Burning Reads: Set Your Mind on Fire

No doubt it’s important to read. The right books can help us understand the world a little better, create empathy and compassion, and let our minds fly freely.

But what are some good reads for Burners, specifically?

With hopes of some serious mind-expansion in 2017, we posed this question to the Burning Man community: that is, what book would you recommend that relates to the 10 Principles and why? Over 40 other people chimed in with their picks, with Eckhart Tolle titles getting almost 10% of the nods from Burners who wrote in.

For those with scholarly leanings, there’s also the Burning Academics page, which points to a wealth of academic writing about Burning Man, plus the Burning Nerds group, a networking hub for researchers and thinkers in sociology, anthropology, architecture, art, economics, spirituality and other disciplines.

Suffice it to say, we now have our reading cut out for the year, and we hope you do, too. If you would like to suggest a book for a follow up post with more recommendations, submit your pick via this form and tell us why it’s important to you. We’d love for this to be an ongoing feature for hungry minds.

The Gift

Lewis Hyde

“Larry Harvey was inspired by this text to write about the gift economy.”

—Rosalie Barnes, Government Relations Manager, Burning Man Project

The Power of Now

Eckhart Tolle

The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

Alan Watts 

“These books illustrate for me the Immediacy principle of having direct access to our inner selves and the experiences therein/of…and, to a lesser extent, Radical Inclusion.

If you can get past [Tolle’s] sort of ‘made-up’ pseudo-spiritual talk and just use whatever symbolic words work for you (God, universe, nature, whatever you want to call ’it’), the meanings are still very poignant and relevant to now, while echoing somewhat ’Eastern’ principles but without any religious connotations.

[The Watts book] focuses on our culture’s anxiety of future-obsessions and depressing history-obsessions, with its basis in religious tradition, biology, physics and astronomic[al] history, and how this colludes to create what exists today as a general sense of anxiety in relation to our identities, who [we are], our purpose, life’s purpose, and how we behave and think. He surmises that it’s just a result of illusory ‘separation’ that keeps us from experiencing actual life, as it is, without social gimmicks and useless games we play on ourselves and others.”

—ANDAm, Ridgecrest, CA

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert

Our newly-formed office book club just read this. It’s a good pop nonfiction read about creativity.”

—Katie Hazard, Co-Captain of the Central Arts Team, Burning Man Project

Religion for Atheists

Alain de Botton

“The book explores the value of ritual and tradition in religious life and how secular life needs these things. Burning Man and the Temple is discussed briefly as an example of a secular ritual that provides deep meaning for participants.”

—Nicholas Johnson, Portland, OR

The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz

”It reflects all 10 Principles in a summarized/generalized way. I feel you can’t fully embrace the 10 Principles without being able to embrace these four agreements since they are the essential base rules to be able to give, receive and celebrate this thing called life.”

—Norma Jean, Gainesville, FL

Temporary Autonomous Zone

Hakim Bey

“[Speaks to the principles of] Immediacy and Civic Responsibility”

—Zaius, Facilities Assistant, Burning Man Project

“Foundational texts that heavily influenced early Burner philosophies. All 10 principles are touched upon in these texts in one way or another.”

—Bill Emmack, San Francisco

The Tao of Pooh

Benjamin Hoff

“It’s a simple book with simple stories, which are told through familiar characters that many of us grew up with. Most notably, it spoke to the principle of Immediacy. Hoff covers living in the moment, being present, and being genuinely yourself without the barriers most (dare I say all) of us carry in our lives, and it cautions against the traps of knowledge, worrying, and nihilism. For me, immediacy, and the serendipitous nature that seems to come along with being immediate, was a cornerstone of my Burn, and this ubiquitous little book really spoke to that. The image of Pooh living and acting in his own present way reminded me of making purposefully non-purposeful trips out into the city each day and night, getting lost in order to find things, and going along with the flow of the moment. For those that struggle with immediacy, this book is for you. And for those who don’t, really, it’s for you too.”

—Niko, Seattle, WA

The Tao of Bill Murray

Gavin Edwards

“You know what’s weird? Apparently Bill Murray lives also by 10 Principles. I am reading this and LOVING it and it’s very… Burning Man-ish / in line with our 10 Principles, somewhat. And has lots of good Bill Murray stories.”

—Brody Q. Scotland, Logistics and Analytics Coordinator, Burning Man Project

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

 Rebecca Solnit

“[Touches on] Decommodification, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Participation, Immediacy, Gifting—heck, all of them. Solnit briefly mentions the beginning of Burners Without Borders and thoroughly describes, in a way that will be instantly recognizable to Burners and especially BWB alumni, why it is we reach out, connect, and build the strongest connections with each other in difficult and trying circumstances. Essential reading.”

—Michelle Pariset, Sacramento, CA

Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenberg

“Enacting the practices in this book has radically changed my relationships, resulting in much more direct and less hurtful communication practices that have made me happier, less hurtful, better able to handle difficult conversations, more aware of my own emotions, and more connected to my partners. I think truly radical inclusion, expression, and self-reliance requires a communication style that helps communicating parties both deeply understand the other parties and also deeply understand themselves. I think parts of non-violent communication are the basis for that kind of communication. I really do think these practices enacted can change the world for better.”

—Glen, Cambridge, MA

SOULCRAFT: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche

Bill Plotkin

“SOULCRAFT is an amazing guide book for uncovering the mysteries of our individual lives, finding the unique gift we were born to bring to our communities, and participating fully in the more-than-human world — all of which fits quite nicely with many of the 10 Principles like Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort, and Participation.”

—Kim “Skipper” Corbin, Petaluma, CA

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

“Radical Self-reliance, Participation and Immediacy. It’s about listening to your inner self, removing the self-doubt and following your own crazy path to enlightenment, love, treasure and fulfillment.”


“The book is a reflection of life as it acts as a guide for all those who are lost and are in need of guidance. Trust me.”

—Omri Goldberg, Sydney, Australia

The Big Orange Splot

Daniel Pinkwater

“It’s a children’s book with wide appeal. The plot is basically about Radical Inclusion, individuality in the face of conformity.”

—Wee Heavy Walter-Stern, Portland, OR

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

“It’s still the finest satire I’ve ever read, and teaches what could happen in a world that completely ignored the 10 Principles. It does reflect Radical Self-reliance for me, as the author used only his experience and a typewriter, and created an all-too-believable alternate reality that I still warn my children about.”

—Scott Whitaker, Hapeville, GA

Mars Trilogy

Kim Stanley Robinson

“It takes BRC to its natural next evolution: survivalists building a progressive society in a raw and remote new world, free from the corruption of naked capitalism and a commodity-based value system. Also it’s a really awesome story that is particularly rooted in hard science and is extremely apt today.”

—Beth Alyse, Berkeley, CA


Herman Hesse 

“It is about a journey of self-discovery. Immediacy.”

—Elizabeth, The Woodlands, TX


Frank Herbert

“On a desert planet, but more than that, the sisterhood is all about being prepared. They pack little and travel quite a bit. They take care of the places they live and think of themselves as stewards of the land. Plus, it is just a great book and the rest of them are pretty awesome also.”

—Wayne Rider, Henderson, NV

Meditation in Action

Chöygam Trungpa

“Those who appreciate the notion of ‘Less Theory, More Practice’ will appreciate this read greatly. It’s a life companion. Our world (as always) is fraught will obstacles and challenges in living mindfully. This pocket book is a best friend in small instances and a great guide in times of struggle. Burners will appreciate its simplicity and timelessness. Which of the 10 Principles does speak best? Read and apply where and how you want.”

—Turner Dix aka Tapha X Taph, Freetown, Sierra Leone

On Celtic Tides

Chris Duff

“Radical Self-reliance is a theme in lots of outdoor and mountaineering literature. Among many great examples, try ‘On Celtic Tides.’ It’s a first person account of a solo sea kayak trip all the way around Ireland.”

—Skip Smith, San Francisco, CA

Radical Self-Acceptance

Tara Brach 

Immediacy, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Inclusion.”

—BAM Mandato, New Haven, CT

A New Earth

Eckhart Tolle

“It is a book that teaches us how to overcome our ego and our identification to things in many ways. The funny part about it is that I almost felt I could relate to every word in it, almost as if i had identified myself with it. This books reflects many of the Burning Man principles because it teaches us to know who we are deep down and how we relate to the nature around us.”

—Tamer, Paris, France


Rob Breszny

“It was birthed at Burning Man, and some parts are about it, but not overly so. It’s about being creative and participating and seeing the world as a place that is conspiring in your favor. It’s uplifting and creative. I have gifted this book to many people over the years and I refer to it from time to time for inspiration.”

—Kristi Hart (Mango), Salem, OR


George Orwell

“Why? It shakes and wakes you up, making you want to create a better world. The Burning Man culture and 10 Principles are polar opposites [of] the world in this novel. Reading this book years ago and visiting BMan 2015 made me aware that the freedoms and principles of the BMan community take effort. A lot of effort. At the moment anyone, at home or in the default world, stops pursuing liberty, creativity and the 10 Principles, the world of 1984 will be out of the box. And it will be very hard to get back into where it came from…”

—Rishi Parahoe aka Raspberry, The Hague, the Netherlands

The Man Burns Tonight: A Black Rock City Mystery

Donn Cortez

“If nothing else, the unspoken principle that we all learn the hard way: You never know and can never fully prepare for what you will experience at the Burn. The city is full of magic, yes, but there is ugliness as well. Anytime you have humans you have magic and ugliness, you just can’t always anticipate how it will present itself. Also: Don’t trust Darth Vader. I mean duh, people.”

—Sarah “Erratica” Taylor, Vancouver, WA

Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan

Eknath Easwaran

“It’s essential reading for the times, man.”

—Blue, Los Angeles, CA


Daniel Quinn

“Why read? You’ll get a gorilla teacher. And once you get over the ego that might stop you from turning the page, it’s about humanity and the condition humans have brought the planet into, philosophy and more. With terms like ‘takers’ and ‘leavers’ used, one can not escape the ideals of Gifting and Leaving No Trace and just how they fit into the story, whether literal or not… This was an important book for me. It was shared with me at a public library from a man who spoke to me through the bookshelf (really!). I couldn’t see him. He said, ‘There are the books I read before Ishmael. And there are the books I read after.’”

—Saphira, Arlington, TX

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

My proposition is that this book is actually a utopia, rather than a dystopia. Would love to see Burners discuss and challenge that from the perspective of Immediacy.”

—Red Serpent

Neon Fever Dream

Eliot Peper

“Beautiful tie-in of geopolitics, technology, government policy/privacy intersecting with Burning Man directly! (Playa and BMan are core elements of the setting and the plot.)”

—Tim Chang, San Francisco, CA

Sneaky Cards Play It Forward


“This is not a book it is a card game. Your mission is to: become a secret agent of joy, spreading art and intrigue to an unsuspecting public. I love doing all the random Gifting and Radical Inclusion without explanation. Like prepaying for all the items in a vending machine then walking away, paying for people’s meals in the cars behind me, asking people to cut inline ahead of me then paying for their stuff without explanation I immediately leave the store, filling all the parking meters, paying for people’s gas at the station, throwing a merry unbirthday party in a park and inviting everyone. It’s a lot of fun.”

—T, Earth

(Top photo: Library of Babel by Warrick Macmillan, photo by Alena Bolshakova)

About the author: Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello is Burning Man Project's Digital Community Manager. She went to Burning Man for the first time in 2006 (seven months pregnant, no less) and immediately wanted to leave. (She didn't know dust storms were a thing.) But 24 hours after that initial shock, she fell in love with it, and it's been a part of her life in big and small ways ever since. On playa, you'll usually find her camping in Kidsville, riding Bahamut the dragon, or hugging a speaker because she loves music so much.

7 Comments on “Burning Reads: Set Your Mind on Fire

  • Ution says:

    I think a lot of the community would also like this novel aimed at combating apathy and greed by creating a new Rite of Passage. It is Called “CATALYST 42” by Dan Zahn.

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  • Lindsay Robinson says:

    Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. A wonderful deep dive into the concepts of finite games – the objective to win – and infinite games – the objective is to extend play. Rule based behavior and rule bending. Players of all kinds. An interesting perspective on the ten principles and participation in the burn.


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  • Duncan says:

    Thank you for this Mia. I’ll be adding a few of these to my ‘to read’ list on goodreads.

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  • debby says:

    I also think of _The City, Not Long After_ as a book for Burners, since it focuses on how people can keep their art-focused lives instead of being taken over by military force, without become that which they resist. Also fascinating because the place is such an important part of the story.

    A book for younger people is Steve Lyon’s _The Gift Moves_, set in a far future (batteries are grown on trees!), where there’s not only a society that’s partly gift-based, but also an annual reset, everyone having a huge bonfire and getting rid of everything from last year, to allow there to be space for the new.

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  • Abe Petrow says:

    Just want to add “Stranger in a Strange Land,” “Another Roadside Attraction,” and “Desert Solitude.” “Be Here Now” is easier to read when tripping.

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  • some seeing eye says:

    Thank you for this list, some known but many new. Consider The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, and Simulations of God: The Science of Belief by John C Lilly. Both writers have other worthy books. They would have enjoyed the Burning Man event, they influenced it.

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  • Marzipan Man says:

    I would add this one:
    Alejandro Jodorowsky
    (the filmmaker who made “The Holy Mountain”, “El Topo”).

    I wish it were more familiar among Burners… It is especially relevant to this year’s theme, Radical Ritual.

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