2010. Pelican Publishing. Paperback. 347 pages.
I do not get contacted about review copies frequently, and have accepted only a few of those. I was contacted about How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth last year. Motivational non-fiction is generally not a genre that attracts me, so I was on the fence about accepting the book. I decided to give it a try because in my experience of reading books of essays by a range of authors, there are usually some essays that will stand out and be worthwhile.
The book is divided into eleven sections: the ten “essential elements” for creating a heaven on earth, as the editor describes in the introduction, plus one concluding section on individual paths to achieving a heaven on earth. The ten elements include such broad concepts as prosperity, ecological harmony, and moral purpose and meaning. Some essays have been published elsewhere first, such as those by Thomas L. Friedman and Al Gore. The other essays have been clearly written for this collection as they explicitly mention the phrase “heaven on earth.” (An odd result was that the reading experience was sometimes reminiscent of my writing tutor days in college, when I would read multiple papers in a row written in response to the same class prompt.)
For the benefit of those considering this book, I’ll speak more about the essay contributors’ backgrounds. Many contributors approach the question from a Christian perspective, and most from an American perspective. There is also a sizeable New Orleans / Louisiana contingent, not wholly surprising considering the editor and the publisher reside in Louisiana. In addition, quite a few of the authors have either founded or work extensively in non-profit organizations. There is nothing wrong with having those perspectives or backgrounds, but as the cover description does not go into detail about the selection, I wanted to let possible readers know more about the book’s scope.
The book’s promotional email had accurately described the essays as being of a 1 to 3 page length, but I guess it had not registered fully until I started reading the book. True, the brevity of the essays makes this a good nightstand book: you can easily tuck in a couple of essays before you go to bed, for instance. However, I found that a couple of pages is really not enough space for the ambitious topics undertaken. There wasn’t enough depth for my tastes. There was very little said that was new to me and I had heard many of the arguments and positions before.
However, as I had expected would happen, there were some essays that did stand out, including:
– “Liberty and Civility: What Benjamin Franklin and George Washington Taught Us About Religious Peace” by Chris Beneke
– “Ecology Matters” by Adrienne Froelich Sponberg
– “Friends for Life: An Emerging Biology of Emotional Healing” by Daniel Goleman
– “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” by Peter Lovenheim
In the last essay, republished from the New York Times, Lovenheim tries an experiment to get to know his neighbors better. He asks the people on his street for permission to spend the night at their house and “write about their lives from inside their own houses”. He published a book last year about that experience, and I’m rather curious about it now. That is the kind of writer / subject discovery I like to make with books of essays.
Overall, unfortunately, the book was not a good fit for me.
Book Addiction – “How to Achieve a Heaven on Earth is a delightful, hopeful book that was a joy to read.”
Rundpinne – “I highly recommend How to Achieve Heaven on Earth to anyone looking for an insightful look at many of the major issues facing society today or merely to read some rather brilliant essays.”
Also, here is a link to the book’s website: http://www.heavenonearth.org/