The following are a few selected Amazon reviews of The Visionary State (Chronicle, 2006). Excerpts of the book’s texts and images can be found here.
As a longtime student of the history of the utopian culture of California, who has pursued the original sources for 40 years now, there can’t be more than a handful of books that are this valuable in that pursuit. Everything about this book is top notch, the photography, the text, and the overall book design. What a joy to read, this is a permanent treasure. It covers ground few have bothered to examine but grounds which turn out to be integral to the subject.
The promise held out by the gorgeous dust jacket of The Visionary State is more than fulfilled inside, where the immediate appeal comes from Michael Rauner’s magnificent photographs of places throughout California. These glowing pictures illustrate the diverse streams of religion, spirituality, and other forms of visionary thinking that give the book its title and California its unique character as a “state of mind.” The photos find a perfect counterpoint in Erik Davis’s magnificent prose. Gathering together a wealth of information, the author weaves it into a lively, irresistible narrative of the state’s spiritual, social, and architectural history, beginning with prehistoric petroglyphs and taking us all the way to today’s neopagan revival. In between unfolds a procession of people and movements that have made California unlike any other state: Spanish friars, Mormon trekkers, Hindu swamis, Buddhist monks, utopian reformers, self-styled mystics, genuine mystics, charlatans and saints and scientists delving into the mysteries of the cosmos and the human psyche. Embracing religion, spirituality, social history, and architecture, The Visionary State should engage and delight a wide spectrum of readers.
–Devadatta Kali, author of In Praise of the Goddess and The Veiling Brilliance.
This is without a doubt Erik Davis’ finest work. He has truly captured the essence of what he calls ‘California Consciousness’, and shows its inner workings in those who made Cal the spiritual smorgasbord that it is. The begining and ending essays are the best that I have ever read by him, and Michael Rauners’ haunting photographs visually transport you to the places Davis describes. Highly recommended.