Photo: Dervishes performing a dance

In Man Seeks God, author Eric Weiner explores religions all over the world, including a Sufi gathering in Turkey with whirling dervishes.

Photograph by Mark Horn, Getty images

By Don George

Book of the Month: Man Seeks God, by Eric Weiner

In his first book, The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner wandered the globe looking for the happiest country and culture on the planet. In this sequel, inspired by what he thought was a near-death experience, he ratchets that quest up a notch, wandering this time in search of God. His quest takes the Maryland-based author from just-up-the-highway to halfway-around-the-world as he investigates seven systems of belief: Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Raelianism, Taoism, Wicca, shamanism, and Judaism.

Weiner begins his journey with Islam’s “mystical heart,” Sufism, which he seeks in Istanbul and then in Konya, Turkey, where he attends a dergah Sufi gathering and is swept into the spirit of the whirling dervishes.

He meditates on Buddhism in Kathmandu’s Boudhanath neighborhood, where he revels in the “milky” light and the “clickety-clack of prayer wheels, murmur of mantras, flutter of pigeons flapping their wings, and chortle of spoken Tibetan.” He measures the meaning of Catholicism among Franciscan friars who sustain a shelter in the grimy, siren-loud projects of South Bronx, New York, and immerses himself in Raelian pleasure-worship at a feel-good gathering of believers in Las Vegas.

He ventures to China’s Mount Wudang and to even remoter Mount Qingcheng, ablaze with autumnal foliage and Taoist energy; chants with Wicca witches in Washington state; soul-sojourns with shamans in suburban Maryland; and finally finds a kind of peace in the cobblestoned, Kabbalah-brightened alleys of Tzfat, Israel.

Much of the power of this pilgrimage comes from the characters Weiner encounters—informed, impassioned, and idiosyncratic guides who lead the ever-questioning, ever-doubting author on a magical mystery tour that illuminates our inner and outer paths.

New Book Roundups

Art and Treasures

In Stone of Kings, Gerard Helferich recounts a true-life, 400-year treasure hunt in Guatemala and Mexico in search of the lost source of Maya jade. Anita Desai tells stories of outsiders and misfits and their relation to art and creativity in The Artist of Disappearance, a triptych of novellas set in rural India.

Walking and Running

In How to Walk a Puma, Peter Allison travels through South America to fulfill a long-held wish to see a wild jaguar—and along the way, gets bitten by a puma, is almost sucked into a whirlpool on an Amazon rafting trip, and swims a lagoon laced with caiman and anaconda. Running Away to Home is Jennifer Wilson’s humor-laden account of moving with her husband and two small children to a mountain village in Croatia, hoping to reconnect with her ancestral roots.

One Last Thing:

Panoramic Appreciation

The Grand Canyon is one of the planet’s most spectacular treasures. But it embodies so many riches—geological, historical, aesthetic—that it has always been impossible for me to grasp just how truly “grand” the canyon is. So I was thrilled to discover the new anthology The Grand Canyon Reader, edited by Lance Newman. A professor of English and a longtime Canyon river guide, Newman has compiled five centuries of compelling accounts—from the Hualapai tribal origin story to reports by Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, John McPhee, Terry Tempest Williams, and more—to fittingly honor the rim, the river, and the people of this edifying and enchanting place.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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