Searching for Paradise

Searching for Paradise: A Grand Tour of the World’s Unspoiled Islands (Ballantine, 2002)

“This enchanting hymn to our ceaseless fascination for islands and insularity is brilliant, quite without equal. Thurston Clarke’s wisdom and sensitivity radiate from every page: he fills us with an inexplicable longing for the land and the people glimpsed above the cliff top, and through the grasses beyond the beach.”
—Simon Winchester, Author of The Professor and the Madman

In a penetrating, brilliantly written book that weaves sociology, history, politics, personality, and ancient and popular culture into one compelling narrative, Thurston Clarke island-hops around the oceans of the world, searching for an explanation for the most enduring geographic love affair of all time–between humankind and islands.

Along the way Clarke visits the remote and silent Mas À Tierra, the island off the coast of Chile that inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe; sleepy, simple Campobello, the Canadian island where Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his boyhood summers; Jura in the Hebrides, where George Orwell wrote 1984. A stunning work of wit, adventure, and incisive exploration, Searching for Paradise brings a unique passion to dazzling life.

More Reviews of Searching for Paradise

“Delightful… Inquisitive and intelligent, this book will take you far and open your eyes.”
The Seattle Times

“An intelligent, passionate, absorbing book that manages to pull together the threads of history, myth, travelogue, personal reflection, and social commentary into a delightful narrative.”
Toronto Globe and Mail

Purchase Searching for Paradise


If I look east from my house above Lake Champlain, I can see four of the least promising islands you could imagine. They are called the Four Brothers and are mostly gray cliffs, rocky beaches, and skeletal trees picked clean by gulls and cormorants. But from the way they excite people you would think they were Maui, Mykonos, Tahiti, and Capri.

Most Maldivians will survive the catastrophe and a hundred years from now they will probably gather in the Sri Lankan villages and European gust worker slums where they will then live to fan the embers of their dying culture. They will teach their children to speak their vowel-crammed language and bewitch them with stories of an Atlantis of planetarium skies, blinding beaches, and teardrop islands. They will stand out, a race of Lilliputians smothered by their hand-me-down overcoats, resembling refugee children befriended by soldiers. Like Kurds, Armenians, and Palestinians, they will nurse ferocious grudges. Their Great Satan will be the industrialized West, whose air-conditioned desert cities, energy-hungry industries, and sport utility vehicles have made a disproportionate contribution to the greenhouse gases that warmed the oceans and submerged Maldivian islands inhabited for five thousand years.

The church courtyard held the largest amount of food I have yet seen in one place. I estimated there were already six thousand coconuts in palm frond cradles, three thousand bundles of sugar cane and taro, and three hundred dead pigs, skinned and oozing blood, stacked in piles of six, one for every twenty-seven Kosraeans, including babes in arms. Every minute, pickup trucks delivered more pigs, which were tossed into heaps and sorted by village. Spectators circled them like judges at a county fair, hands behind backs, whispering and pointing.

I believe that islomanes sense that islands nudge us toward becoming more human—“better people”—by providing this simplicity, and making us shake hands with our neighbors, listen to ourselves (and perhaps to God), respect history and natural limits, and live surrounded by wilderness and beauty. They do not always do this, but they are more likely to than a similar-sized fragment of continental land, which is why when an island is lost to the Global Village or global warming, more is lost than an inhabited piece of earth where at least one sheep can graze.

Author – Historian – Speaker

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