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Breaking Open the Head
A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart
of Contemporary Shamanism
Rating :
Author(s) :
Daniel Pinchbeck
Pages :
Pub Date :
Edition(s) at Erowid :
2002(hb,1st ed,fine/fine)
Publisher :
Broadway Books
  • Review by Brian Doherty in The Washington Post (ambivalent)
    This book delivers finely written and observed, often harrowing, personal reporting on experiences with exotic psychedelic drugs. It also pushes a larger message that the reporting doesn't support -- and in some ways actively contradicts... (more)
  • Review by Richard Metzger, October 23, 2002 (positive)
    Breaking Open The Head is a serious, thoughtful, provocative and brave book that should be read by everyone who senses that breaking open his or her own head might be the sanest act to perform in todayıs world. I urge all of you to read it... (more)
  • Review by Geof Dyer, LA Weekly (positive)
    Since the book is as gripping as a novel, I don't want to cheat the reader by giving away its climactic revelations. Suffice it to say that psychedelics, for Pinchbeck, provide a portal to the "manifold phalanxes of sentient entities beyond the realm of the sensible." Pinchbeck here lays himself open to the knee-jerk reaction that this means taking leave of your senses and entering the realm of nonsense... (more)
  • Review by Gary Kamiya, NYTimes (positive)
    Pinchbeck's unsettling odyssey forces us to confront the unexamined assumptions in our attitude not just toward mind-altering substances but toward premodern thought, epistemology and the validity of mystical experiences... (more)
"I much admire Breaking Open the Head for being the account of an authentic quest for enlightenment in jungles, up rivers, in deserts, and hardest of all to access, the human mind and heart, via one of the oldest throroughfares on earth, mind-expanding drugs. This is a serious and illuminating journey."
-- Paul Theroux

"As mind-expanding as the chemicals it chronicles, Breaking Open the Head is the most artful and provocative investigation of psychedelia since Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception."
-- Stephen Johnson, author of Interface Culture and Emergence

"Constantly prohibited, constantly used, drugs fuel the fears and fantasies our society lives by. With verve and insight Daniel Pinchbeck's book rides this roller coaster, asking us to imainge a world where, along with so many other prohibitions, the War Against Drugs has disappeared. Above all, he 'opens the head' with his clear prose and penetrating questions, as lively and absorbing as any drug I know."
-- Michael Taussig, professor of anthropology, Columbia University; author of Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man.

"As Daniel Pinchbeck so vividly discovered through his own extraordinary experiences, sacred plants are pivotal to the culture and spirituality of humans the world over. Like an anthropological explorer to another world, he invites us along with him on a journey deep into the soul of his and our humanity. The lessons he learns hold the keys to the survival and heart of ancient cultures, and possibly to the renewal of our own."
-- Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Sunlight

"This is a brave book. Brave because it accepts, as matters of fact, realities that cannot coexist peacefully with the standard American Myth. That the discussion of these issues avoids both New Age glitter-speak and standard psychedelic hoo-ha makes it all the more provocative. It is also brave for its unflinching willingness to bare the less expanded parts of the author's psyche. And it is brave, as it is always brave, to attempt to speak clearly of that which can't be spoken."
-- John Perry Barlow

Daniel Pinchbeck is a founding editor of Open City, and he has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, and the Village Voice, where sections of this book have previously appeared. He lives in New York, and can be reached at