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.