Home / Books / Book Reviews / Book Review: The 99th Monkey – A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments by Eliezer Sobel

Book Review: The 99th Monkey – A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics, and Other Consciousness-Raising Experiments by Eliezer Sobel

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 "I am the 99th Monkey.  If you don't get me, you don't get your critical mass, and it screws up the whole works.  I seem to be single-handedly holding back the Great Paradigm Shift of the Golden Age simply through my continuing to be a resistant little putz."

Most people of the hippie/new age/spiritual enlightenment seeking ilk have heard the infamous legend of the 100th monkey.  Scientists who were studying monkeys on Koshima Island in Japan in 1952 introduced the sweet potato as a new snack, which the monkeys loved even though it was always covered in sand.  One day Imo the monkey got the brilliant idea of taking her sweet potato to the water and washing off the sand, making the snack even yummier.  She taught this trick to her family members and soon it spread.  In 1958 the number of potato washing monkeys reached a critical mass (99, they say) and suddenly every monkey of Koshima and the neighboring islands began spontaneously washing their potatoes.  So if humans work this way, an idea spread to that 99th human monkey would quickly and spontaneously spread to the population at large.

Now, you would think that with all the great spiritual movements and teachers out there over the past several decades that the world's population would have gotten past materialism and greed and onto a more enlightened plane of peaceful loving existence.  Well, the reason this has not happened is Eliezer (Elliot) Sobel, the 99th Monkey.  

Not that Sobel hasn't tried, mind you.  The 99th Monkey is a frank and funny collection of Sobel's encounters with just about every major consciousness raising movement, written as editor of The New Sun magazine in the 1960s, the Wild Heart Journal, and as a freelance journalist.  But what is great and refreshingly different about this book is that Sobel ends these encounters basically unchanged and unfazed.

What encounters he has!  Through Sobel we get to meet Ram Dass, Hilda Charlton, Gabrielle Roth, Rabbi David Cooper, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Muktananda, Asha Greer, and the Dalai Lama.  We get to travel to India, Israel, Auschwitz, Big Sur, Nepal, and Brazil.  We experiment with LSD, Ecstasy, Daime, mushrooms, marijuana, and every anti-depressant on the market.  We laugh, we scream, we trip, we cry, we vomit, and we refuse to drink the water used to cleanse the guru's sandals.  And we go through primal scream therapy, EST, Landmark Forum, Moonie initiation, Daime rituals, yogic meditation of varying forms, sexual therapies of many kinds, and good old western psychotherapy.

Oh, Sobel does learn one great lesson in the end.  After hearing the refrain of kindness from one spiritual teacher after the other he goes to a lousy therapy session with his wife.  

"He wanted to see us regularly, at $150 a pop.  We left his office and in an epiphany, we both realized that we could save $600 a month if we just tried to be nicer to one another.  It definitely works."
 

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