The 5 books you should read before going to Burning Man

By BrotherWolf (of the HBGB Healer Camp)

“The 5 books you should read before going to Burning Man”

Preface: This list of books was inspired by a query within the HBGB Healer community from a new Burner who wanted advice on how to prepare for Burning Man. After sharing my (supposed) ‘wisdom’ from 4 prior Burns, I realized that preparation was more than just finding the right goggles, the right hydration drink, and re-reading the “Survival Guide”.  

How to prepare for Burning Man depends on what you want out of Burning Man. Popular media usually focuses on sensationalizing recreational drugs and heavy drinking…and if that is what you want, you’ll likely find it (it is a city of ~70,000 people after all). This reading list is not intended for those who exclusively choose the drug n’ drink subculture of Burning Man. Rather, this list highlights many of the other (less publicized) subcultures, intentions, and reasons that folks inhabit the arid multiverse known as Burning Man.  

Side note: I personally don’t do recreationals as I’ve dealt with two vices of my own (sugar & video games) and am not looking for a third. I don’t drink for the same reason, plus if Manischewitz was your first exposure to alcohol, you’d be sober too :).

Despite the sensationalism of one subculture, I believe most people go to Burning Man for other reasons, namely:

  1. 1. To (re)connect to a tribe,
  2. 2. To walk a transformational journey,
  3. 3. To express raw authenticity,
  4. 4. To challenge stressful belief systems, and
  5. 5. To wrestle with forgiveness of self and others.  

These are the 5 reasons I return to Burning Man. Below are the 5 books, in approximate order of priority, that correspond to each reason. These are the 5 books that helped me navigate my experiences within the dusty borders of Burning man, and I hope they will help you navigate as well.  

Book 1: “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger. An excellent primer for new Burners on how a harsh environmental backdrop (re: the Playa) supports community formation, social cohesion, and group survival. “Tribe” will help you understand the deep anthropological roots of what bonds and keeps communities together. “Tribe” will clarify why even complete strangers that spend time on the Playa together can end up feeling like family.  

Book 2: “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster. Aside from mentally preparing you for the whimsically irreverent surrealism of the art installations, this book is possibly the best fiction novel to describe the archetypal Campbellian transformational journey many experience at Burning Man. Spoiler plot summary: Milo is bored with his life, then he takes an adventure into “The Lands Beyond”, has an amazing surreal adventure, and then returns back home to learn to love the life he has always had. Don’t assume you won’t like the book based on my little synopsis…we wouldn’t want you to “Jump to Expectations”. Read the book to get the inside joke 😉  

Book 3: “Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar” by Cheryl Strayed. One of the most authentic, raw, and riveting collection of writings on the scope and depth of the human experience. A good primer on personal authenticity at Burning Man. Warning: If you are challenged by the content or candor of this book, you are very likely to be challenged at Burning Man. Burning Man can be one of the most transformative environments for self-discovery, compassion, and authenticity, but no-one said self-discovery, compassion, or authenticity would be easy or comfortable.  

Book 4: “Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life” by Byron Katie. Stressful thoughts can ruin your day or ruin your decade. Burning Man can gestalt out many of our old stressful thoughts (and create a few new ones as well). Sometimes those stressful thoughts are more challenging than Burning Man’s blinding dust storms or torrential rain. This book shares one of the fastest, most direct methods to: 1) identify deep-seeded stressful thoughts, and then, 2) question those stressful thoughts so they dissolve from your consciousness. This book can teach you how to question your mind, instead of running from it or anesthetizing it. Stressful thoughts will appear at Burning Man…best to come prepared.  

Book 5: “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness” by Simon Wiesenthal. One of the most unique books ever written on forgiveness. The Sunflower details a real-life moral junction for Simon on whether he should or should not forgive the person in question. He challenges his readers with “What would you do?”. His book includes 53 responses on the nature of forgiveness from distinguished individuals such as the Dalai Llama, Harold Kushner, and Desmond Tutu. This book is ideal for those who come to Burning Man, specifically to the Temple, to find clarity on the nature of forgiveness within their own lives. This book will prepare you to stand inside the Temple and witness all of humanity’s suffering scrawled on its walls. You will read the sorrow, anger, regret, shame, resentment, and grief written in hot ink and wet eyes by thousands of Burners, each penning their stories to the Temple’s inner structures. Perhaps you will pen your own. The question of forgiveness hovers over the Temple, like a silent cloud. This book will prepare you to answer that question of forgiveness on the moral junctions in your life.  

If you do read any of these books, I’d love to hear which books were the most useful and thought-provoking to you.  

Also, if you have your recommended “5 Books for Burners”, I’d love to know about them.  

Love and blinkies,


BrotherWolf first went to Burning Man from 2007-2009 as HBGB, then again in 2011 with the Contact Dance camp and was a Temple Guardian. He’s now returning in 2018 to the HBGBs.  

You’ll find BrotherWolf at the HBGB camp either cooking for his beloved Heebee family or teaching in the HBGB classroom on biohacking, stopping sugar addiction, unplugging from tech/video games, or identifying one’s unique diet. 

If you run into BrotherWolf on the playa, you’ll notice he usually carries an oversized backpack and will most likely ask you if you need a spare dust mask or blinky (and hand you either or both if you’re in need).