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Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History) Kindle Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Length: 880 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Product Description


Monumental ... with a living treasure on each page, and probably the book that, in my whole life, I've pressed on other people most energetically. (Selected people, of course. They have to care for history, and they need a sense of wonder and a sense of fun.) (Hilary Mantel New York Times)

About the Author

Keith Thomas is a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He was formerly President of Corpus Christi College and, before that, Professor of Modern History and Fellow of St John's College. RELIGION AND DECLINE OF MAGIC, his first book, won one of the two Wolfson Literary Awards for History in 1972. He was knighted in 1988 for services to the study of history.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1937 KB
  • Print Length: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (30 Jan. 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9L9E
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #116,060 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is unquestionably one of the great works of history written in Englsh in the 20th century. It is hard, over thirty years later, to conceive of just how radical and imaginative this book appeared when it was first published. It not only transformed our understanding of English religious history, but also helped to permanently change our approach to the past. I would encourage prospective buyers not to pay too much attention to the negative comments in some of other reviews: the fact that this book still inspires controversy and debate a whole generation after its first printing is testimony to its greatness.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I was studying it as part of my History degree at university. I felt a little daunted to start reading it as it's a massively long text, but it turned out to be written in a fluent, engaging style that's really easy to just dip in and out of at different sittings and you don't have to slave through the whole thing to benefit from it. The book focuses on the dramatic rise in popularity of magical practices in the 15th and 16th centuries, and its subsequent decline towards the end of the 17th century. Keith Thomas has been commended for taking a new social approach and bringing a new argument to religion and the decline of magic that has become widely accepted by most historians and anthropologists. The book covers a wide range of types of magic, giving extremely detailed accounts on each, and is full of interesting and amusing anecdotes, making it just as much for the lay reader as the scholar. It is considered a must-read for anyone who is interested in or is studying this topic and I would personally recommend it as a fascinating and enjoyable read. The only reason I gave it 4 stars and not 5 is because it's so long!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Human intelligence is a fickle thing and too often confused with popularity. The cultural norms of one society when expressed in similar terms may appear the same. Hence 'astrology, witchcraft, magical healing, divination, ancient prophecies, ghosts and fairies' were believed to play a major part in the human condition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while Marxism presented secular myth to nineteenth and twentieth century audiences. Thomas's book is a serious attempt to write history but often falls victim to the myths of social anthropology which litter his text and lacks the 'exact statistical data upon which the precise analysis of historical change must so often depend'. In the end we are left with interpretation from too little evidence.

This is not to disparage the book which has rightly been described as a classic but it does result in over-simplification in suggesting there 'was a preoccupation with the explanation and relief of human misfortune'. Since the dawn of human observation mankind has been concerned with 'the human condition'. That humans had not learned the importance of diet, the causes of disease and relied on the ideas of Hippocrates, Aristotle and Galen, was simply the importation of cultural norms from previous cultures which were not necessarily religious in origin but were explained in religious terms. Medical treatment was beyond the pockets of many and remained so until the NHS was founded in 1948. In the absence of official medical advice some chose to consult non-qualified practitioners which Thomas cavalierly dismisses as doing patients 'severe or even fatal damage' without mentioning those which worked and are now patented.
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Format: Paperback
Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic was the first of my books for summer reading, and I doubt that any novel that I choose will be half as entertaining or any text as informative. By the conclusion I felt that I was completing an odessey throughout the early modern era with a sympathy and understanding of a world far different then ours in some respects, yet, as Thomas succinctly points out in the conclusion, profoundly similar. No other history book has granted me a deeper sense of understanding about human drives for stability and for explaination in all things. This is a book that grants insight and understanding far beyond its proclaimed subject matter, with positive and sweeping consequences for the objective thinker
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thomas' classic provides an excellent directory for the period sources. As a compendium of the evidence available by c.1970, it is unparalleled, and the ambition required to assemble such a corpus deserves very high praise.

Its ambition is also largely its undoing. The chief flaws are:

(i) It is epic. Slogging through it in one sitting is deeply inadvisable - this is a book which rewards regular visiting rather than a single extended tour.

(ii) Thomas' categorisation of the evidence is entirely artificial. He imposes a taxonomy of types of magical practice - medicine / astrology / divination / geomancy / witchcraft / folk religion - that originates almost entirely in the mid 20th Century. There was absolutely no consensus at the time on where the dividing lines between different types of practice were drawn, and indeed many practitioners wouldn't have drawn many lines at all.

(iii) The argumentation has big holes in it. The most glaring is the direct contradiction between his position on popular understanding of Christian theology (i.e. that the majority of the population had little or no grasp of Christian doctrine) and his position on folk religion and magic (that there were no widespread folk religions and that most people derived their understanding of magic through the lens of Christian theology - a position hard to maintain if you've already demonstrated people had little grasp of Christian theology).
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