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The Beaten Path: Field Notes on Getting Wise in a Wisdom-Crazy World Hardcover – July 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tompkins (Paradise Fever) offers a witty, provocative memoir about the struggle to get wise in a time and in a culture where the world's great wisdom books are as available as candy bars at the 7-11. For all their amazing abundance, according to the author, "these maps don't seem to be able to speak to us in the same way that they did back in the time when there was essentially one wisdom source per culture." With deadpan humor, the disaffected son of a once-legendary New Age author, Peter Tompkins (The Secret Life of Plants), describes dropping out of Vassar in the early '80s to emulate the "Life Manuals," pop wisdom-getting narratives like Carlos Castenada's shaman saga. Along with lectures on Taoism and Zen Buddhism by Alan Watts and the novels of Henry Miller, these manuals inspired Tompkins to revere teachers who got enlightened without the usual pitfalls and rules. Alas, slogging through the jungles of Colombia as a photographer's assistant initiates Tompkins only in the embarrassment of being a wealthy white witness to dire poverty. He encounters one drunken shaman who agrees to be photographed for money, and that proves a far happier event than the psychedelic trip that Tompkins later takes on a New Age ranch in New Mexico. He ends with the valuable insight that our wisdom-commodifying contemporary culture has lost a taste for wisdom as process. Astute readers will long for Tompkins to put his hinted-at Christian card on the table. Indeed, essays like "Mystics and Zen Masters" by Thomas Merton demonstrate how a grown man secure in his own tradition might study another tradition for the light it sheds on his own.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Of the various paths available to those in search of life's meaning, Tompkins (Paradise Fever) chose the path of Buddhism while also incorporating insights from Taoism and Native American spirituality. His book is a journal of the search he began when as a teenager he read what he refers to as "life manuals," such as the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad-Gita. The reader travels along with him on both the physical and the spiritual path, as Tompkins attempts to apply the principles of these texts and others to his life. An important trip was one he took to Colombia with his older stepbrother, a photographer and a Buddhist who eventually became a monk, during which they encountered a shaman. Tompkins's journeys took him across the United States and eventually back to college, which he had rejected a few years earlier. While not a life manual itself, it provides a good introduction to Buddhism and Taoism in an easy fashion. For religion and spirituality collections. John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 225 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (July 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3809782297
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380978229
  • ASIN: 0380978229
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,740,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ptolemy Tompkins is the author of Paradise Fever (a memoir focusing on the years in the mid-seventies when his father, Secret Life of Plants author Peter Tompkins, became obsessed with finding the lost continent of Atlantis in the waters off Florida), The Beaten Path (an examination of the good and not-so-good things that happen when one takes the teachings of popular modern wisdom authors like Alan Watts and Carlos Castaneda too seriously) and This Tree Grows Out of Hell (a spiritual history of the Maya and Aztec cultures focusing on their disturbing preoccupation with bloodshed). For just under ten years he was an in-house editor at Guideposts and Angels On Earth magazines. His work there led him to writing The Divine Life of Animals and The Modern Book of the Dead, a duo of books arguing for the continuing validity of the human belief in postmortem survival. The Modern Book of the Dead in turn led him to Dr. Eben Alexander, with whom he collaborated on the bestselling Proof of Heaven and The Map of Heaven.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Goldie on February 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book about the author. Good humor. Notes to myself: brush up on vocabulary.
He blends his personal typical teenage experiences with his search for wisdom. The book is broken in small titles going back and forth from what he's learned from books and the personal experiences he encounters. It's easy to pick up and put down as time permits because of this. The ending was a bit of a disappointment. But then again, the book was just what his title said it was....field notes, not a thorough autobiography. His conclusion was weak.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sam Rolfe on August 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Mostly a rather silly romp through a handful of life philosophies on the premise that there is an esoteric path to enlightenment, and the job is to keep trying one after the other until you find the one that works for you. After taking some time (most of the book)setting up this straw man, Tompkins knocks it over convincingly. Until I got to the last chapter I was fully prepared to be very disappointed. That chapter takes a very good shot at answering the question, "what's it all about?" If you are looking for insights, wrap the Huxley quote, the Hun Tun story, and the highway/service road analogy up together and give yourself a treat. Its a lesson on Buddah's "middle way", and skillfully the author avoids the label. Its an important book for anyone like myself who has been attracted to the lonely detour of wisdom.
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By K. Greenfeld on June 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
i think this is the best of Ptolemy Tompkin's books so far. he writes a wonderful memoir that is also a readable and enlightening religious history. the fact that he is truthful about the fruitlessness of his own explorations lends the book a verisimilitude missing in so many wisdom manuals. this is a great book about searching for meaning and the frequent emptiness of that search. it is so accessible and enjoyable I'm surprised it isn't more widely read.
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