Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics

Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics


Rebecca Solnit has made a vocation of journeying into difficult territory and reporting back, as an environmentalist, antiglobalization activist, and public intellectual. Storming the Gates of Paradise, an anthology of her essential essays from the past ten years, takes the reader from the Pyrenees to the U.S.--Mexican border, from San Francisco to London, from open sky to the deepest mines, and from the antislavery struggles of two hundred years ago to today's street protests. The nearly forty essays collected here comprise a unique guidebook to the American landscape after the millennium--not just the deserts, skies, gardens, and wilderness areas that have long made up Solnit's subject matter, but the social landscape of democracy and repression, of borders, ruins, and protests. She ventures into territories as dark as prison and as sublime as a broad vista, revealing beauty in the harshest landscape and political struggle in the most apparently serene view. Her introduction sets the tone and the book's overarching themes as she describes Thoreau, leaving the jail cell where he had been confined for refusing to pay war taxes and proceeding directly to his favorite huckleberry patch. In this way she links pleasure to politics, brilliantly demonstrating that the path to paradise has often run through prison.

These startling insights on current affairs, politics, culture, and history, always expressed in Solnit's pellucid and graceful prose, constantly revise our views of the otherwise ordinary and familiar. Illustrated throughout, Storming the Gates of Paradise represents recent developments in Solnit's thinking and offers the reader a panoramic world view enriched by her characteristically provocative, inspiring, and hopeful observations.


It was a place that taught me to write. I had begun going to the huge antinuclear actions at the Nevada Test Site, sixty miles north of Las Vegas, in the late 1980s. The next few years of camping and committing civil disobedience by trespassing into this most bombed place on earth—the site of more than a thousand nuclear explosions that were only nominally tests—taught me other things as well.

Maybe the first was that the very term place is problematic, implying a discrete entity, something you could put a fence around. And they did: three strands of barbed wire surrounded this 1,375-square-mile high-security area—but it didn’t keep in the radiation or keep out the politics. What we mean by place is a crossroads, a particular point of intersection of forces coming from many directions and distances. At the test site, some of the more obvious convergences or collisions involved the history of civil disobedience since Thoreau and the history of physics since it became useful for atomic bombs, along with the Euro-American attitudes toward the desert that made it possible to devastate it so wantonly, and the counter-history of the indigenous people of the region. During the decades of detonations, the radioactive fallout reached New England and beyond; protestors came from Japan and from Kazakhstan, as well as from New York and rural Utah. So much for fences.

The challenge of describing the austere sensuality of living outdoors in a harsh . . .

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