The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America

Robert Love, Author
Robert Love, Author . Viking $27.95 (402p) ISBN 978-0-670-02175-8
Reviewed on: 03/01/2010
Release date: 04/01/2010
Paperback - 402 pages - 978-0-14-311917-3
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Eastern spirituality and Western commercialism fuse in this flamboyant tale of an iconic American guru. Journalist Love tells the story of Pierre Bernard, a yoga adept from Iowa who made a splash at the turn of the 20th century by enduring bloody piercings and lacerations under trance. His Tantrik Order of disciples in San Francisco and New York soon gained notoriety; after police raided his schools, Bernard was accused of seducing girls and conducting sacred orgies. Delighted tabloids dubbed him “The Great Oom.” Bernard rehabilitated himself in the 1920s with the Clarkstown Country Club, a yoga-themed resort and rehab center for the rich on the Hudson, financed by a parade of heiresses who fell under his sway. Love makes his hero a quintessentially American character who yoked his mystic bent to a brash entrepreneurialism; with the riches he made from his yoga initiatives, he started a chemical company, an airport, a semipro baseball team with a midget second baseman, and a trained elephant act. Love credits Bernard with changing public perception of yoga from dissolute exoticism to healthful normalcy, but this colorful, frenetic tale reminds us that money is America's true religion. Photos. (May)

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