"Beast" is a pure innocent with one simple goal-to become an expert on the Middle Ages. He comes to Berkeley, the Cathedral of Learning, in 1971, a time of political upheaval, hallucinogenic drugs, group sex, and electric, acid, psychedelic, mind-bending rock and roll. On his quest for meaning he hangs out with a Harley-riding dwarf, a raven-haired Gothic artists' model, a sorority girl turned nymphomaniac, and the heir to a family of French aristocrats with a bloody history dating back to before Joan of Arc. Beast soon discovers that he can't live in the past but has to embrace the present, with its traps and land mines and the horrors of contemporary society-death by motorcycle and bad acid trips. The world is exploding, but students still go to classes, fall in love, get laid, study in libraries, win awards, even graduate. The country is on fire, and Berkeley supplies the fuel.