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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism Paperback – August 12, 2003


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Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism + Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution + The Doors of Perception: Heaven and Hell (Thinking Classics)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1st edition (August 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767907434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767907439
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Open City editor Pinchbeck's book debut is a polemic that picks up the threads that Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters and counterculture idealism left in the culture. Charting his gradual transformation from a cynical New York litterateur to psychedelic acolyte, Pinchbeck uses elements of travelogue, memoir, "entheobotany" ("the study of god-containing plants") and historical research to ask why these "doorways of the mind" have been unceremoniously sealed, sharing Walter Benjamin's melancholy about the exasperating nature of consumerism: "We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies." Pinchbeck travels the earth in search of spiritual awakening through tripping, from Gabon to the Nevada desert. At happenings like the Burning Man festival or a plant conference in the Ecuadorean jungle, Pinchbeck meets "modern shamans" and tells their stories as they intersect with his. In his reporting, he manages to walk a difficult tonal tightrope, balancing his skepticism with a desire to be transformed. He thoughtfully surveys the literature about psychedelic drugs, but the most exhilarating and illuminating sections are the descriptions of drug taking: he calls this visiting the "spirit world," which is "like a cosmic bureaucracy employing its own PR department, its own off-kilter sense of dream-logic and humor... constantly playing with human limitations, dangling possibilities before our puny grasps at knowledge." There's little new drug lore here, but Pinchbeck's earnest, engaged and winning manner carry the book.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

In this firsthand account of the world of psychedelic substances today, Village Voice and Rolling Stone writer Pinchbeck weaves elements of his personal life, including vivid descriptions of his reactions to the substances he takes, with larger topics, such as the history of psychedelic substances in the modern world and the foundations of shamanism. To aid his inquiry, he participates in visionary rituals around the world, e.g., taking iboga as part of a tribal initiation in Gabon. He also discusses key figures such as Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and Terence McKenna. Pinchbeck repeatedly decries the rationalism and destructiveness of Western culture and the shortsightedness of completely outlawing psychedelic substances. The book is not an extended diatribe, however. The author offers various viewpoints on how certain drugs should be used and on whether a modern, Western shamanism is possible. Pinchbeck posits a universe that may be difficult to accept, but his book will be of interest for public and academic libraries.
Stephen Joseph, Butler Cty. Community Coll. Lib., PA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

I grew up in the New York counterculture of the 1970s and '80s. My father, Peter Pinchbeck, was an abstract painter, and my mother, Joyce Johnson, is a writer who participated in the Beat Generation. She was dating Jack Kerouac when On the Road hit the bestseller lists in 1957 (chronicled in her book, Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir). As a journalist, I have written for Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, etcetera. I am currently the editorial director of the Evolver Project (www.evolver.net).

In my late twenties, I fell into a deep spiritual crisis that led me to the study of shamanism and psychedelic susbtances. My first book, Breaking Open the Head, recounted my initiation into several tribal cultures that use hallucinogens in their rituals. Over time, I became convinced of the legitimacy of the shamanic and mystical worldview held by indigenous peoples around the world. This led me to my most recent book, 2012, a study of prophecy.

Customer Reviews

The book is powerful, well thought out and well written.
J Irvin
I personally found plenty of depth and meaning in Pinchbeck's alternately humorous and harrowing accounts.
Luciferal
I've just begun reading "2012", Pinchbeck's latest book.
Michael

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

175 of 190 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on January 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
(Four and a half stars) Dreams are fascinating, and psychedelic experiences are fascinating, to the one who has them. And the rule of thumb is, that people's descriptions of their fascinating dreams and trips rate right up there on the boredom
meter with hole-by-hole narratives of your boss's last golf game.
It's not coincidence, I think, that the two great, readable narratives to come out of the psychedelia's da-glo glory days in the sixties (Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) and its nightmarish decline and fall in the seventies (Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) came from two fellows whose primary love and loyalty was to journalism. Then the substances that Daniel Pinchbeck calls "entheogens" fell into cultural eclipse, the interminable pathology known as the War on Drugs took center stage, and little original or noteworthy has been published on the topic for quite a while. Terence McKenna, brilliant but sometimes barely in touch with the real world, has had the field pretty much to himself.
Now we've got another entrant, not quite up to Wolfe or Thompson, but as wide ranging as McKenna, while staying more level-headed and instructive. The strengths of "Breaking Open the Head" are once again journalistic. Pinchbeck undertakes an odyssey in search of genuine shamans, who can properly initiate him into the authentic use of psychoactive plants. He takes us with us on his journey, sets us into scenes from West Africa, to the invisible perennial contemporary Woodstock in Nevada known as the Burning Man Festival, to the Amazon, to the peyote fields of Mexico, to labs in New York City where chemicals the plant kingdom never quite got around to inventing are concocted and consumed.
We get Pinchbeck's trip reports, yes.
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86 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Seay on December 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We can now speak of an entheogenic renaissance and this book is part of the growing literature of that movement. "Breaking Open the Head" is an autobiographical account in which the author details his transformation from a cynical Manhattan atheist to an entheogenic psychonaut. Along the way, the writer introduces us to the various psychedelics in use, their effects and cultural history (i.e how they have been used throughout history &/or at present).
One element that differentiates this book from other psychedelic accounts is Pinchbeck raises criticisms of capitalism, often via
the voice of Walter Benjamin. We are all under the spell of capital. We are hypnotised by commercials and advertising jingles. We are told, by the powers that be, that capitalism is "natural", that we have arrived at some kind of Hegelian "End of History", in which capitalism has won and any attempts to imagine a different scenario, a different form of global exchange, is empty utopianism. Unfortunately, many of us have accepted this fabrication. And so it is, that the rainforest continues to be depleted, many people in Third World countries live in poverty (thanks to multinational corporations and the politics of debt played by such organizations as the World Bank); spiritually
empty we, in the post-industrial capitalist countries, greedily seek to fill our spiritual emptiness with things, commodities. We consume more and more, yet still cannot fill the emptiness. We're like rats on a turnwheel.
Psychedelics MAY be PART of the antidote to all of this.
Through psychedelics we are awakened from our trance and can see the world from a completely different perspective. Psychedelics spark creativity.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you've found the writing of Terence McKenna interesting and thought-provoking, then you should consider this book an immediate must-read. However, Pinchbeck's book deserves to be read (and hopefully WILL be read) by a much wider cross-section of society than McKenna's. One of the problems inherent to writing about psychedelic experiences is that the nature of the experience itself makes describing it through the written word extremely difficult. I think Pinchbeck has done an incredible job of bridging this gap (to the extent that is indeed possible) and relating his experiences in a way that even someone who has never touched a psychedelic substance can begin to understand.
While that in itself is an important achievement, I think the real value of this book lies in the moral and ethical issues it ultimately poses for the reader...and this includes both those who've used these types of drugs, as well as those who've never even had a beer. The issues of corporate greed, ecosystem destruction, and blatant consumerism have never been more relevant to our society; the author addresses these issues with thought-provoking insight, and offers some extremely interesting and somewhat frightening ideas about the future of the human race....ideas that seem to have been catalyzed, but NOT created, by his use of psychedelics.
In my opinion, that's where the real value of this book lies, and the reason it should be a rewarding and worthwhile read for anyone who considers himself a concerned, active, thinking member of society and the human race. It would be a tragedy if potential readers overlook this and skip the book based on a preconceived notion about the subject matter.
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