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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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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