Like the last work of Greenblatt's I read (The Swerve) I was struck by his clear prose and narrative sense as well as his extensive historical knowledge and command of the interconnectedness of a wide range of elements. This work takes a look at one of the central myths of christianity, namely the story of Adam and Eve, and examines its staying power, how and why in spite of centuries of, essentially, debunking the story tenaciously clings to our collective psyche. As allegory, this is no mystery---it's a compelling story---but the fact that so many people still assert its factual reality leads us into the murkiness of our ability to deceive ourselves and ignore evidence. He also does a good job showing how that myth became the source of a millennia-long embrace of studied misogyny, begun primarily by St. Augustine, who somehow could not come to terms with his own erotic obsessions and his desire to become (in my view, not Greenblatt's) Other Than Human for the glory of his newfound faith after his dramatic conversion to Catholicism. The details Greenblatt offers give us ample evidence of someone who was working out personal issues at the expense of half the human population. There are surprising turns of history, of intellectual adventurism, of the human capacity to master the irrational and accept the changes demanded by reason and evidence combined into reconceptualizations of things thought long settled. And then there are the artists and, finally, Milton. Highly recommended. Mark's Staff Pick, November 2017— From Mark
Bolder, even, than the ambitious books for which Stephen Greenblatt is already renowned, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve explores the enduring story of humanity's first parents. Comprising only a few ancient verses, the story of Adam and Eve has served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires, as both a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness.
Tracking the tale into the deep past, Greenblatt uncovers the tremendous theological, artistic, and cultural investment over centuries that made these fictional figures so profoundly resonant in the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds and, finally, so very "real" to millions of people even in the present. With the uncanny brilliance he previously brought to his depictions of William Shakespeare and Poggio Bracciolini (the humanist monk who is the protagonist of The Swerve), Greenblatt explores the intensely personal engagement of Augustine, D rer, and Milton in this mammoth project of collective creation, while he also limns the diversity of the story's offspring: rich allegory, vicious misogyny, deep moral insight, and some of the greatest triumphs of art and literature.
The biblical origin story, Greenblatt argues, is a model for what the humanities still have to offer: not the scientific nature of things, but rather a deep encounter with problems that have gripped our species for as long as we can recall and that continue to fascinate and trouble us today.