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Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley Paperback – 1 Apr 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: St Martin's Press; New edition edition (1 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312288972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312288976
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 142,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The legendary Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is a tantalising and bizarre subject. As an occult leader, heroin addict, sexual adventurer, misogynist, and visionary, he is the inspiration for many vile Gothic protagonists. Author W. Somerset Maugham even devoted a novel, The Magician to this chilling figure of indulgence and religious mockery. Like any good biographer, Lawrence Sutin set out to discover the man behind the myth. After considerable research, Sutin admits that Crowley was "a shameless scoffer at Christian virtue" and "a spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family" but he also sees him as a 20th century figure as "protean, brilliant, courageous, and flabbergasting as ever you could imagine".

Consider these facts about the man who named himself "The Great Beast": he was one of the first Westerners to seriously study Buddhism and Yoga. He radically redesigned the traditional Tarot deck (thus the "Crowley deck"). Contrary to common belief, he was never known to participate in satanic ritual--to do so would acknowledge the Christian church, which he was loathe to do (although he nicknamed his son "The Christ Child"). These are but a few of the surprising morsels one can glean from this excellent biography. Don't expect to find Crowley a likeable figure. Do, however, expect to meet a flamboyant man who challenged all forms of religious, sexual, and social oppression and hence became a revered visionary and a reviled demon. --Tara West --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Synopsis

Born in 1875, Aleister Crowley was an arrogant and misogynistic product of the pampered English upper classes. A blustery coward, a racist with fascist leanings, and a callous user, he was as often threatened by his sexuality as he claimed to be liberated by it. But he was also a gifted poet and an iconoclastic visionary whose literary legacies extend far beyond the limits of his reputation. Like many self-styled decadents of his class and generation, Crowley developed a profound interest in the occult. His ground-breaking spirituality - that retains thousands of followers to this day - reconciled mysticism with hedonistic inclinations. A firm advocate of Eastern philosophy, drug-experimentation and rampant sexual adventurism, he was to become an important countercultural icon. In this startling book, Lawrence Sutin, by treating Crowley as a cultural phenomenon, and not simply a sorcerer or a charlatan, convinces even sceptical readers that the self-styled 'Beast' remains a fascinating study in eccentricity.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 July 2002
Format: Hardcover
Crowley has always been a figure deserving of a good biography but untill now he has only ever been portrayed as a charlatan and a pervert. Sutin has tried to draw up a picture of the man without exaggerating or overdramatising him. He never mocks Crowley's vocation and reports on his rituals and experiments with admirable impartiality, giving more credibility to the man as a whole. Overall, Crowley does not come across as a likeable person; he is arrogant, misogynous, intolerant, xenophobic etc But he is also shown as intelligent and capable and, in some cases, justified in his arrogance. Importantly the book never becomes boring, Sutin does not dwell on the more lurid details nor does he resort to reporting anecdotes or rumours. Some well known stories about the man are notably absent from the book. Probably the main problem about with this biography is the lack of concrete fact about Crowley. A good deal of the information in the book is drawn from Crowley's own autobiography and, as Sutin points out, Crowley is not always to be believed.
Overall the book is an enjoyable read, although those looking for sensational and lurid stories may want to look elsewhere, those with an interest in the magickal philosophy of Crowley, will be glad to see that it is presented with the respect that maybe it deserves.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By M. Fitzgerald on 30 Sept. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Having read nine other biographies of A.C. I consider this to be in many regards the best. Sutin has here managed a thorough and fair treatment of the head spinning character that is Crowley, whom we follow up mountains, through deserts, into psychedelic discombobulation and beyond. Sutin has a great style which carries the reader smoothly through A.C.'s incredible life, never relying too much on extracts from the 'Confessions' as others have done. I feel Sutin's dedication to this book was immense; it really is a superb addition to the library dedicated to Crowley, oozing high quality research and sanity.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ms. M. M. L. Packwood on 22 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
Perhaps you are a member of the Fine Madness Society that keeps you interested in Crowley, or perhaps you just want to understand the motivation behind the man that was Aleister Crowley. In either case this is the best biography to date. Lawrence Sutin has done his homework and has researched through letters and interviews the whole of Crowley's life. In particular the section on his childhood and adolescence is longer and better researched than John Symonds. Symonds was a friend of Crowley's and in his book The Great Beast he seems to have written what he was told or known through others. Sutin has read all of Crowley's work and magical workings to give us a greater sense of the real Crowley. He distinguishes the real Crowley from the media image and Celebrity image Crowley himself was apt to spin around him. He puts the flesh on the skeleton Symonds has offered us. I was particularly glad that Sutin has been at pains to reveal the reality behind the myth of Crowley's link to the Third Reich. He was not acknowledged by Hilter, though Hilter may have read a book of Crowley's - nor was he a spy during World War II. It seems that underneath his malevolent claptrap Crowley was a patriot and as photos have shown, a supporter of Winston Churchill. His friend and a great support in Germany, Germer had to flee to New York after a time imprisoned by the Nazis. Crowley's homosexuality is here revealed by Sutin during his long sexual career when he was as attracted to men as to women. In particular his great love at Trinity College and his bond to Victor Neuberg and their magical workings. The loyalty of Leah Waddell is described as well as the fact that he was not involved sexually with Frieda Harris who was 60 when he first met her. Crowley died in 1947 and you are aware at the end of how he might have lived for another 20 years if it were not for his drug addiction and deteriorating health due to this. Like a dead Star he burnt out early.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Romparose on 20 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is excellent as a comprehensive source on the life of Alister Crowley. But be warned, this is not just a bit of light bedtime reading material for the faintly curious. It goes into such depth, occasionally off on barely relative tangents, that I'd recommend this primarily for educational purposes or for the most die heard Crowley enthusiast.
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If the works and life of Aleister Crowley have ever raised the slightest curiosity about why he still remains a thoroughly controversial figure then Lawrence Sutin's biography is definitely worth reading. As neither a follower of Thelema or an amateur Crowley scholar; this work balances fairly well a view of the man and his works, although a strong interest in religion, mystical belief and Crowley's own view on 'magickal operations' is definitely needed as it is not an easy read unless you already have some sound knowledge of Hindu yogic practise, Buddhism, Western magical societies and the Freemasons.

Sutin cuts through a lot of nonsense by leaving out the salacious and more virulent gossip or rumour that surrounded Crowley, but still retains somewhat of a critical approach to his general behaviour and treatment of friends, partners and others, which can be beyond abhorrent. What I appreciated most about the writing were the inclusions of the context of Victorian cultural, religious and societal values that Aleister Crowley was brought up with, and in some ways seems to never truly managed to escape as influences. In giving these mentions to that background it offers the opportunity to understand some of the formative influences that could shape such a personality.

The drawbacks: the writing style can slip into a rather repetitive approach. I lost count of the amount of times that the words "…and that will be dealt with/mentioned later in this chapter" were written, which is unnecessary when only a couple of paragraphs are between one reference and the next.
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