The Great Oom by Robert Love is a fascinating and well researched study of the life and teachings of the Iowan born Perry Baker who early in his young adulthood transformed himself through intense study and practice into Dr. Pierre Bernard, a man who for decades was considered the foremost expert on Tantric yoga in the United States.
At first Bernard tried to sell Tantric yoga as a kind of side show entertainment, offering his body up for forms of ritualized, public torture, which he, in his self imposed Tantric state, was able to endure without pain or bad side effects As his reputation and passion for Tantric practices grew, Bernard was able to win more and more friends and supporters. Interestingly, he seemed to be particularly effective in drawing the love and loyalty of the richest of America's ruling classes.
With funding from these powerful friends, he built the first Ashram in America. Located on the Hudson River, the lavish and luxurious Clarkstown Country Club (the CCC) became a Mecca for the wealthy seeking ways to live a happier life and to escape the pressures of their wealth or celebrity. Not just the wealthy but hundreds of gifted and famous actors, singers, dancers, and musicians were all drawn to the promise of a life of bliss and joy proffered by Dr. Bernard.
But it was not all smooth sailing. The citizens of the sleepy town that rubbed shoulders with the CCC were deeply suspicious of the "goings on" at the club, which it was rumored included sexual orgies and all manner of bizarre and disgusting behaviors. The newspapers knew a juicy story when they smelled one. Branding Pierre Bernard "the Great Oom", they hounded him through most of his life.
Scandals, jail time, bankruptcy, betrayal, and divorce all crossed the Great Oom's path, but he also knew great wealth, power, influence, and joie de vivre. Whether he was a true yogi and sage, master of the greatest mysteries of the universe, or a plausible rogue, able to bilk millions from his credulous followers, there is no doubt that Pierre Bernard had a profound and lasting effect on the practice, understanding, and acceptance of yoga in the United States.