This Is Burning Man tells the story of how the simple burning of a wooden man came to attract more than thirty thousand anarchists, Internet millionaires, ravers, academics, hippies, gearheads, punks, and suburban parents who travel to the Black Rock Desert each year to create an entirely alternate dimension.
Brian Doherty captures the extraordinary spirit of the festival — its whimsy, its danger, and its absurdity — as well as the outrageous genius and folly of its artists and players. Whether you are a Burning Man veteran or couldn’t imagine coping with the festival’s often brutal desert setting and mad behavior, this book is an invitation to explore the radical creativity and exhilaration of being a Black Rock citizen.
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.