Tibet has seemed the pinnacle of Otherness to the western world ever sincethe late nineteenth century. Run by an ancient Buddhist theocracy, nevermarred by modernity, in the late 1940s Heinrich Harter penned his classicstory, "Seven Years in Tibet," which found resonance among Americansalienated from the consumerist norms of the 1950s. Today, Tibet's controlby Communist China only appears to accentuate its essential distance frommodernity.

The ironic tale of Western fascination with Tibet is well toldby journalist Orville Schell, who has visited Tibet extensively andincludes himself among those Americans who have "spun...a fabulous skeinof fantasy around this distant, unknown land." Schell discussesHollywood's paradoxical reverence for Tibet, the strange spectacle of theDalai Lama visiting Sunset Boulevard, and the making of "Seven Years inTibet" (starring Brad Pitt), in dry language which accentuates thecontradictions of its subject without ever quite stooping to mockery.