Daniel Pinchbeck’s exploration of contemporary shamanism won me over slowly. Pinchbeck starts off as jaded New York hipster, and as he surveys the literature and samples the magic potions, he slowly warms to some of the more outrageous psychedelic thinking.

Sometimes he comes off as pompous and judgemental (not a good thing in an explorer), but in the end, his honesty and willingness to put his sanity and good reputation on the line by sounding as dippy as the most zonked-out acid freak is admirable. His wide-ranging survey of the literature is astounding — he offers succint and insightful assessments of everybody from DeQuincey, Walter Benajmin, Rudolf Steiner and GI Gurdjieff to Tim Leary and Terence McKenna.

I’m somewhat disappointed with his easy dismissal of the Grateful Dead (“suburban”), who absolutely deserve a place in any serious discussion of shamanism in contemporary American culture — his assessment that psychedelic rock achieved its pinnacle with the Beatles’ “Revolution #9” is laughable. Still, a courageous, even important, book.

Pinchbeck maintains his own site, complete with discussion forums.