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A Brief History of Secret Societies (Brief Histories) Paperback – 26 Jul 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson (26 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184529615X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845296155
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 207,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"'In a field normally typified by confusion and ignorance this book is clear, concise, informative and to be recommended' Michael Baigent, Holy Blood and the Holy Grail"

About the Author

David Barrett is a leading expert on religion and esoteric belief. He is the author of The New Believers (Cassell). He reviews regularly in the Independent, the Fortean Times, TLS and New Scientist.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Although I agree with other reviewers that this book does approach conspiracy theories calmly, it is not without bias. There is a constant predisposition towards the explanation of the covert activities of secret societies via comparison with other more transparent mainstream institutions.

This lead me to believe that authors intention was to suggest that these societies are just as acceptable in an open liberal society as any other more transparent institutions, sentiment that I do not entirely agree with. One cannot help seeing the author as an apologist for the short comings of Free Masonry. There is too much recourse to a `bad apple' theory when explaining the wrong doings throughout history of secret societies.

This said the book does approach the subject matter in a non-sensationalist manner, however it cannot be said that it is not without its bias which may frustrate a reader that is genuinely interested in sorting fact from spin.
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By Neutral VINE VOICE on 10 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
It's the mark of a good book that it can reach conclusions with which the reader disagrees while maintaining the integrity and objectivity of the writer. David V Barrett provides such a volume. He doesn't disguise his position but he has a much clearer understanding of the differences between liberal and envangelical theology and between evangelical Christianity and Fundamentalism than has been shown by crusading atheists such as Dawkins or Hitchens. He also draws attention to the fact that some of the secret societies which he discusses do not regard themselves as such. His approach is a subtle combination of historical and thematic blended together with an easy to read style without ever losing its focus.

His opening contention is that "the history of secret socities is the history of esoteric religion and is the history of magic." His argument is that many of the ideas of Judasim can be traced back to earlier Babylonian or Sumerian versions of the same event and the influence of Zoroastrianism which originiated in Persia. He attributes the development of priests as attempts to explain natural events and that "the inner secrets of religion became hidden not just from the public but also from many in the priesthood." It's a line of thought which can be found in any modern presentation of magic in history and not one which has much to recommend it or carry evidential weight. Similarly, Barrett's account of Mithraism is marred by his assumptions that "it is probably" and "it is thought".

There were a number of competitors of early Christianity including Neo Platonism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Peleganism, Manichaeism and Cabalism all of which had doctrinal differences with the Church, some of which survived in different forms for centuries by meeting in secret.
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Format: Paperback
I didn't buy this book via Amazon but I have read the book.

I must say first off this is a great book to work your way into understanding the background of secret societies especially with freemasonry & why they became secret societies in the first place.

However when reading this book you do get a feeling that the government is looking over the shoulder of the writer as to put doubt in peoples minds as to whether or not these secret societies have any control via politics over society. It is that of a very establishmentarian view, as if a governing body or group is refuting any of the bad ideas or theorys you may have about any of these societies.

It does touch on some of the theorys and very strong held beliefs by some about certain societies having hidden control, but I felt as though then David Barrett would then turn them around and go out of his way to refute too much & rips other theorys apart while not necessary replacing it with a better theory or giving factual evidence himself to replace some of these wide held views.

If you haven't read any other secret society books this maybe a good place to start as it does start well with; the links between certain societies, very much goes into the religion aspect, it gives you a lot of background as well as other books & resources to source further information to come to your own conclusions.

The main criticism is that you can feel the writer's opinion coming through with facts & his view on information in a subtle way with other peoples opinions which you get the feeling he must share & if you don't agree it could put you off reading because of the writers establishment interpretation.
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We all love a good conspiracy theory as Dan Brown's book sales prove. However what David Barrett has done is take the heat and conjecture out of the stories to show you what facts exist about groups such as the Freemasons.

This is a highly readable book which while scholarly in style is never unnecessarily dry. There are hints of humour and the occasional aside to the reader. It also spends a lot of time exploring some of the myths created by either the societies themselves or from conspiracy theorists and showing how the facts just don't stand up to the claims.

While the background research is thorough there are slips for example the year 1187 in the text talks about the fall of Tiberius and Hattin, I think what is meant here is after the battle of Hattin, Jerusalem was lost to the crusaders- quite a bit different. Likewise while he does a good job of demystifying the assassins, he does stick to the now debunked story of initiates being drugged, waking up in a pleasure garden then a few days later drugged again and returned to the "real" the real world. Modern suicide bombers show you need far less elaborate tricks to get someone to kill themselves for your cause.

However the errors are minor and most importantly it is a calm voice of reason amongst either the societies hinting at secret knowledge they have held for thousands of years that is probably common sense and no older than 500 years old and the conspiracy theorists who think these groups are responsible for everything from World War 2 to presumably the inexplicable success of Strictly Come Dancing.

Read it and get some facts rather than just rumours.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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