Cover Image

Larger ImageView Larger


Storming the Gates of Paradise

Landscapes for Politics

Rebecca Solnit (Author)


Other Formats Available:
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.
List of Photographs
Introduction: Prisons and Paradises

1. Uneven Terrain: The West
The Red Lands
The Postmodern Old West, or the Precession of Cowboys and Indians
The Struggle of Dawning Intelligence: Creating, Revising, and Recognizing Native American Monuments
The Garden of Merging Paths

2. Borders and Crossers
A Route in the Shape of a Question
Thirty-Nine Steps Across the Border and Back
Nonconforming Uses: Teddy Cruz on Both Sides of the Border

3. Trouble Below: Mining, Water, and Nuclear Waste
The Price of Gold, the Value of Water
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
Poison Pictures

4. Reaching for the Sky
Excavating the Sky
Drawing the Constellations
Hugging the Shadows
Justice by Moonlight

5. Landscapes of Resistance and Repression
Fragments of the Future: The FTAA in Miami
Jailbirds I Have Loves
Making It Home: Travels outside the Fear Economy
Mirror in the Street
Liberation Conspiracies
Sontag and Tsunami

6. Gardens and Wildernesses
Every Corner Is Alive: Eliot Porter as an Environmentalist and an Artist
The Botanical Circus, or Adventures in American Gardening
A Murder of Ravens: On Globalized Species

7. Women’s Place
Tangled Banks and Clear-Cut Examples
Seven Stepping Stones down the Primrose Path: A Talk at a Conference on Landscape and Gender
Other Daughters, Other American Revolutions

8. Infernal Museums
California Comedy, or Surfing with Dante
The Wal-Mart Biennale
The Silence of the Lambswool Cardigans
Locked Horns

9. City at the End of the World
The Orbits of Earthly Bodies
San Francisco: The Metamorphosis
The Heart of the City
The Ruins of Memory
Gaping Questions

Coda: The Pacific
Seashell to Ear

Rebecca Solnit is the best-selling author of ten books – among them Wanderlust, Savage Dreams, and Hollow City – and countless articles, for which she has received numerous awards and accolades. In 2003 she won the prestigious Lannan Literary Award. Also in 2003 she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for River of Shadows.
“A superb collection of literary essays that touch on everything from the lasting toxic imprint of Nevada’s nuclear bombing test sites to the continuing relevance of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. . . . In this age of blogs and insta-commentary, it’s good to know that the incisive literary essay is still very much alive and kicking, especially in the hands of a master like Solnit.”—Audubon Magazine
“Solnit is a master of unexpected, revelatory associations between history, science, politics, art, and nature.”—Liz Brown Bookforum
“Scattered with stunning black-and-white photographs, this collection challenges us to take in the natural and material landscapes that inform our cultural identities and interpret them in a language both political and artistic. In these eloquent prose portraits, local landscapes and national narratives intersect in ways that are at once beautiful and destructive.”—Erica Zoar Wrightson LA Weekly / WLS
“A sterling collection.”—Bill McKibben Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Collected here are numerous gems from Solnit’s jewelry box, showing off her extreme and uncanny ability to draw connections gracefully, and to remind us of what matters and why.”—Orion
“Always insightful, these essays offer many shrewd observations about the social, political and cultural landscape of contemporary America.”—Publishers Weekly
“Lyrical, impassioned essays.”—Lisa Montanarelli San Francisco Chronicle
“A vibrant new book . . . Written over the past decade, the essays serve as a retrospective of Solnit’s career, a display case of essential writings and opuscula in which seemingly disparate subjects are ‘hitched’ together until all categories and divisions dissolve. What is left is the quintessential Solnit essay: a delightfully borderless, peripatetic piece of writing—equal parts memoir, reportage, political commentary, historical investigation, and art and literary criticism.”—Sarah Fay The American Scholar
“Rebecca Solnit’s 36 essays in Storming the Gates of Paradise, though dire in topic, are compelling examinations of political and environmental woes. . . . Solnit smoothes over this rough territory with melodious prose, offering readers a path through the storm.”—Kristen Mueller Utne
"Amongst the best American writers, Rebecca Solnit leads the 'don't mourn, organize' school. In the toxic deserts and suburban badlands of the West, she still finds seeds of paradise and futures redeemable by struggle. Neither lovesongs nor dirges, these remarkable essays are a genre of their own: imagine the intellectual acuity of Susan Sontag alloyed with the holy roar of Walt Whitman."—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

"Solnit's is an indispensable voice, and Storming the Gates of Paradise is the perfect introduction to her work."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

"Rebecca Solnit, like some of the places she writes about here, is a national treasure. At a time of reckless arrogance in high places, hers is a voice of moral clarity, wisdom about our country and planet, and impressive erudition that is lightly worn. This book is a tasting menu for the work of a mind and pen we are lucky to have."—Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves

"Solnit is, as she says, a memoirist, a journalist, and a critic, but first and foremost, she is a writer. The essays in Storming the Gates of Paradise, with their brilliant and all too rare interweaving of political acumen and passionate prose, prove that she is in fact the best landscape writer around. When she focuses on some of my favorite Western places, it's like revisiting them in good company, with sharpened eyes and mind."—Lucy R. Lippard, author of The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society

"Rebecca Solnit is reinventing the genre we call 'American nature writing,' finding provocative new ways to look at the intersections of landscape and politics. Hers is an indispensable voice, and Storming the Gates of Paradise the perfect introduction to her work."—Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

Josephine Miles Annual National Literary Award, PEN Oakland

Ambassador Book Award, English-Speaking Union of the United States

Nominee, Northern California Book Award, Northern California Book reviewers

Join UC Press

Members receive 20-40% discounts on book purchases. Find out more