The Nirvana Express

How the Search for Enlightenment Went West

September 2023 9781805260196 400pp, 20pp colour illus
Forthcoming Pre-order
Available as an eBook
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In 1897, an Indian yogi exhibited himself at London’s Westminster Aquarium, demonstrating yoga positions to a bemused audience. Four years earlier, Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda spoke at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where Annie Besant extolled the ‘exquisite beauty’ of his spiritual message.

The Victorians were fascinated by, yet suspicious of, Indian religious beliefs and practices. But within two generations, legions of young Westerners were following the ‘hippie trail’ to the subcontinent, the Beatles meditating at the feet of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Journalist Mick Brown’s vivid account charts this eccentric history of Western obsessions with Indian faith, through a curious cast of scholars, seekers, charlatans and saints.

From bestselling epic poems on the Buddha to murder plots, magic and the occult, The Nirvana Express is an exhilarating, sometimes troubling journey through the West’s search for enlightenment.


‘Spectacular. Mick Brown’s masterful storytelling brilliantly charts the West’s encounter with Eastern spiritualism. Drawing on a rich seam of characters ranging from charlatans to spiritual masters and their disparate devotees, he never misses a beat in this globe-spanning magical mystery tour.’ — John Zubrzycki, author of Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic and Dethroned: The Downfall of India’s Princely States

‘Brown takes us along a familiar path—the century-long story of the modern West’s fascination with India’s holy men, from Arnold’s The Light of Asia to the sunset of Rajneesh—and renders its sights anew: colourful, compelling and a bit psychedelic.’ — Anya Foxen, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, California Polytechnic State University, and author of Inhaling Spirit: Harmonialism, Orientalism, and the Western Roots of Modern Yoga

‘With a keen and humorous eye for detail, Mick Brown traces the golden age of gurus through interconnected stories of the individual men whose followers changed the way we think about religion, faith and otherness in their quests to attain enlightenment.’ — Patricia Sauthoff, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Hong Kong Baptist University, and author of Illness and Immortality: Mantra, Mandala, and Meditation in the Netra Tantra

‘Mick Brown has produced a deeply researched account of the encounters of Indian spiritualists with the West over the past century and a half. Wonderfully written and hugely informative.’ — Jairam Ramesh, author and Indian MP


Mick Brown writes regularly for The Daily Telegraph. His books include The Spiritual Tourist: A Personal Odyssey Through the Outer Reaches of Belief; The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet’s 17th Karmapa; and Tearing Down The Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector.

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