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Breaking Open the Head
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About the Author

DANIEL PINCHBECK is a founding editor of Open City, and he has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, and The Village Voice, where sections of his book have previously appeared.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews

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

"Grippingly dramatic, powerfully moving, this is a classic of the literature of ecstasy."
--Booklist (starred review)

"In his reporting, [Pinchbeck] manages to walk a difficult tonal tightrope, balancing his skepticism with a desire to be transformed. He thoughtfully serveys the literature about psychedelic drugs, but the most exhilirating and illuminating sections are the descriptions of drug taking...Pinchbeck's earnest, engaged and winning matter carry the book."
--Publishers Weekly

"I much admire Breaking Open the Head for being the account of an authentic quest for enlightenment in jungles, up rivers, in deserts, and hardest of all to access, the human mind and heart via one of the oldest thoroughfares on earth, mind-expanding drugs. This is a serious and illuminating journey."
--Paul Theroux

From the Hardcover edition.

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. (On sale Sept. 17) Forecast: Pinchbeck is a founding editor, along with Thomas Beller, of Open City, a kind of Paris Review for the '90s, and the son of artist Peter Pinchbeck and Beat memoirist Joyce Johnson. Portions of the book previously appeared in the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, where Pinchbeck is a contributor. Look for a few strong national reviews and solid sales, particularly among younger readers, who will turn out for the four-city tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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