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The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: A Study in Magic and Religion: A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – Abridged, 16 Jul 1998

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Product details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New ed of Abridged ed edition (16 July 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192835416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192835413
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 4.3 x 13 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,023,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'In the condensed volume which lies before us we can grasp the masterly plan of the whole work; the mind is fascinated by the author's skill as a constructive thinker and a framer of concepts, and also as a compiler of picturesque detail.' - Spectator

'...equally remarkable for its vast assembly of facts and its unusual charm of presentation. Few men of such learning have written more attractively.' - George Sampson, Concise Cambridge History of English Literature

'A classic; theoretically outmoded, but still informative, stimulating and highly readable.' - Maurice Freedman and I. Schapera, Reader's Guide --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

SIR JAMES GEORGE FRAZER (1854-1941) was one of the arly pioneers in the sociological study of religion. He began his career as a classicist but it is for his work in social anthropology that he is best remembered. His most famous work, The Golden Bough first appeared in 1890 in a two-volume edition but was twice revised and expanded, the third edition appearing in twelve volumes in 1911-15. Frazer's other works include Psyche's Task, Totemism and Exogamy, The Belief in Immortality and The Worship of the Dead and Folklore in the Old Testament. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ian A. Powell on 23 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Seller was pro - no complaints. The only real question is, is this the book you think it is.
A surprising sly read, it can quickly become bewildering for the absolute overkill in structure - so many examples to back up each point, you forget what the point was. The jist of the argument is this: Primitive societies did (and still do have) witches/sorcerers. They claim to control nature/gods. You want it to rain, then you must perform the rain dance to bend the spirits to your will. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't (and that's your fault because you have doubts because you're the first to complain that it isn't raining!) If they're honest the doctor realises it's got nothing to do with them. So they evolve from controlling the spirit world by demand, to begging for favour. That is, praying. The witch doctor becomes a priest.
But given enough time, they notice the same thing: praying for rain doesn't mean it will. This gives way to the next transformation: the scientist. You want it to rain? Seed the clouds.
However, the evolution of spiritual civilisation remains the same: the desire to create a thing by demand. This is the human aspiration and it says a great deal about our psyche: God is a template for our own desires.
This book is an overwhelmingly expansive exploration of this cultural development. Not of what be described as an academic text by any means, but it is a gold standard of populist writing.
I only wish someone published a version with pictures!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By dead joe on 19 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book, covering a huge span of history and culture, and makes some remarkable (and at times quite controversial) points in a refreshingly modest and understated way. Indeed, often it is what Frazer doesn't say that makes the greatest impact: on occasion he will furnish all the evidence, even drop little hints and clues, subtly flirt with an idea: as a reader you think you've prematurely guessed the conclusion that he does not, in fact, go on to make. Thus the receptive reader takes onboard profound ideas that Frazer does not even need to articulate. Powerful stuff.

The writing is, at times, beautiful: sheer pleasure to read. At other times, it is somewhat workmanlike - no doubt because there was so much material to get through. It is easy to spot the passages in which Frazer has allowed his natural creativity to flow into his writing, and one gets the impression that they were as enjoyable to write as they are to read.

My only criticism of this abridgement is that for each point made, too many examples are given, and those examples are sometimes very similar. A fairly rigid pattern of 'point followed by examples' is set up and does become rather repetitive, at times reading through Frazer's examples is a real chore, especially when he is not able to offer much in the way of variety, and the edges of some wonderful points and observations are subsequently blunted by the abundance of evidence the reader is required to plough through. Oxford's abridgement is probably perfectly pitched for students and academics, but perhaps a little cumbersome for the general reader. That said, I have not read the other abridgements and for all I know this may well be the best - I did enjoy it (though it took me a while to read it) and I would certainly recommend it without hesitation to anyone with an enquiring mind.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Mar. 2005
Format: Paperback
I first came across 'The Golden Bough' in the form of all twelve volumes of the second edition while at the University of Exeter, and promptly ignored my studies to devour the thing, including the supplements to the third edition, a condensation of the second. The wry humour and urbane disinterest of the voice detailing the killing of kings, the role of the scapegoat, and the less travelled areas of ethnography and comparitive religion is both beguiling and compelling, and slowly leads the reader to conclusions which in the face of such a compendium of evidence appear unavoidable. That these conclusions are now questioned is no matter, Frazer always stated that the worth of the work was in compiling the evidence from which others may base their own ideas before the modern age so altered the world as to erase the beliefs he recorded, or worse yet, made them appear ridiculous. For anyone in sympathy with the statement of Nietzsche that 'God is dead, and we killed him.' the chapter of the crucification of Christ is recommened (and unavailable elsewhere), as it is both considered, and reading it is to read the work of an author who is brave enough to follow his own logic into realms that he would rather have not known. It also makes clear that the tragic death of one man to atone for the sins of others is by no means unusual, but no less tragic as a result. A work of genius, but retaining an affectionate regard for humanity in all its foolishness and its efforts to make an unknowing and sometimes unkind world safer by the exercise of faith. Le roi est mort! Viva le roi!.
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Format: Paperback
Long, repetitive, dated...and yet utterly gripping. When reading this book, it is tempting to believe that it holds the key to explaining all aspects of symbolic and ritualistic behaviour, from casual superstition to world religion.

Using the concept of sympathetic magic as a basis, Frazer outlines the origin of religion from its origins in 'primitive' animism and witchcraft. It takes a thematic approach, using a huge number of examples of particular ritualistic behaviour from cultures around the world, to illustrate the reasons behind common traits in world beliefs. The result is a comprehensive and convincing study that explains almost every kind of rite and ritual - even those that still pervade in modern times.

Despite its academic tone and (literally) weighty volume, Golden Bough is surprisingly easy reading. What's more, although it is sequential, once you have read the first section (which outlines the concept of sympathetic magic), it is possible to read the book from any section - and I guarantee that there is something to surprise and intrigue on every page.

On its downsides, the lack of citations or bibliography does mean that the reader has to trust that Frazer's accounts of world cultures (many of which are bizarre in the extreme) are genuine, and not fabrications invented merely to support his theories. From a stylistic perspective, I imagine many would find the book's typical structure (outline of theory -> huge number of anecdotal examples to support theory -> progression to next theory) rather laborious at times.

Despite this, I still found this book a very rewarding and inspiring work, and recommend as essential reading for anyone with an interest in mythology, religion and spirituality.
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