As the title implies, The Origin of the Brunists treats "the origin" of a religious-apocalyptic cult named after coal mine survivor Giovanni Bruno.
Coover emphasizes the evolution, from a mining disaster in which ninetyseven miners died, of a religious faction finding its inspiration and figurehead in the taciturn survivor and his family. Thus primary social concerns addressed in The Origin of the Brunists include how hysterical and apocalyptic movements originate, and what momentum, whether social, philosophical, or psychological, propels these movements to capture a public's imagination.
Although it is a highly successful religious organization, eventually branching out into diverse districts with bishoprics and hierarchies, the Brunist movement does not originate in Giovanni's charisma or visionary skills.
The leader's only qualification is that he survived in a mine chamber in which six other men suffocated. Actually, Coover's description of the explosion in Deepwater Number Nine...