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Orin Holland likes chocolate chip cookies. He was born on a roller coaster and grew up in a wild west town. Someday he plans to take over the world, but for now is happy working for Powells.com. In the past, Orin has been known to make public appearances as a rock star, a pizza chef, a Shakespearean actor, a data entry clerk, and a cartoon character. (Dare we mention the stint as a two-headed monster? Nah, might scare the kiddies.) Orin would like to add that he really likes chocolate chip cookies. And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln. The Illuminatus! Trilogy
by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea
I had grown bored with reading, until I found this book. Anything and everything can be found here: conspiracies, drugs, sex, talking gorillas, dolphins with scuba gear, a yellow submarine, undead Nazi soldiers, rock 'n' roll, ritual magic, quantum theory, Mafia dons who collect Atlantean art….Even after finishing it, I continued to carry it around with me for weeks, just opening to a page at random and reading. I then sought out everything I could find by Robert Anton Wilson and the myriad of sources he borrows from, but this is the starting place of my intellectual quest. Maybe it's because I found this book at just the right time in my life, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
by Alan Moore
What mad genius hides behind the moniker Alan Moore? For those unfamiliar with his work, Alan Moore made comic books "respectable" in the mid-80's with his landmark graphic novel Watchmen, introducing dark themes and intellectualism to a medium long thought only for children. Recently he has stepped in to save comics again, this time from the very brooding he instilled in them, with a return to the superhero format. Promethea is a work of sheer genius, blending fact and fiction into something more than just a comic book. Yes, it can be read as a traditional narrative (and an exciting one at that!), but as Sophie Bangs (Promethea's current incarnation/alter ego) learns the nature of her powers, we also learn about the relationship between imagination and reality and the means to navigate them through the symbolism of magic.
by Robert Sapolsky
I never imagined that a book written by a primate behaviorologist would make me laugh out loud. Sapolsky is a born storyteller, and I found his experiences of twenty years in Africa studying baboons absolutely fascinating. You get to know the baboons, and feel sympathy for them as you would any character in the best of novels. You chuckle at the naiveté of the narrator as he describes his experiences with culture shock, and then wonder if you could have done any better. My favorite bit is his description of learning to tranquilize baboons with a blow gun. He gets so good at it he plots how to dart people coming into the movie theatre after he returns home in order to stay in practice.
by Brian Greene
Many books have been written in an attempt to explain quantum physics to the layperson. Considering that most physicists still have problems coming to grips with the counter-intuitive implications of quantum theory, it is easy to understand why they do not always succeed in communicating the mind-bending revelations about reality demonstrated by the famous double-slit experiment. Brian Greene succeeds where other books have fallen short; his explanations made the most sense to me. Plus, the fast-paced world of high-energy physics is constantly revising its models and theories. First published in 1999, The Elegant Universe is still a fairly current discussion about the attempts of superstrings and M-theory to achieve the highly sought after grand unification of quantum theory and the theory of relativity.
by John Carter, introduction by Robert Anton Wilson
Science and magic are complete opposites, right? One demands rigorous experimentation to prove facts and advance knowledge, the other is based entirely on superstition, so anyone claiming to be a real magician is surely a quack. Then explain Jack Parsons, brilliant rocket scientist who started Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL, some claim it really stands for Jack Parsons Lives) and was a pupil of the infamous occultist, Aleister Crowley. This thoroughly researched biography explores both sides of Parsons's work, from government contracts developing better weaponry to defeat the Nazis, to the Babalon [sic] working to conjure the beast of Revelations.
by Timothy Leary
Most modern philosophers wail on about the horrors of living today. Reading Leary, I find myself overwhelmed with the glittering optimism he has for the possibilities of modern society. Published just as the Internet explosion was happening in the early 90's, this book marvels at how computers will revolutionize society. He looks at the side by side evolution of mainstream culture and counter-culture throughout the 20th century, and projects his vision forward into the 21st: The effect increasing technology has had upon the power of the human mind to process multiple realities at once. He shows how Pong was a great evolutionary step across the "Merlin Wall," as suddenly the consumer could take an active part in the action on the screen. He equates our tentative steps into the digital realms of "Cyberia" with the floundering of early amphibians who first crawled up from the sea onto land. Have no fear of the future with Dr. Leary as your guide.
by Terence McKenna
McKenna starts his radical revision of human evolution by positing the theory that we evolved from apes to humans because of brain changes brought about by ingesting psilocybin-containing mushrooms. This was, in his opinion, the birth of religion, and was retained in some form or another through the Greeks and the Mysteries at Eleusis and the Soma of early Hindu culture. He continues by looking at the role drugs of all kinds have played in the course of human history. Surely tobacco and opium play a role, and who can ignore alcohol; but other substances that contemporary society forgets to classify as "drugs" make his study, such as sugar, chocolate, coffee, and tea. There is even a section on the modern electronic drugs, for how else would you describe the effects of several hours of television viewing flattening out of alpha brain waves, decrease in heart rate, eyes glaze over effects comparable to many other narcotics.
by William S. Burroughs
Of Burroughs's many cut-up apocalyptic works, I found this one to be the most cohesive and enjoyable. True, from chapter to chapter, sometimes even from page to page, the characters and action seem entirely different, so one is left wondering if it is one book or many thrown together in a blender. But some characters do resurface later in the action, and the jumps in identity seem to maintain a consistency of archetype. Even though the outer dressing of the story changes the deeper meaning remains, allowing a coherent narrative to emerge. It is a disturbing vision of bio-warfare, pirate utopias, and deviant behavior, that is only the beginning of a trilogy continued in The Place of Dead Roads (also very good!) and concluded in The Western Lands (which I have yet to read).
by Philip K. Dick
How would you react to having a pink laser beam information directly into your brain and having the experience of simultaneously living in the present and the time of the Christian apostles? A writer of science fiction, Philip K. Dick used this as fodder for his last trilogy of books before his death. VALIS is the first of those, and probably the most autobiographical. The reader is left constantly wondering what is real, and whether or not the narrator is insane. I don't want to spoil any of the schizophrenic fun just read the book and try to figure it out for yourself.
by Christopher S. Hyatt
I never had much success with meditation until I chanced upon the system of energized meditation. The very first session broke up areas of body tension and granted me a peaceful "at-one-ness" with the world around me. I would recommend it to anyone who needs a break from reality. Only a small section of the book contains actual meditation techniques; the bulk of the material alternates between reassuring and infuriating passages and includes child-like illustrations in an effort to get you outside of you so you can become who you want to be. None of the material is particularly original, having roots in Zen, Reich's orgone theory, Western magical traditions, chakras, et cetera, but it is all synthesized in such a way to make it an invaluable tool for the contemporary "seeker."
by Tom Stoppard
Now this is important theatre. Yes, a play, and I recommend seeing it performed if you ever get the chance to, but read it beforehand if you want to have a chance of understanding it. I actually played Valentine in a production of Arcadia (I had a monologue about chaos math how cool is that?) and we spent a week studying the text before we even got up to rehearse it, something I have never done with any other production. The action jumps back and forth between the early 19th century and late 20th century in every scene, each happening in the same room, until the climax, when both actions happen simultaneously on stage. Chaos math, thermodynamics, Lord Byron, landscape architecture, and, of course, sex, are the primary concerns of the characters. Don't be put off by the highly intellectual tone of this work; throughout, it is remarkably funny.
by Nick Herbert
Nick Herbert was part of the Physics of Consciousness Research Group, which nurtured into being many books trying to define both quantum theory and consciousness for the layperson. The group was also supposedly the inspiration for the film Ghostbusters. Elemental Mind is an intriguing look at the many theories regarding consciousness. It advances its own "quantum animism" hypothesis that consciousness is a fundamental force of the universe like electromagnetism or gravity. Fascinating what a turned on physicist can come up with. The descriptions of the metaphase typewriter experiments, in which they designed a random letter generator cued into the radioactive decomposition of a substance and then held a séance to contact the spirit of Harry Houdini, make me want to become a scientist.
I cannot imagine what could be more fun than scaring myself silly contemplating the unimaginable eldritch horrors that lurk barely beyond the reach of perception. Just trying to pronounce the names of the Outer Gods is quite a challenge: Nyarlathotep, Yog-Sothoth, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurth. The clawing feet of human faced rat things, the tentacled coachmen, shoggoths and elder things what more could you ask for? Lovecraft believed every word should be important to the telling of the story, as easily evidenced by the fact that he wrote almost entirely in short story form. But he can send a chill down your spine in the merest two pages. Today's horror writers owe nearly everything they write to this master of weird fiction.