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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Five Star Wave of a Book
Two friends who happened to be surfers drove their rusted out old car into the outback to chase the rumor of perfect waves on an isolated beach. They rumbled over the bumpy road, turning left, then right, winding around, finally driving off the pavement down pockmarked, dusty lanes, eventually stalling out in a thick muck field just a quarter mile from the ocean. From...
Published on July 18, 2006 by Jason Zimmerman

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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Searching for awe in all the wrong places. . .
If you are looking for something uplifting to read. . .this isn't it. Steven Kotler's irreverent, cynical voice seems at odds with The Transcendent Experience he pursues from continent to continent. Along the way however, he does tell a lot of interesting surfing stories that give the reader a good understanding of how it feels to ride the waves. Besides looking for...
Published on November 9, 2006 by Ojai Kathy


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Five Star Wave of a Book, July 18, 2006
Two friends who happened to be surfers drove their rusted out old car into the outback to chase the rumor of perfect waves on an isolated beach. They rumbled over the bumpy road, turning left, then right, winding around, finally driving off the pavement down pockmarked, dusty lanes, eventually stalling out in a thick muck field just a quarter mile from the ocean. From here they did what any reasonable surfer would do, they untied their boards and started to hike into the beach. Things changed not more than ten feet away from their abandoned car. A blinding light flash and -zap!- a lightning bold charred the car, frying engine and all associated parts.

Miles from civilization, knowing nothing about engines and out of supplies, they did the only sensible thing--they went surfing. When they reached the water they found the surface to be completely flat, no waves to be had. Waiting out most of the afternoon with no change in conditions, they were ready to bail, when again -zap!- another bolt hit the reef and *poof* instant waves. Beautiful surf for hours, they caught waves all day, until suddenly, just as rapidly as they had begun, the waves shut off. Just like that, as sometimes happens.

That's when they saw him. Several hundred yards out was an old man sitting on a surfboard. In his hand was a long white bone. The story is that with this bone he could control the weather, could summon waves, and who knows what other magical stuff.

This is the story of the Conductor. It is the myth who's elusive origins author Steven Kotler seeks in his book "West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief." After hearing the tale of the Conductor years apart in similarly dire circumstances while surfing in Indonesia and later Mexico, Kotler embarks on a journey of the exploration of belief and spirituality. The "logos and "mythos" of human understanding. This is not your average surf book.

Weaving his own personal tale of a struggle with Lyme's Disease and his transformation through a surfing session, he gives us a peepshow look at current scientific thought about the causal reasons behind our spiritual experiences. This is a magical narrative that touches on areas that those of us who explore recognize as familiar. It is a complex, yet simple tale that uses surfing simply as a backdrop, but has relevance to anyone, especially those in love with action sports. Social scientists, psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and many other scientific sorts weigh in on numerous aspects of belief. We are ushered to all corners of the globe, from California to New Zealand to Hawaii on this quest.

Much is revealed. On the marriage of brain evolution and the construction of mythologies:

"Humans often encounter illness, death, odd coincidences, mysterious circumstances--things that do not allow for easy understanding. Yet human evolution designed the human brain to detect meaning, and this mechanism doesn't just shut down when easy answers aren't readily forthcoming. Hence the need to invent meaning--gods, demons, supernatural forces--mythos is how humankind resolves the irresolvable." It is the how and why of this phenomenon, it is the mystery, that Kotler delves deeply into.

And yet there is a more tactile mystery that can be tasted through physical experience, through exertion, through being "in the zone."--surfing, being in animate motion in whatever form. Mythos has its place, emotions are said to be believed to be constantly filtering our reality--meaning quite literally that what we believe may be what we actually see. The question is then begged: What happens to our reality and to a society's reality when belief in the mythological ceases?

While this is heady stuff and the science fascinating, the author makes his words dance; the interplay being tremendously fun to behold.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't let the "J" word scare you off, July 21, 2006
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Don't let the "J" word scare you away from this book, or the "surf" word either for that matter. This is a slick and intersting work written by a real smart guy.

The author brings you along on his quest. He's searching for the origin of the "Conductor" lore - the enigmatic chap who controls the weather and the waves and can give a surfer the ride of his life or be the conduit for ending it.

Reading this book is like sitting in an amusement park ride being driven along a path that allows us a peek at Pacific legends, quantum physics, that ol'time religion and psychotropic drug treatments.

I'm a member of a read and release program and can't quite decide if I want to leave this book on a California pier, a roudy fundamentalist church or the local loony bin. But rest assured, anyone who lays claim to this book will find it fascinating. bg
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West of Jesus, July 5, 2006
Very interesting perspective that deals with a lot of interesting subjects - like out of body experiences, the basis for belief, great story of a personal quest. Often in the book when he touches on an interesting subject he will back it up with previously written data by another author or research that had been done. It was definitely out of the norm of what I usually read and I enjoyed it so much. A friend recommended it to me and I would like to recommend it to you.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West of Jesus, February 13, 2009
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This review is from: West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief (Paperback)
I buy many books from Amazon to send to my son who is currently in prison in Texas. He said this is, by far, the best book he has received. He has read it twice and has let other inmates read it as well, who all have loved it. I haven't read it yet, but will be doing so soon.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's Next Boss?, September 26, 2006
This semi-autobiographical book starts with the author having one of those moments where what comes after will not be like what went before. In his case the determining factor was a bout with Lyme disease. He had the disease a lot harder than most people and was basically bed ridden for two years, he was over the disease but left weak and probably depressed. Solution: Go to Mexico and go surfing.

From here Kotler begins wandering, both in the book and in life. He goes to investigate an old surfing folk tale called the Conductor, about a man who has the ability to control the weather, specifically the surf. With the remains of his life rather messed up, Kotler begins to surf around the world seeking the Conductor. He regains his strength, both physically and mentally. But he also begins to develop mystical experiences. He reports on out-of-body experiences, time stoppages, moments of ecstasy.

It was a delightful trip, it's a delightful story. Only I'm left with a wonder about what he's going to do next.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A serious-minded search for understanding humanity's perceptions and the stories it tells itself to fully live, September 11, 2006
West Of Jesus: Surfing, Science, And The Origins Of Belief by award-winning author Steven Kotler contemplates the link between neuroscience, spiritual transcendence, and sports. After Kotler reached the low point of his life, having lost his job, his girlfriend, and most other things dear to him, Kotler dared to set out and search the world for the mysterious "Conductor" - the mythical surfer who controls weather and the waves. In spite of his own skepticism, he encountered out-of-body experiences and moments that appeared divine. Contemplating the similarities between his personal senses and the reports of mystics and the findings of neuroscience, Kostler discovered the key intersection of biology, philosophy, and spirituality. A serious-minded search for understanding humanity's perceptions and the stories it tells itself to fully live.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Searching for awe in all the wrong places. . ., November 9, 2006
By 
Ojai Kathy (Ojai, CA, USA) - See all my reviews
If you are looking for something uplifting to read. . .this isn't it. Steven Kotler's irreverent, cynical voice seems at odds with The Transcendent Experience he pursues from continent to continent. Along the way however, he does tell a lot of interesting surfing stories that give the reader a good understanding of how it feels to ride the waves. Besides looking for Trancendence-thru-surfing, Kotler looks for ways to explain it. He does this by reading every book he can find on how the brain works and then sharing excerpts with his readers. The effect is like trying to transmit the wonder of a Van Gogh by explaining the chemical formulas used for his paints (the term "reductionist" comes to mind). I found this depressing. However, he does create a pretty comprehensive bibliography for anyone who wants to do further reading on the science of altered states of consciousness.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West of Jesus, August 10, 2006
West of Jesus by Steven Kotler offers those with lyme disease the courage to face and process their own journey. He combines Science, Belief Systems, and the Surfer's special relationship to the ocean and wind to help make sense of life at a time when there appears to be little reason to go on. The references to neuroscience are backed up with valid studies by qualified specialists, especially Gene D'acquili and Andy Newberg. The search for the origins of myths is a reminder of how elusive oral stories can be, and his commentary on the spiritual experiences of surfers reveals a side of them that is not readily evident. One does not need to be a surfer or a sufferer of lyme disease to be inspired by Steven Kotler's story. It is real and inspiring.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, deep, and humorous, July 3, 2006
By 
Mistersea "singlefin" (Sacramento, CA United States) - See all my reviews
I was clued into this book by a newspaper clipping sent to me by my father, who is mildly amused by my love of surfing, and thought I might enjoy reading Kotler's book. The review was quite favorable, if somewhat difficult to grasp. It sounds quite strange and unlikely in print, but upon reading the book, it becomes quite clear. This is a fascinating read that incorporates many seemingly divergent themes, centering around the author's love of surfing, battle with Lyme disease, and subsequent recovery. He undertakes a mythical journey in search of a strange tale that takes him on a quest to various surfing locales (New Zealand, Mexico, Indonesia...)to get to some kind of deeper understanding of the irrationality of "belief". I know, it sounds quite daft, but trust me, it is a fine and engaging read, whether you are a surfer or not, apparently. One of the best reads around the subject of surfing since Kem Nunn's surf-noir novels. Quite thought-provoking.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars entertaining journey, uncertain destination, March 5, 2010
By 
Mike Pond (Southern California) - See all my reviews
Steven Kotler crafts an interesting, albiet meandering at times, tale of his quest to uncover the link between surfing and spirituality. The explicit goal is to find the source of a quaint surfing myth he heard on two different occassions in remote parts of the world, of "the Conductor" who can control weather and therefore surf.
I found the Conductor story weakly introduced and not very compelling - certainly not enough to launch a global quest to find out why a mythical man can wave a bone at the waves and conjure good surf. Apparently this was meant to represent the strong mystical component in surfing, but to me that explanation seems lacking. From that shaky launching point, SK employs an eclectic, multi-faceted quest for answers.
Belief and mysticism are explained primarily from a Darwinian, neurological perspective through a series of questions - scattered at times, lacking Pirsig's rigorous approach - many challenging traditional beliefs. However, we end up with more questions than answers. SK explored mysticism and found it lacking. He explains religion as simply an effective survival technique. In the end, we don't really know what Kotler believes, just what he doesn't believe.
Inherent in this surf tale is the assumption that nature is God. A more persuasive explanation, I believe, is that nature proves God. This is not a criticism of the book, rather a clarification of our differences in - as Kotler would put it - our personal mythologies.
Theological differences aside, this well told story has much to recommend it. As a very dedicated surfer (my wife would say obsessed) for over 35 years I understand intimately the allure of surfing and the changes it makes in your life. Steven does a wonderful job of communicating some of that stoke to non-surfers using almost no parochial "surfspeak". The link between surfing and spirituality is explored with depth and insight with a very impressive breadth of inquiry which made me question my own rather dogmatic beliefs. The story of Eddie Aikau and his brother Clyde anchors the terrific final chapter. However, in the end the explanations offered for the origion of belief and its link to surfing were not compelling to me. The quest was a fun ride but the wave ultimately fizzled, leaving me wanting more.
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West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief
West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief by Steven Kotler (Paperback - May 29, 2007)
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