From Publishers Weekly
Eastern spirituality and Western commercialism fuse in this flamboyant tale of an iconic American guru. Journalist Love tells the story of Pierre Bernard, a yoga adept from Iowa who made a splash at the turn of the 20th century by enduring bloody piercings and lacerations under trance. His Tantrik Order of disciples in San Francisco and New York soon gained notoriety; after police raided his schools, Bernard was accused of seducing girls and conducting sacred orgies. Delighted tabloids dubbed him The Great Oom. Bernard rehabilitated himself in the 1920s with the Clarkstown Country Club, a yoga-themed resort and rehab center for the rich on the Hudson, financed by a parade of heiresses who fell under his sway. Love makes his hero a quintessentially American character who yoked his mystic bent to a brash entrepreneurialism; with the riches he made from his yoga initiatives, he started a chemical company, an airport, a semipro baseball team with a midget second baseman, and a trained elephant act. Love credits Bernard with changing public perception of yoga from dissolute exoticism to healthful normalcy, but this colorful, frenetic tale reminds us that money is America's true religion. Photos. (May)
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*Starred Review* Few Americans practicing hatha yoga today will have heard of Pierre Bernard, the “first American yogi.” Journalist Love only found out about the notorious mystic and chimerical genius nicknamed the Great Oom when he and his wife moved to Nyack, New York, and discovered that they were living on what was once part of Bernard’s lavish country club-cum-ashram. Love diligently researched the forgotten tale of how yoga, once demonized as obscene and dangerous in the States, became a popular path to health, while retrieving the rollicking story of a true American original. Born in Iowa in 1876, the future guru found the unlikeliest of mentors, a yoga master from Calcutta. Once he became adept at yoga’s most dramatic practices, Bernard, a brilliant, charismatic, and fearless entrepreneur, weathered scandals, legal battles, and jail to create a Jazz Age empire that attracted the rich and famous. Yoga was the magnet, but Bernard’s upscale bohemian commune also offered semipro baseball, theatrical productions, circuses, and sexual freedom. Bernard concurrently managed banks, became an “aviation czar,” broke hearts, and made enemies. Love writes with all the zest, wit, and empathy his protean subject deserves as he tells this dazzling tale of a self-made man of holistic convictions and archetypal flaws. --Donna Seaman