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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia Paperback – 24 Apr 2008


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (24 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141025980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141025988
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 153,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Brilliant, frightening, devastating' -- John Banville, Guardian

'Causes vertigo when it does not cause outrage' -- Sunday Times

'Exhilarating, invigorating'
-- Literary Review

'Rollicking, bone-crunching' -- New Statesman

'Savage. Gray raises profound doubts about the conventional "plot" of modern history'
-- Financial Times

'The closest thing we have to a window-smashing French intellectual' -- Andrew Marr

'Wise, furious and informative' -- A.S. Byatt

About the Author

John Gray's most recent books are Straw Dogs ('That rarest of things, a contemporary work of philosophy, wholly accessible and profoundly relevant to the rapidly evolving world' - Will Self), Al-Qaeda and What It Means To Be Modern ('The most arresting account I have read of our current crisis', Ian McEwan) and Heresies.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Modern politics is a chapter in the history of religion. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 29 Dec. 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's not easy categorising John Gray. He's generally listed as a "philosopher", but he rarely delves into the roots of human behaviour. His philosophy is founded on recorded history. Like most modern "philosophers", his arena is the canon of Western European tradition and practice. That approach, at least in Gray's hands, makes him more political commentator than philosopher. The shift of emphasis doesn't erode his thinking prowess nor his ability in expressing what he has derived from it. His prose is clean and unpretentious, almost hiding the power of the thinking behind it. In this exciting little work, Gray examines the history of modern "utopian" ideas - their misconceptions and their persistence.

The idea of utopias has long diverted us from confronting realities, Gray suggests. This self-generated departure tends to hide consequences of our acts until it's too late to deal with them successfully. Naturally, one of his glaring examples of this situation is the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Gray demonstrates how it was planned intentionally long before the causes were manufactured for it. The planning was clearly utopian in that the intentions were delusionary and inappropriate. Both governments declared their intention - based on false pretenses - to "extend democracy into the Middle East". This ambition was expressed without any perception of whether it would be welcomed. It's an underlying principle of utopian thinking, Gray observes, that a society can be re-created from within or imposed from the outside. The failure of such thinking is readily apparent in Iraq - a war that has lasted longer for the US than WWII. Utopian ideas have been seeded on infertile soil.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Lee on 25 May 2008
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up having been recommended the authors previous effort "Straw Dogs" by a college. Though I haven't read straw dogs, I was attracted by the discussion of Utopia.

The book is well written and most of the central ideas of Utopia, Religious Apocalyptic History and political ideals are communicated well. The author takes time to develop his ideas and provides well drawn examples supporting his interpretation. In particular, his discussion on the USA's use of "facts" in certain ways to justify means is very interesting and entertaining. In addition to this, the book is enjoyable in that regardless of whether or not you agree with the authors conclusions, he is certainly not overly dogmatic.

For me, what stood out was the books willingness to engage with the reader and get them to think. It is a book that asks many questions, more than it answers and really got me thinking about how to interpret history. For me, though the factual / historical focus of the earlier chapters was hugely entertaining, the final chapter was probably the most engaging. While I disagreed with certain aspects of it, that the author took the time to make conclusions that actually derived from his discussion, rather than simply being a restatement of what he thought, was particularly interesting and rewarding.

My criticism of the book would be that some liberties with interpretation are given. The author is prone to oversimplifying ideas for the sake of expediency and on one or two occasions this seemed to me to be slightly misleading. For example, one of his descriptions of Aristotle's thought is far too reductive to do justice to Aristotle's thought. However, I understand that this was for obvious reasons concerning the flow of the book.
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Format: Paperback
There are a few good observations in this book. For instance, I agree the recent Islamic radicalism is a modern phenomenon. Also it is undoubtedly true that modern political mass movements are religious in nature. Although it is a fairly banal thing to note: "secular" or "neutral" societies don't exist, if the religion in the traditional sense evaporates from them something will fill the resulting vacuum. Another true and also more less banal observation is that the Soviets implemented a western ideology not another version of an eastern despotism.

But there are so many oversimplifications... I understand it's a small book and the author couldn't present very subtle and nuanced picture. But at this level of generality you can get away claiming that anything is the result of anything. A general flaw this book suffers from is that it was written by a philosopher: history is not only (and probably even not primarily) a history of ideas, it would be interesting to note other things as well. But you can always claim it's outside the scope, but even so it makes a book like this a bit disappointing.

A few more specific points that caught my curiosity.

The author claims Thatcher created a society which was a reverse of what she wanted. This kind of statement always rings an alarm bell in my head: of course you can't predict the complex results of complex policies, but a result which is the opposite of declared aim strongly suggest that there may have been other aims and the declared one is just that: a declaration for public consumption.

Slightly amusing was author's appreciation of the fact that the Thatcher's new society is more "tolerant". Generally, the author seems to value British "liberalism".
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