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.
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