The Visionary State by Erik Davis, Hollow Earth by David Standish, and Igniting a Revolution by Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella, II
California just might have more religious diversity than any other California-sized region on earth. Interestingly enough, it’s also quite the visible diversity. From the Vendetta Society Old Temple in San Francisco to the San Diego Temple (the latter of which’s proximity to I-5 causes locals to jokingly refer to the “separation of church and interstate”), The Visionary State (Chronicle Books) seeks them out and exposes them. Erik Davis, who’s been studying mysticism and religion all of his life and who was born and raised in California, treats each faith with balanced keel and elegant prose. Meanwhile, Michael Rauner proves that Davis isn’t making this stuff up (as Rebecca Solnit points out on the back cover) with stunning full-color photos — 164 of them — of all of California’s unique locales of worship. The Visionary State (website) is a big, beautiful book for anyone interested in the Left Coast’s varieties of religious experience, the architecture thereof, or just California itself.
Figuratively digging deeper, David Standish has unearthed the oddest belief systems on — or in, rather — our planet. Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastical Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth’s Surface (Da Capo) is a weird journey underground. Sir Edmond Halley (yep, the same one the comet’s named after) first said that the earth might be hollow and host to life below it’s surface, but the idea has spread and evolved ever since. Standish documents the history of these often-hilarious ideas with both ample wit and abundant detail.
Not living inside the earth, but defending it at any cost, that’s what Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth (AK Press) is all about. Steven Best (who some may be familiar with from his books on postmodernism with Doug Kellner) and Anthony J. Nocella, II edited this massive volume of essays regarding the inability — or refusal — of environmental policy to keep up with the depletion of the earth’s natural resources. Perhaps more importantly, Igniting a Revolution is about how many pissed-off activists, scholars, and intellectuals are taking the earth’s defense into their own hands. As sassy as it is smart, and as exciting as it is extensive, this collection is enough to turn any hater into a Hayduke.