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Finding Beauty in a Broken World

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  854 ratings  ·  169 reviews
In her most original, provocative, and eloquently moving book since "Refuge," Terry Tempest Williams gives us a luminous chronicle of finding beauty in a broken world. Always an impassioned and far-sighted advocate for a just relationship between the natural world and humankind, Williams has broadened her concerns over the past several years to include a reconfiguration of ...more
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by Pantheon Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Carson
Nov 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
I know, I know, most people drop out in the prairie dog section, but if you stick with it that section begins to have a certain rhythm and creates its own subtle narrative structure. You find yourself suddenly caring about the individual prairie dogs as characters, in addition to the obvious goal of making you rethink the prevailing attitude toward them as "varmints."

But seriously, if you get through the prairie dog section, everything has an odd and elegant way of coming together.
Tortla
Mar 26, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people on treadmills
Recommended to Tortla by: Lori Bettison-Varga
Sooo apparently the idea to present the book "like a mosaic" came to Terry Tempest Williams in a feverish epiphany right before the book was gonna be sent in to get published. Fine. That explains the way that the structure of the story is too..straightforward for my taste. (And too rigidly divided into thematic sections: intro/mosaics, prairie dogs, Rwanda, mosaic-y/choppy conclusion.) I'm of the opinion that such experimental, mosaic-inspired artsy-fartsiness ought to be *more* experimental. ...more
Lisa
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Briefly, on form: as prose poetry, this gorgeous work is totally accessible for people who don't consider themselves "poetry reader." It's riveting. You'll want to keep reading.
On content: How can you NOT read a book that yokes together an apprenticeship as a mosaic artist in Ravenna, her grappling with the plight of endangered prairie dogs, which are simultaneously hunted and protected by the U.S., and women in Rwanda? Williams offers a timely, fresh take on global life as an organismic rather
...more
Matt
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terry has the rare ability to see her life through series of connected, relatable events. She puts small examples into grand ideas, and makes those pertinent to her readers.

In this, she connects her mosaic studies in Italy with her passionate and thorough study of endangered prairie dogs at Bryce Canyon, and then her humanitarian journey through Rwanda. The portion on prairie dogs is daunting at first--it's truly a transcription of her journal entries--but becomes magical as it weaves each
...more
Peggy
May 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
There are layers to go through in order to understand humanity. Williams excavates them. A broken world can be put together again in a beautiful way. There are rules to making mosaic. Attend to light, to shape. Find the right piece. Prairie dogs live communally, kiss, and greet the sun. In Rwanda is a layer of hell. How hard to go there. this is a great book. She provides space for the reader to absorb what is written. Great: powerful, mighty, deep, spiritual, truthful. Hard, but not difficult ...more
Mary
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
Okay the author's basic premise is that life is like a mosaic. (I love mosaics)....that broken pieces can be put back together to form something new and while different - beautiful in its new way. I'm having a really hard time with this book. So the book is divided into 3 parts - the author studying mosaic with an Italian master. The author studying prarie dogs in the American SW - and Bush's total disregard for the environment -big picture - and how relocation of prarie dogs will eventually ...more
Jude
Dec 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Terry tempest Williams is my favorite author. The first book of hers that I read was Refuge. I read finding beauty in a Broken world a few years ago but it is the book that I most often go back and select favorite passages and pages to read again. She has the naturalists eye and skill of observation, she has the artist's curiosity and patience to take tiny fragile pieces of glass and create beautiful mosaic, she has the voice and heart of a poet and the compassion of a bodhisattva and the ...more
Katy
Aug 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing
All living beings, though sometimes broken, are resilient and the harmony of life is very powerful. This masterful book combines the ancient art of making mosaics, with the fragile ecology of prairie dog communities and the war-torn broken communities of Rwanda in a way that gives me hope for the resilience of human and more-than human communities as we strive for a harmonious life.
Joshua Buhs
Devastating. It strips the skin from the hide and burns the fat from the brain.

Reading this after reading Arctic Dreams and Strange Piece of Paradise, it's clear how much better a writer Terry Tempest Williams is than most other humans. Already her "Refuge" is on my shortlist of most important books, and now this one joins it on the shelf of books I'd want if I were ever stranded on an island. There is so much wisdom, so much humanity here--and so much devastation and horror. It is a quest to be
...more
Jerrica
Aug 12, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: summer-11
When I got this book for summer reading in June, I didn't know what to think about it. In general I tend to go for fiction, as more elements can be added and it's more exciting. You kind of feel the book's patterns, its foreshadowing.

I get that this book was supposed to be a mosaic itself, but that realization, the "oh, that's cool" didn't keep me interested in the book. In fact, I found the language at times to be sloshy, moving through it slowly and needing breaks to rest my eyes. It's wordy.
...more
Holly
Oct 03, 2010 rated it did not like it
Strange, disjointed book. Did NOT enjoy and think the author could've said the same thing in a well-thought-out, concise essay.
Barb Cherem
Feb 08, 2019 rated it liked it
There are profound areas of the book, but I did find it a bit difficult to read as it seemed to be written halfway between poetry and literary fiction. This was the first book of hers I'd read, and I like her environmental focus, and the unique creativity she brings.
erica
Mar 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: environmental, art

I really wanted to like this book; my sister gave it to me and I was so looking forward to reading it that I had saved it to enjoy while travelling! Having also been involved in some community mosaic projects it seemed like a perfect read.

Unfortunately, I had a very hard time getting into the style of this book. The sentences are short and there are many incomplete sentences- just phrases. The page format- lots of mini-paragraphs- came across choppy to me and made it difficult for me to immerse
...more
Julian Hoffman
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, nonfiction
"A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken." So begins Terry Tempest William's heartfelt experiment with form. Three pieces come together to make up the book, placed side by side like the chips of stone that form a mosaic. In the first we travel with Williams to Ravenna in Italy, where she learns the ancient art itself, but from the moment we leave we delve into a world that is undeniably broken. In Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, Williams volunteers as part of a group of scientists ...more
Clara
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Ms. Williams deep writings always wind there way into my heart and mind, insisting upon being pondered. This latest of her works is no exception. The reader is slowly pulled into her experiences in Italy learning the ancient art of mosaic, as well as the hot dry discomfort of being installed in a wood tower helping to research prairie dogs in Utah. There is sadness in reading of the brutal and callous behavior of many of the individuals she comes into contact with. But, there are also those she ...more
Tony
Apr 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Byzantine mosaics, prairie dogs and Rwandan genocide. It wasn't the prose that kept me reading this book; it's pretty choppy and repetitive. But the message is one that has stuck with me. The author, I gather, is a very unorthodox Mormon who starts her journey at a mosaic workshop in Ravenna, Italy, home to the most unbelievable Byzantine mosaics in various churches, chapels, and tombs throughout this rather small city (I visited in 2005 and was awestruck by the mosaics). After that first rather ...more
Venessa
Jun 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Cherie--the last part about Rwanda, anyway
Williams sets out to find the beautiful among the ruins of humanity, and does so exploring both the vanishing worlds of the prairie dogs and the devastated, all but forgotten world of Rwanda, connecting their survival with the need to create a mosaic. Reading about the dogs grew a bit tedious, although I certainly thought they were cute when I lived in Boulder, although I was terrified of running them over when I hit certain parts of the bike path. However, the last part of the book, when ...more
Merissa
Jan 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I am a huge Terry Tempest Williams fan, but so far this is my least favorite of her books. I can see how she was trying to connect her topics, but they were so far apart that I don't think it went that well. Fortunately I had recently just read "Left to Tell" so I was aware of the Rwandan Holocaust which helped a lot for understanding the second half of the book. But the biologist in me wins, and my favorite part was actually the prairie dog survey logs although I was surprised that she included ...more
Irene Lapp Ryan
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Mosaic, very moving how she twines several worlds into one tapestry. Signed by Terry, given to me by my brother. Cried often and learned lots! pg 23 "If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go. We are talking about the body of the beloved, not real estate." pg 25 Henry Bugbee "the tenets of Scripture are meant to be occasions for wonder, not the termination of it."
Jane
Mar 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I learned that Prairie dogs can be seen by some with imagination and love as Prayer Dogs and that recovery from genocide is a long and painful process in Rwanda. I felt beauty and intensity while reading this book and have admired this author for a very long time, having many times visited her home state of Utah.
Candy
Jan 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Having read many of TTWilliams books before and loved them I was disappointed in this book. It is just brief paragraphs of information that I could never tie together and didn't hold my attention. Her focus has stayed the same - our earth and value but I couldn't hold prairie dogs, mosaics and our ever expanding population and the effect on the earth together to hold my interest. Oh well.
Joan
Dec 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
This is my Dec. book group read. Many people love Terry Tempest Williams....me not so much. Her style doesn't work for me: snippets, paragraphs lined up one after another page after page and not really tied together in any kind of a flow.
John McAndrew
Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
These are difficult days. Boy, do we need a good metaphor to help us keep it together. Fortunately, the sea waved Terry over and gave her a keeper: Mosaic. A piece of art composed of the broken pieces – and what holds them together. It does so, not in a simulacrum of what they once were – this is not the Japanese art of kintsugi, which repairs a vessel close to its original form and function, with gold in the broken places – but in a new form, where the brokenness doesn't impede the pieces from ...more
Annette
Finding Beauty in a Broken World provides a wonderful snapshot of the best and worst of life on Earth. Like many of her books, Williams weaves the chapters of her book together with a common thread. In this case the book begins and ends with an analogy comparing the study of mosaic to an understanding of our fragile human and natural world. Williams builds her case using a series of stories from around the world including her experiences in Italy, Africa, and southern ...more
Bucket
The author uses mosaics as an extended metaphor because of the way the art-form brings broken pieces together to create a beautiful and harmonious whole. As a skilled mosaicist tells Williams:

"Part of the nature of man is to recompose a unity that has been broken. In mosaic, I re-create an order out of shards."

The book uses an experimental style: the text is broken into short bits with space between, like the broken tessera used to create a mosaic. The first 50-ish pages are on the history and
...more
Yaaresse
DNF- Abandoned at 52%.

I've enjoyed all the other books I've read by this author, but this one isn't speaking to me at all. I understand the intent is to present the book itself as a mosaic, thus the experimental style, but it is just not working, IMO. The thing about mosaics is that the parts work together to create a complete image. This just seems fragmented without a purpose.
___
DNF Disclaimer: Usually I don't mark my DNF/abandoned books as "read" or give them a rating. That said, I might do
...more
Hannah
I think I wanted this book to be something else. Williams writes beautifully and is wholly activist, poet, and naturalist in and of herself, but does not quite manage to be wholly any of these things in this piece. This is a matter of preference. Finding Beauty in a Broken World reads as a mosaic, a community of vignettes that come together towards central themes, but sometimes I get the feeling that the occasionally vast fault lines between the elements: mosaic, prairie dog communities, and ...more
Colleen
Dec 03, 2008 rated it liked it
TTW is one of my favorite authors. The only problem is she isn't much older than me so I have to wait for her to write more. I liked this book, the mosaic concept was very interesting to me because I just finished writing my dissertation on CA ground squirrels as a keystone species which required extensive background reading about prairie dogs so I saw many parallels with my own work. That being said, I'm not sure I would recommend this book especially to anyone who hasn't read TTW before. If ...more
Sarah Boon
Mar 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Only Terry Tempest Williams could combine the art of mosaic, and the digging of prairie dogs, her family of pipeline layers, and women farmers in Rwanda after the genocide, in one sweeping book. I thought I'd never make it through her detailed observations of the prairie dog colony in Bryce Canyon, but I'm glad I persevered because those observations tie in tightly with her experiences in Rwanda.
Definitely an original book.
Stephanie
Dec 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
What makes Terry Tempest Williams so interesting to read is her membership in conflicting leagues--those of personal conviction and familial association. She handles those divisions with that power of transcendence--love.

I especially enjoyed reading the section on the mosaics created to commemorate the Rwandan genocide. Powerful stories and a powerful artistic response.

p.s. The full title of the book begins with the word Mosaic, and that is what the book is.
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Terry Tempest Williams is an American author, conservationist and activist. Williams’ writing is rooted in the American West and has been significantly influenced by the arid landscape of her native Utah in which she was raised. Her work ranges from issues of ecology and wilderness preservation, to women's health, to exploring our relationship to culture and nature.

She has testified before
...more
“What is real to me is the power of our awareness when we are focused on something beyond ourselves. It is a shaft of light shining in a dark corner. Our ability to shift our perceptions and seek creative alternatives to the conondrums of modernity is in direct proportion to our empathy. Can we imagine, witness, and ultimately feel the suffering of another?” 47 likes
“Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out.” 38 likes
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