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This Is Burning Man: The Rise of a New American Underground Paperback – June 10, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's tough to categorize Burning Man. Is it an excuse for thousands of anarchic, sexually uninhibited people to do drugs and destroy things? A massive, do-it-yourself arts festival for the punk avant-garde? Or is it the "spontaneous flowering" of a new, subversive culture? Reason magazine editor Doherty explores these definitions and others in this gushing yet well-researched mix of journalism and memoir. Burning Man began in the mid-1980s, when some friends burned a wooden effigy on a California beach. The event soon relocated to the Nevada desert, where, apparently, the civilized world's rules no longer applied. People could play golf with burning toilet paper rolls or whip each other at the Temple of Atonement. One year, someone piled 10 tons of half-burned pianos on top of each other, creating a huge "metapercussion instrument." Another year, a man calling himself "Dr. Megavolt" donned a metal suit and danced with electricity generated by a towering Tesla coil. By 2003, more than 30,000 pilgrims were participating, and Burning Man had become a $6-million "culture business" that many saw as a sellout of its humble origins. Doherty is an enthusiastic devotee, and he adds his own memories to this account. This insider's look at a cornerstone of American subculture is informative, though nearly as chaotic as Burning Man itself. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

True-believer Doherty loves Burning Man, the annual festival for aging Aquarians and seekers of all New Agey^B stripes that involves the erection in the Nevada desert of a giant statue alongside a temporary city of alternative lifestyle enthusiasts practicing, to varying degrees, alternative models of commerce, artistic pursuit, and other social and recreational gambits for about a week. Then the giant statue gets torched, and everybody returns to presumably more humdrum everyday pursuits. The fest encourages a "no spectators" attitude to the effect that celebrants' doings aren't to be reported, and Doherty attended four times before he "dreamed of writing about it for public consumption." Now he presents a combination of what he witnessed and experienced and "journalistic re-creations" of the stories and reminiscences of some 100 interviewees, including people he "just lived moments with." How sixties can you get? This magical approach, while it makes the book questionable as verifiable social reportage, serves the BM ethos well. A lovingly, if not crisply, written tribute. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 311 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books (June 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932100865
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932100860
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #627,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is by far the best book on Burning Man to come out for those interested in the history, economy, politics and detailed life stories behind the event. I hear that there are more detailed studies of the event coming out in the next year or two. I hope this book inspires more people, especially academicians, to keep thinking about this global cultural phenomenon seriously.

What I found especially useful about this book is that the stories therein constitute a case history for subcultural networking and community building. If you are interested in building synaptic networks between subcultures, this book could be a powerful guide.

This book illustrates the power of synchronicity and simple friendship. If Larry Harvey and Mary Graubarger had not come to San Francisco, had Larry not met Mary at Baker Beach, had the Cacophony Society not discovered Harvey's beach burn, would any of this have happened?

Though much of what came together may have been accident (or destiny), it is clear from the book that Larry Harvey is a true subcultural Faustian (in Howard Bloom's [Global Brain] sense). Without Harvey's leadership, and subtle and intuitive grasp of the nascent unconscious symbolic substratum that he had uncovered, the spiderweb of networks and relationships that followed his work probably would never have developed into anything close to the Burning Man we know and love. In short, it takes leadership and luck to build community.

This book is more than a book about Burning Man. It is a manual to building communities of cultural creatives everywhere.
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By WALT! on August 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the first comprehensive book that details the evolution and challenged existence of the annual Nevada event known as Burning Man. The author skillfully chronicles the history of Burning Man with deft insight into its principle characters that made the event what it is today. A true page turner for any Burner, and a great introduction for anyone with the slightest curiosity as to what is Burning Man.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an intelligent page-turner about a strange people who spend a great deal of their time attending to arcane activities. These people constitute an underground community of sorts (mostly West Coast, mostly urban) and Burning Man is their annual X-Mass celebration. "Burners," as the milieu refers to its own, come in nearly every flavor but if I were pressed to generalize about them I'd insist that more than anything they taste like the grubby progeny of Merry Pranksters and Yippies. In other words, a bunch of blessed mind-fugging pranksters.

Kidding aside, this is an excellent book. It reminds me more than anything else of Tom Wolfe's ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. I say this not just because of the subject matter but because of Brian Doherty's prose. The big difference between Wolfe and Doherty though in regard to their respective books is that Doherty was directly involved in much of what he writes about. Wolfe was not. And, as far as the similar subject matter is concerned, what I said already goes: Burners (among many other things it must be said) are the offspring of the Merry Pranksters.

Oh, and by the way, I've never been to Burning Man and to be honest I doubt I'll ever go. But I loved this book. I think it ought to be of interest to anyone interested in contemporary culture and its permutations. And boy is Burning Man a doozy of a permutation.
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Format: Hardcover
Burning Man is the arts/creativity/freedom/whatever festival held every September in the Nevada desert.

It started in 1980s San Francisco, in part as a reaction to Ronald Reagan's America. A man named Larry Harvey and some friends gathered on a San Francisco nude beach to burn a wooden effigy of a man (for no especially good reason). The event was "adopted" by various California punk and arts groups, like the L.A. Cacophony Society, and soon grew too big for the nude beach. A home was found deep in the Nevada desert, miles from the nearest civilization.

It is a huge, empty, desolate place, described by one person as living inside an ashtray. The wind blows constantly, sometimes up to 100 miles an hour, and within seconds, everything and everyone is coated with the same gray dust. Permits are required from the Bureau of Land Management, the official owner of the land, and from the local county governments, not always an easy process. As the attendance at Burning Man has grown over the years, from a few hundred people to, presently, 30,000 people, changes have been needed in the organizational structure of the festival. An LLC was formed to take care of the financial recordkeeping, which, for several years in the 1990s, was loose, to say the least. An unofficial police force was formed, to peacefully resolve disputes and to supplement the actual police force, there to keep things from getting too out of hand. Actual zoning has taken place, including the laying out of streets.

At Burning Man, self-reliance is expected by all participants, which includes bringing your own water. Everyone is expected to participate in some sort of art project; spectators are discouraged.
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