A five-time participant in the week-long extravaganza in Black Rock City explores Burning Man as a vitally, historically important cultural phenomenon and a significant player in the avant-garde, forging new social paradigms as liberal democracy unravels.
Mr. Shister is at his best when describing Burning Man’s cultural precursors in the Bay Area and his family’s adventures on the playa, as the salt flat is known. His enthusiasm for the festival’s super-charged civic atmosphere...corrects the common view of Black Rock City as an al fresco Studio 54 ... Mr. Shister’s attempts to capture his brimming zeal on the page sometimes result in him sounding like a painfully square Hunter S. Thompson hopped up on 2% milk ... Unfortunately, Radical Ritual far too often departs the playa for the home office ... One doubts that even the most devoted Burner will be interested in personnel changes at Black Rock City LLC and its successor, the nonprofit Burning Man Project ... At times, Radical Ritual reads like a book inadvertently about the tech industry, or at least the stories techies tell themselves. The same guileless fervor that makes Mr. Shister a charming guide as he pedals his bike from one 'peak experience' to the next can feel downright sinister when, for instance, he compares the wonderful 'gifting' culture on the playa to the ways tech monopolies are 'narrowing the divide between the work and personal sides of an employee’s life' by feeding them smoothies and washing their clothes ... Despite Mr. Shister’s sanguine outlook and a handful of admirable examples, the view from the Bay Area suggests that nine days of sexual liberation, psychedelic exploration and cashless communalism does not trigger much in the way of social progress.
Like the experience of every Burning Man camper since the move to the desert, Shister’s book doesn’t always unfold according to plan. He’s better at spinning yarns and turning phrases...than defending his thesis. But then, at Burning Man, everyone brings something unique to the party ... It’s apparent than Shister’s Burning Man experiences—several since his reluctant first in 2013—have changed him. Whether they’ve changed the whole world is another story. Maybe it’s just a matter of tweaking the book’s subtitle into 'How Burning Man Could Change the World.'
...[a] fascinating, immersive exploration of the annual weeklong bohemian festival ... The book’s pictorial section doesn’t do justice to the dazzling amount of artistry, emotion, passion, and creativity on display at Black Rock City, but Shister does a splendid job of sketching in the features and the future of Burning Man and its residual global influence with a vivid narrative and anecdotal interviews. A focused insider’s guide to Burning Man and a posthumous nod to its intrepid creator.