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



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 very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.


A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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