The Blossoming of the World – Book Review

I imagine you, my present reader, as an anteater in an endless prairie, a prairie with a thousand anthills just visible through the grass, each anthill ebbing and flowing with thousands of succulent ants. I imagine you as an astronomer climbing into the observation chair of the 200-inch Mount Palomar telescope and wondering which star you’re going to gaze at tonight. I imagine you as a surfer floating on an ocean with perfectly formed waves stretching all the way to the horizon, a surfer contemplating which lovely wave would be the best one to carry you back to solid ground. – from The Blossoming of the World, page 1 –

Brian Peterson opens his book of essays and photographs with an open letter to his readers. He acknowledges the choices that readers have – the endless smorgasbord of literature – and thanks them for spending time with him. He lets his readers know that his book is different – it is a book about contradictions: beauty and violence, love and grief. What Peterson does right up front is tell his readers that this book will be a personal reflection of his life. And it is.

The Blossoming of the World is a collection of Peterson’s photographs, essays and journal entries. The photographs are often in stark black and white or sepia toned. Some of them are startling, some are profound and spiritual, others are beautiful, all are thought-provoking. The photography in this book was wonderful. Some of Peterson’s most moving photographs are those in the Earth and Sky collection, and the Forest Light collection. They capture the essence of nature and the contrast between light and dark which I find so soothing. I also appreciated his photographs of people which somehow allow the viewer to glimpse the personality of the subject.

Whether the captured photons come from a flower, a mountain, a city street, or an old woman’s smile, a photograph takes that very evanescence and examines it, knows it, the way lovers come to know every sacred contour and curve of their beloved’s body. – from The Blossoming of the World, page 11 –

Brian Peterson’s essays and journal entries are incredibly personal – almost uncomfortably so. Peterson is living with Parkinson’s Disease – an illness which robs the individual gradually of movement – and his struggles with the diagnosis are a common theme in Peterson’s essays. He also talks a lot about faith, God, love, and despair. In the early pages of his book, Peterson seems to be questioning God and his purpose.

Looking up at all those stars, the word “God” seemed as useful as a lead weight on a ballet dancer. In the vastness of the galaxies and atoms, where is this God who pulls the strings and counts the hairs on our heads? A God who does all that has to be somewhere. But where? – from The Blossoming of the World, page 28 –

When I hear someone spouting cliches about God to avoid another person’s suffering, I know I’m among Christians. “Everything happens for a reason” is another way of saying “I do not, cannot, and will not feel your pain.” – from The Blossoming of the World, page 39 –

But in the latter parts of the book, Peterson’s essays indicate he is more sure of his faith, and he begins to sermonize a bit.

I have the good fortune to be the conscious witness of my own gradual destruction. Each crumbling minaret, each tower that turns to dust, is a crucifixion. Every part of me that’s lost is a call – not to run away, but to be attentive, to listen – to die so something new can be born – to live out, in the realest, most unrelentingly honest, most terrifyingly creative way imaginable, the truth of the Gospels. Christ on the cross. – from The Blossoming of the World, page 99 –

The Blossoming of the World is an interesting book on many levels. It is painfully honest, and at times uncomfortable. When Peterson veers into his journal entries, I felt like a voyeur into his private life. Some of the religious elements in the book grew wearisome for me. I think of myself as a spiritual person, but at times Peterson became so esoteric that he lost me. It is hard to be critical of Peterson’s writings because it makes me feel as though I am criticizing someone’s diary…and yet, I think that both the power and the weakness of the book lie in the personal nature of the writings.

Reflective, personal, and at times profound, The Blossoming of the World gets a mixed review from me. Readers who appreciate art (especially exceptional photography) will love Peterson’s selected photographs. Those who are traditionally religious will probably enjoy many of Peterson’s essays which delve deeply into Christian belief. This is a philosophical book which gives insight into one man’s journey through illness, and his quest for meaning in the life he is living.

  • Photography:
  • Essays:

Overall Rating:

FTC Disclosure: Many thanks to JKS Communications who sent me this book for review on my blog.


Brian H. Peterson, the Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest Chief Curator at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has more than thirty years’ experience as an artist, curator, critic, and arts administrator in the Philadelphia area. His scholarly publications include Pennsylvania Impressionism (2002), The Cities, the Towns, the Crowds: The Paintings of Robert Spencer (2004), and Form Radiating Life: The Paintings of Charles Rosen (2006), all copublished by the Michener Art Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Press. His recent memoir, The Smile at the Heart of Things: Essays and Life Stories (2010), was co-published by the Michener Art Museum and Tell Me Press.

Also a practicing photographer, Peterson has had more than thirty solo exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the country since 1980. His work is in the collections of the Amon Carter Museum, the Denver Art Museum, the Library of Congress, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the State Museum of Pennsylvania, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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  1. This sounds like a book I would like. Thanks for the book quotes. They really gave me a sense of what the author’s writing was like.

  2. Thought I’m not traditionally faith based, the photographs look like they might make this worth it.

    • Wendy on June 21, 2011 at 05:57

    Artsy Bookish Gal: You’re welcome – I think this book will work for many people and I hope you’ll get a chance to read it!

    Pam: Oh, the photographs are beautiful – I loved looking at them.

  3. This sounds like a tough read, on many levels, but I admire the author for putting it all down there, even if it is at times uncomfortable. Loved this review. I think this might be a book I could really get into and enjoy. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  4. Sounds like this might be a good book for professional caregivers to take a look at, too. Thanks for the review, Wendy, I’m sending a link to my sister, who I think will be interested in this.

    • Wendy on June 27, 2011 at 06:13

    Heather: I agree – you have admire honesty! I hope you’ll get a chance to read this book – I’d love to read your thoughts on it.

    Dawn: Yes, I think caregivers might find this insightful…hope your sister will enjoy it.

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