STEALING FIRE by Steven Kotler


How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work
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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. 21st, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-06-242965-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2017


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