Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers

By Howard Mansfield
Bauhan Publishing (October 12, 2021)
ISBN: 978-0-87233-3505

When Thomas Jefferson committed the new nation to the “pursuit of happiness” he set up the primary occupation of every American. Chasing Eden: A Book of Seekers is about that pursuit, about Americans seeking their Eden, their Promised Land, their utopia.

Seekers are all around us. They are seeking God, seeking freedom, seeking peace. In Chasing Eden we meet:

  • A young man shepherding the Shakers through their twilight years. The end of all but one of the Shaker villages is not as usually portrayed – a dour shuffling to the end of their days. It was true to its beginnings, a devotion.
  • A group of adventuring 19th Century landscape painters looking for God and for signs of the future greatness of their new nation in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Tourists today rushing up the Mt. Washington auto road were set on their course by these pioneers of seeing.
  • A doctor who achieves the American Dream by changing the boundaries and ruling himself and his family in, crossing over and crossing back, rewriting the definition of race.
  • Forty thousand Africans newly freed from slavery taking possession of the forty acres and a mule that were granted by one Civil War general and one secretary of war — only to have their land taken from them within months by another general and a new president.
  • Veterans home from World War II, having grown up in the Great Depression, ready at last to start their lives where everything is new in the suburbs. The spindly trees grow up; the children grow up, and turn against them. A collision between peace and war, the American Dream and protest, children and parents.
  • The Pilgrims and the Wampanoags sitting down to a harvest feast, which would be spun into the Thanksgiving story, a fable that blinds us to the ingratitude and wars lying behind our holiday and our country’s founding.

This is but a modest gathering of Americans, all on the road to find out, all united by their longing and devotion. “All history is the history of longing,” says historian Jackson Lears, and in each era this longing gives form and force to our lives.

Here’s an introduction to my new book, Chasing Eden, in 2 minutes and 38 seconds:

And here’s an interview with Francesca Rheannon, host of the radio show and podcast, The Writer’s Voice.