Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author
Barbara Ehrenreich. Twelve, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4555-0176-2
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Based on a notebook she started when she was 14 after a series of puzzling “dissociative” episodes that verged on the mystical, Ehrenreich, best-known for her polemics on issues of social justice (Bright-Eyed; Bait and Switch), fashions an intensely engrossing study of her early quest for “cosmic knowledge.” As a child of an upwardly mobile scientist father who had started as a copper miner in Butte, Mont., and a resentful mother of thwarted ambitions, both of whom were fierce atheists sliding into alcoholism by the mid-1950s, Ehrenreich moved constantly, eventually landing briefly in Lowell, Mass., where her first mystical experience occurred, then to Los Angeles. Smart in math and science, non-believing and obedient to her father’s instruction to ask always why, Ehrenreich was resolved not to turn out like her mother, yet she could not quite be the scientist of her father’s dreams because she was a girl; the out-of-body incidences when “the trees step[ped] out of the forest” were more exhausting than frightening, but kept goading her to delve deeper into mortality and meaning as she gained maturity as a scientist and a creature of value separate from her parents. Using her journal extracts as a point of departure, Ehrenreich returns with vigor to her youthful quest, enlisting all of her subsequent scientific training to find an explanation for what had occurred to her as a girl, yet offering only a glimmer in her wise and tolerant later years of a possibility of a “living, breathing Other.” (Apr.)
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