The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Tuesday, September 28, 2004
I AM IRON MAN: Brian Doherty has written a history of the Burning Man festival, titled
This Is Burning Man. It's a fine book, and I'm not just saying that because Brian's a colleague and a friend. It is, I believe, the most detailed account there is of the annual event. It's also a colorful, entertaining story about a bunch of colorful, entertaining characters, the sort of book that should hold the attention of even those readers who don't really care about Burning Man. It strikes just the right balance between enthusiasm and distance: Like a dissident patriot, Brian loves his subject enough to expose its disappointments and dysfunctions to the light.

Most important, it's a book about bohemian America. When you trace Burning Man's roots and follow its branches, you find secret societies of surrealists spelunking through hidden urban caverns, strange theatrical experiences that began as goofy pranks, utopian dreams of a new society in the desert, dystopian realities of infighting and rivalries and petty hatreds. It's a compelling story, and it resonates far beyond one temporary city in Nevada.

This belongs on the short list of important books about American culture and counterculture, along with Frances FitzGerald's Cities on a Hill, Luc Sante's Low Life, Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and Bob Black's Beneath the Underground. I recommend it highly.


posted by Jesse 6:04 PM
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