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Sex, Drugs, Einstein & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes, and the Quest for Transcendence
by Clifford Pickover
Publisher:
Smart Publications 
Year:
2005 
ISBN:
1890572179 
Categories:
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Mark Pesce, 7/9/2007

Clifford Pickover has a lot of energy. He bounces and bubbles, pronounces and observes, recommends and critiques. All in a single sentence. Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves isn’t so much a coherent narrative as a pastiche of thoughts, a stew where nearly everything – including a porcelain kitchen sink – has been tossed in. Each chapter begins somewhere, meanders somewhere else and – if you’re very lucky – will draw those disparate paths together into a unifying theme by the end. Pickover seems to be the near-genius-level equivalent of a child afflicted with severe ADD; every shiny thing, monumental or worthless, gets the briefest of examinations before he moves on to the next. If you’re looking for depth, this not the book for you. On the other hand, in the age of the fast-cut, info-nugget, and metadata, perhaps Pickford represents the future of the mind. (That thought has this reviewer shuddering.)

Across eleven chapters, Pickover cuts a wide swath with his literary machete, hacking through such subjects as language, DMT, machine elves, Terence McKenna, his hometown in upstate New York, book publishing, the virus theory of language, Einstein, God, transcendence, the Big Crunch, and, oh yeah, Burning Man. That last topic – where his book ends – sums it all up. It could be that this is the kind of book that only a dazzled Burner would write, full of all the weird blinking lights seen in strange states of mind at odd hours of the night, and which, in the harsh light & heat of day, seem insubstantial, built from trash and love. Just as it is impossible to encapsulate all of Burning Man, it is impossible in any text to frame the search for transcendence. This reviewer gives Pickover kudos for trying, but, given his intelligence and the obvious depth of his knowledge, this book probably would have been better if he’d picked one subject, or a few, and drilled down until he struck alchemical gold.

11 Comments »

  1. Outstanding review. Eloquent and perspicacious.

    Comment by Lux — 7/12/2007 @ 12:46 pm

  2. It’s interesting how people who have never written a book are so free to criticize someone who is successful at it.

    Mark, When you write your first book, let’s see how you feel when someone reviews it and says you are a mental case.
    I look forward to reading that review.

    Comment by Claudia — 8/4/2008 @ 5:41 pm

  3. I disagree wholeheartedly with your criticism of this very intriguing and mind-expanding book and would recommend it highly and soberly (pun) to anyone with an open mind. (For close-minded people there is always the Bible). Part of the charm of this book is the rapidity of thought and confluence of ideas (which no doubt is exactly what the author intended and is in some part, the whole point of this book). Sometimes just skimming the surface of things is enough. This method allows the reader the option to explore further those topics in which he/she is interested and avoid those they do not find interesting.
    I am particularly dismayed by your close-minded attitude for a person who seems dedicated toward the dissemination of knowledge. You are of the opinion that in this age of fast-cut, info-nugget, and metadata, that perhaps Pickford represents the future of the mind, which you find troubling. I find it to be refreshing in many ways. Maybe the human brain is changing and reconfiguring itself to a faster paced analysis and review of overwhelming amounts of data. This would seem to me to be an evolutionary step in the right direction. A brain that can process data quickly would seem to me to be a desirable trait. Keep an open mind folks!

    Comment by Robert — 8/4/2008 @ 9:21 pm

  4. Im going to go ahead and assume that the poster above me is neither an author, a writer, a producer, nor a director. Therefore, I would certainly hope that they’ve never made their voices known on any movie, book, or show they might have ever seen. That would just be downright hypocritical!

    I am quite a big fan of Mr. Pickover and I believe this review was well-written and not baseless or biased. Just because you dont agree with Mark doesnt mean hes not saying something that can be chewed on and pondered. Hell, Pickover himself put the link to this review on the front page of reality carnival.

    Comment by Kevin g — 8/5/2008 @ 10:08 am

  5. For clarification I meant the second comment, not the third.

    Comment by Kevin g — 8/5/2008 @ 10:10 am

  6. His mind has been reshaped by google and the internet. It’s hyperlink writing.

    Comment by Occupant — 8/5/2008 @ 7:59 pm

  7. @Occupant

    The author posted a link on Reality Carnival to an article about just this thing:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

    Comment by JK — 8/8/2008 @ 4:00 pm

  8. Mark, I hear what you’re saying (your review was very well written), but I don’t really think you can say the book would have been better if he ‘picked one subject’.

    While I am only 19 years old, and have not read every page of this book, I do own it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it that I have come across. Pickover, for me, is the epitome of an ever-changing, ever-growing, continually thinking mind. YES, he considers it all, and that delights me to no end. I don’t need deep exploration of every subject he brings to mind (even though, at times, he gives it…other times, he doesn’t). He allows the readers to pick and choose exactly what they want to focus on. There is so, so much going on inside the covers of this book. In some ways, reading it is like tripping on a psychedelic drug (if you know what that’s like)...thoughts and ideas are flowing so rapidly, it can be overwhelming at times.

    And who says each chapter needs to come to some sort of full-circle, ‘unifying theme’ conclusion? Anyone who has this mindset while reading SDE&E is clearly missing the point, in my opinion. Hell—there might not even BE a point. All that I know is that I think of Pickover as a genius, one who has turned me on to some of the things I cherish the most.

    The book opened my eyes, in more ways than I could possibly describe. I carried it around with me throughout high school, and got MANY weird looks and questions from people. Most thought it was a joke. But each time I opened it, I was lost, transported from our earthly world, into the mind of one of my favorite writers. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in thinking outside their box. And at the very least, check out Pickover’s website. It’s one of my favorite places on the web.

    http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/Pickover/pc/realitycarnival.html

    Comment by Gabriel G — 8/9/2008 @ 10:29 am

  9. I came to this page via Reality Carnival, read the comments first and when I went up to actually read the article I was surprised to see it was written by Mark Pesce. Mark Pesce is the man, I would describe him as a more organized version of Terrence McKenna. He talks about the same types of things as McKenna, but is less meandering and more to the point. He has written books, none of which I’ve read, but I’ve heard good things.

    My dad owns “Sex Drugs Einstein and Elves”. I’ve skimmed it and I can see what Pesce is saying. I think a good analogy for Pickover’s style is the “Reality Carnival” filled with flashing lights and strange experiences. All too many to dive deeply into any one for any length of time. So what the carnival kid will do is run around and sample as many different attractions as possible before it’s time to go home to bed. It’s just one of many styles of going about exploring this strange existence. Pesce’s style is more like a “reality science-fair.” I’d recommend any and all of Pesce’s media which can be found around the web. Serious food for thought.

    http://www.markpesce.com/
    http://www.youtube.com/mpesce

    2 good psychedelic salon podcast episodes featuring talks by Mark Pesce
    http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=236
    http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=237

    Comment by Carl — 8/16/2008 @ 2:12 pm

  10. I came to this page via Reality Carnival, read the comments first and when I went up to actually read the article I was surprised to see it was written by Mark Pesce. Mark Pesce is the man, I would describe him as a more organized version of Terrence McKenna. He talks about the same types of things as McKenna, but is less meandering and more to the point. He has written books, none of which I’ve read, but I’ve heard good things.

    My dad owns “Sex Drugs Einstein and Elves”. I’ve skimmed it and I can see what Pesce is saying. I think a good analogy for Pickover’s style is the “Reality Carnival” filled with flashing lights and strange experiences. All too many to dive deeply into any one for any length of time. So what the carnival kid will do is run around and sample as many different attractions as possible before it’s time to go home to bed. It’s just one of many styles of going about exploring this strange existence. Pesce’s style is more like a “reality science-fair.” I’d recommend any and all of Pesce’s media which can be found around the web. Serious food for thought.

    http://www.markpesce.com/
    http://www.youtube.com/mpesce

    2 good psychedelic salon podcast episodes featuring talks by Mark Pesce
    http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=236
    http://www.matrixmasters.net/blogs/?p=237

    Comment by Carl — 8/16/2008 @ 9:11 pm

  11. @ Robert
    “(For close-minded people there is always the Bible)”

    That statement, in and of itself is close-minded. You have closed your mind to the idea that the Bible is for anyone EXCEPT close-minded people. That’s simply hypocritical.

    Comment by T.J. — 11/27/2008 @ 11:30 pm

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