I heard the author in a spirited public debate between him and biologist E.O. Wilson a couple years ago, at the old Town Hall in Boston. The mutual respect between the two men was palpable (perhaps because they are both outspoken advocates for wild nature). Yet they hold richly contrasting views regarding human society and its relation to the earth. Abram's eloquence there moved me to order this book. Upon reading it I was, in a word, stunned. It's easily one of the most important works I've come upon in thirty years of serious reading.
A few of the reader reviews below are absurdly off the mark. One of them claims that the book is anti-science. That's simply inane; I'm a working biologist, and can avow that this book is entirely consonant with the best of contemporary natural science. Indeed "The Spell of the Sensuous" got a rave review in "Science" (the journal of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science). Here's a brief excerpt from that review: "A truly original work. Abram puts forth his daring hypothesis with a poetic vigor and argumentative insight that stimulate reconsideration of the technological commonplace...With Abram anthropology becomes a bridge between science and its others." (Science, vol. 275)
In any case, this is a book that NEEDS to be much more widely known. (I've just read it a second time, and I'm still reeling at the implications.) A bunch of other reviews by a range of well-known thinkers are printed in the paperback edition. I'll copy them here, since they give a fine sense of both the depth and the span of Abram's book:
"This is a landmark book. Scholars will doubtless recognize its brilliance, but they may overlook the most important part of Abram's achievement: he has written the best instruction manual yet for becoming fully human. I walked outside when I was done and the world was a different place."
~Bill McKibben, author of "The End of Nature"
"A masterpiece - combining poetic passion with intellectual rigor and daring. Electric with energy, it offers us a new approach to scholarly inquiry: as a fully embodied human animal. It opens pathways and vistas that will be fruitfully explored for years, indeed for generations, to come."
~Joanna Macy, Buddhist scholar and author
"Speculative, learned, and always 'lucid and precise' as the eye of the vulture that confronted him once on a cliff ledge, Abram has one of those rare minds which, like the mind of a musician or a great mathematician, fuses dreaminess with smarts."
~The Village Voice
"Long-awaited, revolutionary. . . This book ponders the violent disconnection of the body from the natural world and what this means about how we live and die in it."
~The Los Angeles Times
"The outer world of nature is what awakens our inner world in all its capacities for understanding, affection and aesthetic appreciation. The wind, the rain, the mountains and rivers, the woodlands and meadows and all their inhabitants; we need these perhaps even more for our psyche than for our physical survival. No one that I know of has presented all this with the literary skill as well as the understanding that we find in this work of David Abram. It should be one of the most widely read and discussed books of these times."
~Thomas Berry, author of "The Dream of the Earth"
"I am breaking a vow to cease all blurb-writing for three years, but Abram's Spell must be praised. It's so well done, well-written, well thought. I know of no work more valuable for shifting our thinking and feeling about the place of humans in the world. Your children and their children will be grateful to him."
~James Hillman, author of "Revisioning Psychology"
"The Spell of the Sensuous does more than place itself on the cutting edge where ecology meets philosophy, psychology, and history. It magically subverts the dichotomies of culture and nature, body and mind, opening a vista of organic being and human possibility that is often imagined but seldom described. Reader beware, the message is spell-binding. One cannot read this book without risk of entering into an altered state of perceptual possibility."
~Max Oelschlager, author of "The Idea of Wilderness"
"Read it and get your gourd rattled smartly."
~ Jim Harrison, author of "Legends of the Fall"
"Disclosing the sentience of all nature, and revealing the unsuspected effect of the more-than-human on our language and our lives, in unprecedented fashion, Abram generates true philosophy for the twenty-first century."
~Lynn Margulis, co-originator of the Gaia Hypothesis,
"When rumor had it that David Abram was writing a book, we expected it to be very special and very powerful. Those expectations were justified. This book has the ability to awaken us. . ."
~Arne Naess, University of Oslo, founder of "deep ecology"
"A tour-de-force of sustained intelligence, broad scholarship, and a graceful prose style that has produced one of the most interesting books about nature published during the past decade."
~ Jack Turner, in "Terra Nova"
"Nobody writes about the ecological depths of the human and more-than-human world with more love and lyrical sensitivity than David Abram. "
~Theodore Roszak, author of "Where the Wasteland Ends"
"This book by David Abram lights up the landscape of language, flesh, mind, history, mapping us back into the world..."
~Gary Snyder, author of "Turtle Island"
"David Abram's passionate knowledge of language, mythology, landscape and his meditations on the human senses - all make for highly-charged, memorable reading. Without sermon, dogma, or academic bluster, The Spell of the Sensuous deftly tours us through interior and exterior terrains of the spirit, right up to the present. This is a major work of research and intuitive brilliance, an archive of clear ideas. At the end of a century of precarious ecology, "The Spell of the Sensuous" strikes the deepest notes of celebration and alertness - an indispensible book!"
~Howard Norman, folklorist, author of "The Bird Artist"
"Brilliant in its own field of environmental philosophy, it is destined to change the way we think about linguistics, literature, anthropology, and comparative religion, as well as the living landscape around us. . . . Beautifully written, elegantly argued, immensely original, The Spell of the Sensuous is the kind of book that comes along once in a generation. Like Carson's Silent Spring, it will become the touchstone for environmental literacy in the years to come."
~ Christopher Manes, in "Wild Earth"