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Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia [Paperback]

John Gray
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 April 2008

A prophetic warning against the foolishness of crusades, John Gray's Black Mass challenges our belief in human progress.

Our conventional view of history is wrong. It is founded on a pernicious myth of an achievable utopia that in the last century alone caused the murder of tens of millions.

In Black Mass John Gray tears down the religious, political and secular beliefs that we insist are fundamental to the human project, examines the interaction of terrorism, declining world resources, environmental change, human myths of redemption and a flawed belief in Western democracy, and shows us how a misplaced faith in our ability to improve the world has actually made it far worse.

'Brilliant, frightening, devastating'
  John Banville, Guardian

'A brilliant polemic ... Gray's most powerful argument yet'
  J.G. Ballard, Guardian, Books of the Year

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

'Exhilarating, invigorating'
  Literary Review

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

'A load of bollocks ... could hardly be more bonkers if it was crawling with lizards'
  Sunday Telegraph

John Gray has been Professor of Politics at Oxford University, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Yale and Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. His books include False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals and The Immortalization Commission: The Strange Quest to Cheat Death. His selected writings, Gray's Anatomy, was published in 2009.

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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: 2 x 12.8 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 48,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un-realising a "perfect" world 29 Dec 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding but flawed 25 May 2008
By Lee
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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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pessimism Of The Will, Pessimism Of The Intellect 6 April 2010
At the centre of John Gray's book "Black Mass" is the not unreasonable assertion that grandiose plans to turn the world upside down and reach Utopia overnight have entailed a great deal of human misery and very little Utopia. There is nothing particularly novel in this assertion, though it is a little more palatable from the pen of John Gray, than say Isaiah Berlin (see The Crooked Timber of Humanity) who liked to promote his own particular -ism (Zionism), including spying for them while in British government service.

Some Gray's contentions are interesting, for example the link between the search for Utopia and Christian doctrine. At other times he seems to over egg the pudding, as when he draws a link between the Holy Trinity and the three stages of orthodox Marxism (I thought it was four?), as if there is something particularly important about the number three. The association appears meaningless and asinine, despite the apparent solemnity and objectivity of Gray's tone.

Another problem was the continual flow of questionable generalisations with regard to historical facts and figures. Cuba is categorised as a totalitarian dystopia, but not a word on the circumstances in comparable countries in the US sphere (say Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, or indeed any of the Latin American countries). With regard to Russia, he talks of "when Russian voters repudiated Yeltsin in favour of Putin" when such a choice was never before the Russian electorate. His account of the end of the British post-war consensus is light on historical context and essentially shallow.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Why bother?
Interesting reading at times but the misanthropy and nihilism beg the question - all things being so random, futile and meaningless - why even bother writing this book?
Published 3 months ago by Eagle Fly Free
4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge to Relgious and Secular Ideas
This is a book to make you think. It traces many trends in religious and secular thinking that all stem from what the author sees as a harmful myth - the idea that a perfect world... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ray V
3.0 out of 5 stars Three stars does not entirely reflect its excellence
I seem to recall that I was perceived to be a little uncharitable towards Heresies, so I will make up for that by expressing my pleasure in this book. Read more
Published 10 months ago by opus
2.0 out of 5 stars Crawling with lizards
I don't necessarily mind John Gray, but "Black Mass" isn't one of his better books. It's essentially an updated (and badly edited) version of "Heresies". Read more
Published 19 months ago by Ashtar Command
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, thought provoking... a bit irritating in places... but...
Frankly how can anyone resist a book with the Sunday Telegraph review of :"A load of bollocks... could hardly be more bonkers if it was crawling with lizards"

Myself, I... Read more
Published on 2 Sep 2010 by Heligany
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Insights but a Failed Thesis
In Black Mass, John Gray's thesis is that modern political utopian ideas and projects have their roots in religion. Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2010 by Herman Norford
5.0 out of 5 stars No Gray Areas
Like 'Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern', this is a mindset-changing book, balancing reader-friendly prose with a scalpel-sharp academic insight. Read more
Published on 1 Dec 2009 by The Whisper
5.0 out of 5 stars Dare to have your mind blown away
A book that is lucid in style, ferocious and indignant in tone, erudite and insightful in its content. Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2009 by Mr. Fox Stephen
3.0 out of 5 stars Too focussed on recent events?
I enjoyed this book and do not believe it is a difficult read as others here appear to think. Yes, it has challenging views but I think the views are easy to understand as they are... Read more
Published on 18 Jan 2009 by M. A. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece for those who delve into social discourses
This book has an incredibly original take on culture, religion and national politics which attempts to elucidate the foundations upon which today's thought, political rhetoric and... Read more
Published on 23 Nov 2008 by commodityfetish
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