exist only in the afterworld – or can it be found in the here and now?
For almost fifty years Iyer has been roaming the world, mixing a global soul’s delight in observing cultures with a pilgrim’s readiness to be transformed. In this culminating work, he brings together the outer world and the inner to offer us a surprising, original, often beautiful exploration of how we might come upon paradise in the midst of our very real lives.
Essayist Iyer (A Beginner's Guide to Japan) visits regions of religious import in this immersive and profound survey of earthly paradises. "I'd begun to wonder what kind of paradise can ever be found in a world of unceasing conflict—and whether the very search for it might not simply aggravate our differences," Iyer writes, detailing his travels to Ethiopia, India, Iran, and Sri Lanka and discussing how people there understand the concept of "paradise." He begins in Iran, the "world's largest theocracy," and visits the Imam Reza shrine, finding in the "competing visions of paradise" that play out there affirmation of Persian poet Rumi's exhortation to seek a personal heaven within oneself. In Sri Lanka, he visits Adam's Peak—which Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus claim holds special significance—but remarks that the political violence in the country undercuts its idyllic pretenses and the "idea of paradise seemed... to move people to be not kinder but more reckless." Meditating on his conversations with his friend the Dalai Lama, Iyer decides to "just let life come to me in all its happy confusion and find the holiness in that." Iyer remains a cultural critic par excellence, matching penetrating insights with some of the most transportive prose around. This further burnishes Iyer's reputation as one of the best travel writers out there.