A jargon-heavy, superficial primer on altered states tuned to a specific audience.

STEALING FIRE

HOW SILICON VALLEY, THE NAVY SEALS, AND MAVERICK SCIENTISTS ARE REVOLUTIONIZING THE WAY WE LIVE AND WORK

Two researchers survey the various ways that human beings alter their consciousness to improve performance.

Kotler (The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance, 2014, etc.) and Wheal are co-founders of an organization called the Flow Genome Project, which studies how people get into the peak performance mindset most people know as “the zone.” Here, they present case studies from their day jobs, and the patchwork nature of the construction fails to lend it much weight. They also muddy the concept by comparing the attainment of “non-ordinary” states to the Eleusinian Mysteries, a 2,000-year-old ritual that found men communing with gods. The term they use for this mindset is the Greek word ecstasis, defined here as “stepping beyond oneself.” After tabulating the $3 trillion to $4 trillion circulating in the “Altered States Economy,” they turn to the “communal vocational ecstasy” at Google. In subsequent chapters the authors turn up interesting characters ranging from Navy SEALs to mad scientists like Alexander Shulgin and John Lilly as well as the occasional extreme athlete. Unfortunately, a great deal of the book is couched in Silicon Valley’s self-propelling mass delusions. We find the authors encouraging readers to explore “repurposing our egos from our operating system (OS) to a user interface (UI).” Elsewhere, a venture capitalist in the Valley drops wisdom like, “we’ve noticed that learning to kitesurf has a lot of parallels with the challenges of entrepreneurship,” and Elon Musk sings the praises of Burning Man. Unsurprisingly, the book ends with the story of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison’s America’s Cup victory in 2013. Ultimately, the book is fine as a sampler for people interested in tuning up their consciousness, but readers will find a deeper dive into biohacking in Kara Platoni’s We Have the Technology (2015) and a more authentic story in Ayelet Waldman’s microdosing memoir A Really Good Day (2017).

A jargon-heavy, superficial primer on altered states tuned to a specific audience.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-242965-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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