RELIGION

Book Review: 'Tales of Wonder' by Huston Smith

tales of wonder
  Enlarge Photo    
Sunday, May 24, 2009

TALES OF WONDER

Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography

By Huston Smith, with Jeffery Paine.

Harper Collins. 209 pp. $25.99

Midway through his lush new memoir, the religious scholar Huston Smith pauses to rattle off a list of fond remembrances: dancing among the whirling dervishes in Iran, camping with the Aborigines in Australia, sharing a chuckle with a gaggle of Masai warriors on the darkening Serengeti plains. Each anecdote is offered up with minimum explication and just a few choice adjectives, as if Smith's sense of marvel at the strange bounty of the world should suffice. And in most cases, it does.

"Tales of Wonder," co-written with Jeffery Paine, opens in the medieval town of Soochow, China, where Smith's parents served as missionaries, and ends, some 200 pages later, with a quote from Saint John Chrysostom: "Praise for everything. Praise for it all!" In between, Smith meets with some of the 20th century's major luminaries -- Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- and sets out to carve his own name into the face of history. When he was just shy of 40, Smith published his opus "The World's Religions," a now classic study of comparative theology. Its popularity opened the door to a series of professorial posts and several trips around the globe, each one more spectacular than the last. "For me," confides Smith, now nearly 90, "any real reason to travel, even a bad one, was a good reason to pack my bags and set off. If a place was on the map, and especially if it wasn't, I wanted to go and learn what could be learned only there."

-- Matthew Shaer


© 2009 The Washington Post Company