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A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment Hardcover – Mar 17 2015

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Avery; 1 edition (March 17 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592408613
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592408610
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 2.9 x 23.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #394,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Praise for Scott Carney 

"Carney writes with considerable narrative verve, slamming home the misery of what he has witnessed with passion and visceral detail."

—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Carney knows how to tell a story."

—Carl Elliott, The Wall Street Journal

“A deeply engrossing account of spiritual ambition gone awry. At once illuminating and distressing, it is a riveting plunge into the liminal territory where naïvety, sexuality, and spirituality overlap.”
—Mark Epstein, Md, Author of Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart and The Trauma of Everyday Life
“An engaging and sobering account of a group of Westerners who are prepared to sacrifice everything in their desperate quest for transcendence. A Death on Diamond Mountain illustrates the promises, pitfalls, and deceptions of a young man’s search for Eastern wisdom that starts in a Tibetan monastery in Nepal and ends in a cave in the Arizona desert.”
—Stephen Batchelor, Author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
“The quest for supreme bliss goes spectacularly awry in A Death on Diamond Mountain, Scott Carney’s masterful account of a bizarre tragedy in the Arizona wilderness. A tenacious reporter who writes like a dream, Carney delves deep into the tangled lives of this saga’s key players, whose motives range from pure to venal. The haunting, multilayered story that he comes away with is one that will resonate with anyone who has ever pursued even the smallest measure of spiritual peace.”
—Brendan I. Koerner, Author of The Skies Belong to Us
“The transmission of Buddhism and spirituality from Asia to foreign lands is prone to misreading, confusion, and, in some cases, very real danger—all of which happened on American soil at Diamond Mountain. Scott Carney’s deftly narrated story is shocking. His should serve as a warning about self-styled, so-called teachers and how their misinterpretation of meditation and yoga techniques is not only unskillful but can result in tragedy.”
—Matteo Pistono, Author of Fearless in Tibet and In the Shadow of the Buddha
“In a masterful narrative, Scott Carney explores the dark side of our obsession with Eastern religions and philosophies. But in this search for Nirvana, some find insanity. Others find death. Carney takes you on a perverse spiritual journey that ends tragically on an Arizona mountain whose soil has long soaked up the blood of wanderers.”
—Trevor Aaronson, Author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

About the Author

Scott Carney speaks Hindi and has spent six years living in India. He is a contributing editor at WIRED, and his work has also appeared in Playboy, The New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Details, Discover, Outside, Fast Company, and Foreign Policy. His first book, The Red Market, won the 2012 Clarion Award for best nonfiction book. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa52d0114) out of 5 stars 30 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eeeb58) out of 5 stars Fascinating and well balanced March 20 2015
By AudreyLM - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I remember reading the 2008 NYTimes story about Christy McNally and Michael Roach emerging from their three years of retreat and living 15 feet apart at all times. I remember thinking "this won't end well." I followed the tragedy at Diamond Mountain and was eager to get this book (had it on my wish list on Audible till it was available last week). Scott Carney has done a fine job of telling three stories (Christy McNally, Michael Roach and Ian Thorson) with balance and compassion when it would have been easy to take a sensationalistic approach. Not only that but the history of Tibetan Buddhism and its emergence in the west and also the history of the Diamond Mountain terrain and legacy were well researched and well written. It would have been great to get more perspective from Christy McNally but she seems to have vanished. Hopefully she is healing and getting the help she needs.
Excellent read (and excellent listen).
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eeeb10) out of 5 stars superb book March 22 2015
By MV - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scott Carney may be the only person who could have taken on the true breadth of this story. In 2006 a student in a meditation group Carney was supervising in Bodh Gaya jumped from the building's roof to her death. The search for why this happened seems to have led Carney to write what has to be the definitive book about what goes awry with Eastern religious practice in the West. It's all here... and it's riveting.

So many of us were shocked to discover that the Tibetan Buddhism being taught online and in yoga studios in New York and around the world a few years ago wasn't authentic and was evolving from a cult of personalty into a true cult. It didn't start out that way - what happened?

This book is beautifully written, thoughtfully layered, never boring, there's fantastic depth to Scott Carney's research. The story unfurls so smoothly, Carney weaves together some surprising Buddhist history and the introduction of Eastern mysticism into the West with a compassionate, fair and thoroughly analytical telling of the tragic unravelling of this group.

Anyone who's ever thought about quiting a job to meditate full time, going to India to be in retreat, or who's just wondered what happens when you meditate too much and make up you own rules, needs to read this. It turns out there's a reason the old ways exist, we race to the highest levels of practice at our peril.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eeeec4) out of 5 stars Spiritual materialism or material spirituality? April 7 2015
By Spinozist - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a 57 year old guy and having grown up in the 70s, 80s and 90s, I have been exposed to plenty of spiritual truth seeking paths. Perhaps "God is Dead",but Nietzsche never told us that the search for him never ceases.

I couldn't put Scott Carney's book down, having discovered the subject through of those shows on TV. I googled the subject and saw the author post a clip alone in the cave where the death occurred. He seemed intelligent and subtle in his thinking. The book confirmed this.

First he knows how to write a page turner. Second the topic is really, well, the only topic. What might spiritual enlightenment look like? Is it even possible in this world? Are they all charlatans, or precursors of what is not yet understood? Can God or whatever one chooses to call the ultimate reality, be reached in any way while on earth?
I am a very rational sceptic. My hero is Spinoza. And yet the author strikes the right balance even for me between skewering the business of spirituality and the very real desire of people like you and me to develop a closeness to something spiritual.
It seems Michael Roach may have made some less than optimal decisions, especially in the speed in which Lama Christie and Ian Thorson were asked to leave the retreat. But has he been a genuine seeker of spiritual truth? It seems that he has radically reinterpreted Tibetan Buddhism for modern Americans and other materialistic cultures, like the Chinese. He seems to have jettisoned his claim to support from the Dalai Lama, but from the viewpoint of history, perhaps he has his place. The book itself is more negative in its judgement of Michael Roach and the claims of spiritual witchcraft at the end of the book were laughable and made me actually develop sympathy for Michael Roach. The danger of this book is of course that it needs to sensationalize the danger of the teachings in order to create a more exciting book. Personally I find American obsession with Tantra and the speed of Enlightenment sort of deluded, ridiculous and materialistic. But it sure is probably appealing to many.

The book doesn't just tell the story of the protagonists, but also gives a background to all the spiritual truth seeking movements in the US. Some of this background acts like chapter long footnotes that slow the pace down but deepen the meaning of these events, like the history of Geronimo and the Cochise in Arizona.
As we sit armchair internet shopping, watching our saved shows on our DVR, reading about the latest Kardashian moments, or even the latest Putin, Isis or Republican/Democrat cat fighting, are we really going to judge people that take a 3 year vow of silence and inward contemplation? Really? Are WE that perfect?
This is a special book and a gripping one for any of us that have searched for God in America.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4eeed80) out of 5 stars A study of faith and mental disorder July 2 2015
By YoyoMitch - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Reading this book was an education for me for many reasons. Not the least of which was learning that Protestant Evangelicals do not have a corner on: twisting the tenets of our faith into shapes dangerous for human consumption, being vicious toward those journeying with us, bizarre behaviors and choosing death by our own hand over admitting we may be wrong in following the path we are on. My understanding of Buddhism has been expanded in directions that were unanticipated. I was aware of the discipline required to obtain enlightenment and it is not very different from the Christian Disciplines practiced for centuries by the devoted of that faith.
Scott Carney has been a Spiritual seeker for most of his life. He traveled in India, Tibet and Nepal for three years wishing to learn more about Buddhism. He eventually became the leader of a study abroad program centered in Bodh Gaya, India, for students interested in Buddhism. During the final event of one such study group, one of the students wrote in her journal, “I am a Bodhisattva,” walked to the roof of a dormitory and jumped to her death. The repercussions of that action were the stimulus that helped him to research the death of Ian Thorson, which occurred under similar circumstances a decade later in the desert of Arizona.
In telling the story of how Ian Thorson, a son of privilege and Stanford Graduate who came to become deeply interested in Buddhism while he traveled Europe and India after college graduation, Mr. Carvey reveals how that interest progressed into a deadly obsession. He details Mr. Thorson’s life from youth to death including how his hunger for Enlightenment lead him to become involved with Geshe Michael Roach, a Gelug Buddhist Lama whose teachings have put him at odds with most of the other leading Buddhist Lamas (teachers) in the world and his closest assistant, Christie McNally. Mr. Carney’s conclusions are supported by dates, names (where appropriate) and events that make plain the “how” of Ian’s death, but the “why” of such a death are left to the reader to decipher. The book does not get bogged down in the details and, while Buddhists believe enlightenment can occur at any moment, one avenue of the Buddhist processes (of apparently many) that can lead to enlightenment is more specifically discussed.
There is nothing offensive or violent in the book. The matters addressed in this study require a level of concentration and a breadth of knowledge typically found in those possessing a level of development beyond adolescence. My interest in the book grew as the details coalesced to a fine point but the book is not as engrossing as I found similar works (such as Wild, Unbroken, Man’s Search for Meaning Or Surprised by Joy) to be.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa4ef1474) out of 5 stars Intensive meditation may not be beneficial for everyone. May 11 2015
By schmatta - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard about this book on NPR and figured my local library would never get it. As soon as I finished it, I passed it along to others who are interested in Buddhism, esp. Tibetan Buddhism, and true crime and mind control. The author does a great job of telling this story and circling back to remind us of the history of Buddhism and the Plains Indians. We read of an American guru who amassed a fortune in the diamond industry, his pretty blonde lover (whom he appoints a lama), and his loyal disciples. One young man dedicates his life to meditation and drifts away from his friends and family. He serves the guru faithfully. But things fall apart. He dies in a lonely cave in the mountains of Arizona. I realize this sounds terribly disjointed, but it is a fantastic read. Highly recommended.