Custodians of Wonder

Ancient Customs, Profound Traditions, and the Last People Keeping Them Alive

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Pub Date Dec 10 2024 | Archive Date Dec 24 2024


A vivid look at 10 astonishing people who are maintaining some of the world's oldest and rarest cultural traditions.

Eliot Stein has traveled the globe in search of remarkable people who are preserving some of our most extraordinary cultural rites. In Custodians of Wonder: Ancient Customs, Profound Traditions, and the Last People Keeping Them Alive, Stein introduces readers to a man saving the secret ingredient in Japan's 700-year-old original soy sauce recipe. In Italy, he learns how to make the world's rarest pasta from one of the only women alive who knows how to make it. And in India, he discovers a family rumored to make a mysterious metal mirror believed to reveal your truest self. From shadowing Scandinavia's last night watchman to meeting a 27th-generation West African griot to tracking down Cuba's last official cigar factory “readers” more than a century after they spearheaded the fight for Cuban independence, Stein uncovers an almost lost world.

Climbing through Peru’s southern highlands, he encounters the last Inca bridge master who rebuilds a grass-woven bridge every year from the fabled Inca Road System. He befriends a British beekeeper who maintains a touching custom of "telling the bees" important news of the day. And he crunches through a German forest to find the official mailman of the only tree in the world with its own address – to which countless people from across the world have written in hopes of finding love. These are just some of the last custodians preserving age-old rites on the brink of disappearance against all odds. Let Eliot Stein introduce you to all of them.

A vivid look at 10 astonishing people who are maintaining some of the world's oldest and rarest cultural traditions.

Eliot Stein has traveled the globe in search of remarkable people who are...

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ISBN 9781250281098
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Average rating from 25 members

Featured Reviews

This book should turn into a documentary!

I enjoyed the author’s storytelling style, it’s very easy to follow and the stories are gripping enough to keep you coming back for more.

It’s a fascinating read that deserves a read or two :)

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Mr. Stein brings us a book about ancient customs, traditions, and the very last people keeping them alive.

I must admit I had never heard of most of these, but I am happy to know about them now.

From the man guarding his 700 year old recipe for Soy Sauce, to the woman who knows how to make a rare pasta, to the last Inca bridge builder.

An excellent book!

December 10, 2024 by St. Martin's Press NetGalley

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For many, reading is about having a transformative experience. It's about visiting another world or becoming immersed in a story that offers a literary escape.

It's rare that this happens in a non-fiction title. However, this is precisely what happens in Eliot Stein's magically realized "Custodians of Wonder: Ancient Customs, Profound Traditions, and the Last People Keeping Them Alive."

In this lovely book, Stein transports us into different world's where remarkable yet remarkably simple people are maintaining some of the world's oldest and rarest cultural traditions.

These experiences happen around the globe and Stein somehow brings each world to life in a transformative way that makes us feel as if we've stumbled into this world ourselves to discover rare cultural rites and those who keep them alive.

We meet a man who continues to save the secret ingredient in Japan's 700-year-old original recipe for soy sauce.

We meet the Italian women who make the world's rarest pasta from the only women alive who know how to make it.

In one of my favorites, we enter the world of Scandinavia's last night watchman.

In another favorite, we are transported into the world of Peru's fabled Inca road system and those who help bring it to life season after season after season.

There are more.

"Custodians of Wonder" was a slow read for me, a rare literary experience where I sat back and allowed myself to soak in the worlds being created and the stories being told. I marveled at Stein's ability to find these stories and I marveled at Stein's ability to so vividly bring them to life. I imagined myself in these settings, no small feat for a wheelchair user who would likely have difficulty even accessing some of these locales.

As a film critic, I perhaps was most enchanted by the story of a Taiwanese artist who continues to create some of the world's most magnificently created film posters and billboards for the last theater to still use his craft that was once common throughout Taiwan.

But truthfully? I loved every moment of this reading experience even when I didn't quite resonate as much with the ritual (such as in a beautifully told story of the last cigar factory in Cuba).

Once in a while, I get lucky and find a book that just sneaks up on me with its charms and wonder. "Custodians of Wonder" offered just such an experience. I expected to learn and would have been satisfied with just such an experience, however, with "Custodians of Wonder" Stein truly brings to life that sense of wonder and in so doing creates what will be one of 2024's most fascinating and magical reading experiences.

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This was a major departure from the books I usually read, which are light comedy / time travel fiction. But I wanted to take a chance on something completely new and unique. And this book sure is that! I've never read anything like it. It tells the fascinating history of customs and traditions throughout the world. And how they affected life both at the time and for hundreds of centuries to come. Also how they impacted their community, and in time... the world. Utterly fascinating topic and superb writing. Fantastic book.

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An excellent read with plenty of great information and content. The stories behind the reason for inclusion in this short collection are just as insightful as their histories. The author seems to truly know his subjects and gets high quality of detail from those who are seeking to tell their stories.

For fans of "The Indomitable Human Spirit" as a concept. I look forward to when others read this book and get the same pangs of emotion.

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This is a wonderful tale about legends of old told through the eyes of one who protects them. It was whimsical and fun, yet thoughtful and provoking. I very much enjoyed it.

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"Custodians of Wonder" is a modern take on real life fairytales. Through tales of unique pasta in Sardinia and rare soy sauce in Japan, the reader is able to learn about customs that are rarely preserved in modern times. In addition, the reader learns about other rare phenomenon including the night watchmen in Ystad and the Q'eswachaka in Peru. Unfortunately, "the nail that sticks out gets hammered down." In essence, the rarities of the past that still exist in modern life are soon to be destroyed unless very specific people continue to uphold these customs. Eliot Stein is able to entice the reader into a desire to uphold these rare customs by giving firsthand accounts of those that are pivotal in continuing these traditions and are the most invested in maintaining them through modern times and beyond.

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