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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Barbara Ehrenreich, whose "Nickel and Dimed" is one of the best books I've read in the last fifteen years or so, is in her early seventies now (as I almost am myself), and it's quite wonderful to see her turn her unsentimental, humane eye on her own earlier life, and in particular, on some strange and intense "dissociative" experiences that she had as a teenager and, to some extent, still has today. These experiences she has come to present as encounters with something "other," and like the empirical scientist she used to try to be, her book is really an appeal to keep open the possibility that that "other" is something that we shouldn't rush to categorize in the language of religion, or psychiatry, or neuroscience. I have to say that nothing in "Nickel and Dimed" prepared me for this, but readers who are familiar with writers like Barry Lopez or Peter Matthiessen might think that Ehrenreich is exploring some territory that they too are interested in.

The book has two focuses of interest: first, her experience itself, which includes vivid accounts not only of what we might call uncanny moments but also of a very difficult childhood with two unhappy and finally alcoholic and suicidal parents. Ehrenreich writes about her parents with a detachment that is well short of clinical, but it's a detachment we can well understand as being the product of strategies that she, an unusually self-conscious, articulate child, devised to survive her relationship with these parents. She doesn't over-analyze, however: she contextualizes, and her adolescent encounters with uncanniness, along with her solipsism and precocious reading are set forth without any tightly connecting web of causes and effects being drawn between them. Her turn to social activism, while she was a graduate student in molecular biology, is as unpredictable as anything else in her telling of the various strands that made up her younger life, because before she made that turn, she was prone to denying altogether the possibility of interesting consciousness in "other minds." And when she does take the turn to activism, she does not fly to the other extreme and become an overflowing fount of "feeling" -- she is still empirical, practical-minded, and conscious of herself as a rather strange creature.

The other focus of interest is the possible meaning of her "uncanny" experiences, one of which, at Lone Pine, California, in 1959, was particularly intense and upsetting. These experiences she sees as almost beyond language, and even as she tries to put them into words, she's always warning against both her own wording and the wording that religious believers and psychologists might be tempted to use about them. Her final two chapters are meditations on these experiences, and they invite the reader to consider the possibility of a "life" in the universe that is beyond categorization and that she is pretty sure the categories of monotheistic religions just don't "get." She is talking here not of what she believes -- "I believe nothing," she says -- but of what might possibly be believable. The actual experiences of religious mystics like Meister Eckhart, the ongoing examinations of consciousness and possible intentionality in animals, and the parasitic and symbiotic relationships of micro-organisms with hosts are all adduced, not to "explain" what happened to the young Barbara but to remind us that there are forms of life, relationship, and consciousness that we would do well to keep an open mind about. I found the book compelling in its storytelling and intriguing in its implications -- I couldn't put it down.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 August 2014
To be honest I only bought this because it was on offer at 99p. I was expecting roughly 99p's worth of book but I was wrong. Although entirely about Ehrenreich's own life, her search for meaning and struggle with her inner demons it didn't come across to me as self-indulgent or self-obsessed. Rather, it is a brutally honest account of her life, at times shocking and at times inspiring, which I am happy to recommend others to read. At the end of the book it's a relief to find that the author does, in her old age, find some kind of peace and meaning to it all. Her conclusion is an intriguing one and I only wish she had taken the time to explore it a bit further.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 May 2015
Just what is going on here? This is the question about life that Ehrenreich sets as her adolescent mission to answer - and then revisits the quest much later in life. Her fascinating memoir tells the story of a troubled childhood in a highly dysfunctional family with quarrelling, cold, alcoholic (yet both quite brilliant)parents. As a teenager, Ehrenreich experiences a number of dissociative episodes, and one particularly vivid event in 1959 on a trek through the desert with friends. The book describes her journey from troubled teen to high achieving scholar, scientist, political activist, feminist and writer. But it is the nagging, unanswered questions about the true meaning of life... the truth of her dissociative experiences... and the disturbing possibility (for a scientist and outspoken athiest) that there may be a dimension to existence that skirts the realms of the spiritual. This is a most unusual memoir from an elegant writer and a truly open-minded thinker.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2014
In "Living With a Wild God" (256 pages), author Barbara Ehrenreich (best known for her book "Nickel and Dimed") revisits her past to try and make sense of things. In the Foreword, Ehrenreich describes how, a good 10 years ago as a 59 year old woman, she rediscovers the journal entries she wrote starting at age 14, and "if you're not prepared to die when you're almost sixty, then I would say you've been falling down on your philosophical responsibilities as a grown-up human being", ha! And so the author, a self-proclaimed atheist, sets off on a journey to answer the Big Question: "What is the point of our brief existence? What are we doing here and to what end?", as the author frames it. Along the way, she brings us recollections from her youth, growing up in a household with a self-made (but alcoholic) mining expert and executive father, a frustrated, alcoholic and at times abusive mother, and 2 siblings. It is pretty amazing how the author covers much of the abuse with the mantle of love. "They were rebels too, and I respected that, even as I rebelled against them".

Couple of comments: the primary reason I picked up this book (other than the excellent reviews it has garnered) is that I am always fascinated how obviously intelligent people who are atheists view the world, and their existence. The author starts from the very beginning with her assessment (and philosophy) of life: "I exist. And I know nothing", and from there goes on an intellectual journey that at times will surprise you, at times it left me scratching my head in bewilderment, but it always left me curious for wanting to read further on into the book. Not surprisingly, religion comes onto the author's radar screen, and her self-analysis on religion goes to the very heart of the book. The book is not an easy read as such, and it took me several weeks to finish it, as I would take in a chapter (or two) and then let it digest for a few days before picking it up again.

Bottom line: you may or may not agree with the author's starting point or her (self) assessment, but the author is such a gifted writer, with a razor-sharp view of her own little universe, that you can't help but read on. "Living With a Wild God" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 10 September 2014
The story of a precocious mind in search of a greater truth than her upbringing and education allowed for. Living with a Wild God read like self portrait more than a quest. fits our times though.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 September 2014
The idea of an autobiography of someone who has been raised with and has deep commitments to the scientific paradigm, but who has a storehouse of memories from a wild youth that fit ill within that paradigm rang big bells, and struck me as an attractive proposition. They say we all have a book inside us, and my book would be very much about the radical dissonance between my commitment to the scientific worldview and the period of profound and often bizarre mystical experiences of earlier years, which today I cannot cease to question and miss with an abiding ache. The author writes sensitively and evocatively, with unusual psychological perspicuity, and while reading I found myself carried along on a wave of fellow feeling. But when I got to the end it seemed we had never made it quite into the world where my own perplexities and radical contradictions reside. In the end it left me feeling exactly the same as when I had started, and it had taken me no further towards integration of times and events that make no sense within the reductive-physicalist paradigm.

I actually think there is scope for much more of this sort of thing. The Enlightenment is described as a period in history, long past. But the struggle between overwhelming intuitions of the numinous and the mundane world of deterministic cause and effect is taking place in the hearts of millions of men and women every day; often with pain, or at least perplexity; and often in silence, without knowing to whom one might turn without being taken for a fool or worse. The Enlightenment is actually a process that cannot be avoided by each of us that has the implacable need for the deep truths of existence, whether they can be had or not, made only keener by the removal of succor from bronze-age mythologies of white-bearded patriarchs in the clouds. The tension between the profound need to know and the certainty that it can never be known is, for so many of us, the existential and unspoken essence of our times.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A bit odd, and difficult to follow, seems at times an attempt to impress the reader with how clever she is with words. I still read it all but I'm not much wiser, Its entertaining at times, worth a read anyway. I preferred her book "nickled & dimed" in America. Try it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2014
An honest exploration of the inexplicable. Barbara Ehrenreich reaches for something that is undeniable - that there is 'Otherness' but that it doesn't necessarily care about us. It's like growing up.
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on 24 August 2014
You just have to read this book, not at all what you expect from reading the cover, a book that really makes you wonder what life is all about
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2014
I loved this book. It was better than then the review in the Sunday Times which had prompted me to buy it. I could not put
it down. A must read for the audience it was targeted at.
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