6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2013
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!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 19 November 2009
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.
41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2005
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!.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2012
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.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 9 April 2010
The book is simply a must for anyone who is simply interested or studying history of religion, the roots of mythology, folklore, superstitions, ancient witchcraft, anthropology, ethnography... A true encyclopaedia covering the knowledge and prejudices of different tribes and nations. Really well researched and written, provides you with more wide survey than Propp (Morphology of the Folk Tale (Bibliographical and Special) - which is a must as well), and more solid than Levi-Strauss (Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture).
I've read it several times, and always happy to re-read
70 of 77 people found the following review helpful
on 25 July 2006
Get the abridged Oxford World's Classics edition which includes Frazer's original speculation on the wholly ritual, and symbolic, nature of Christ's crucifixion and, overall, you'll digest a book that will speak to you in ways you never imagined a book could. A sweeping account, from the very dawn of recorded history to the relative present, of Mankind's beliefs, traditions and rituals, The Golden Bough propels you from the start into an epic true story of nothing less than Mankind's inexhaustable quest for an understanding of - and union with - the mysterious, divine powers that create and sustain the world's existence.
With this remarkable work, so brilliantly researched and weaved together, we learn that universal themes and common tribal practices have been adopted by Man throughout all of history, and across all the world's diverse cultures, suggesting that we really do operate from a "collective unconsciousness", as Swiss therapist Jung termed it.
What is strongly suggested from Frazer's starkly drawn postcards from the past is that the enactment of myth and ritual may actually have a real impact, both esoterically and exoterically, on actual life and nature. It's not all cosmetic or mere superstition. And, indeed, once we re-engage with these universal, deeply rooted ideas, we might even find a registering of their phenomena in our personal and collective psyche. Reading this book for these metaphysical side effects alone is worth the investment!
In an ideal, spiritually oriented world, this book would be read in primary schools world-wide as a vital companion to Darwinism, to teach children how modern religion is nothing more than a re-branding of old myths and rituals - with these religions, in turn, being grossly misinterepted as facts instead of symbols, and entrusted to the "teachings" of a corrupt, inept and hopelessly unenlightened church order. The best we can do in the absence of this book being compulsory reading in schools is to get a copy as soon as we hear about it as adults and let Frazer's genius do the rest. What are you waiting for?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2013
This is a fundamental classic which every educated person should have read or ought to read. It is immensely interesting and important. I have just started to read it again so this review is a recollection of over thirty years ago when I first read it. It is an unexpected revelation of an unexplored area of Man's Cultural History. When I first read it all these years ago it was a well known work and widely read. My impression is that it is a forgotten masterpiece, neither popular nor widely read today which is a great pity. It is also a huge work so dont start until you have a vast amount of time to devote to reading it.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2011
'The Golden Bough' is Frazer's substantial overview of humankind's continuing effort to understand what the hell is going on in the world in which we all live for a while. It looks like a daunting read, and it is - it's not a book to be read continuously from p1 to p800...
If you're new to the subject, a huge one, try going to the Index and, choosing a topic that tickles your curiosity, read a few pages there. Do this a few times, and I think you will be hooked; you will certainly find a lot to fire your imagination, and even the ocasional 'Oh, I see!!!' moment
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2012
Frazer's stated aim in this book is to explain a particular, murderous ritual at Nemi in classical Rome. To do this he zips around the world, via his writing desk, collecting evidence from myths and folklore both ancient and modern. The first thing you notice is the clarity and even the lyrical quality of his prose. Indeed, Frazer is perhaps a better writer than he realises, for he will often take a page or more to expand on something he has explained perfectly clearly in the first few lines.
By the time he has finished Frazer has constructed a vast and beautiful argument to make his case. How true is it? Who knows. It's all argument by analogy: this looks like this therefore the underlying principles are the same (one could call this homeopathic reasoning). Some of the conjectures are utterly convincing, others much less so. In particular, the principles Frazer uses to draw conclusions about the fire festivals are inconsistent with those he uses elsewhere. More problematically, Frazer's view of magic and religion as proto-science, as purely attempts to affect change in the world, amputates much of the intellectual life of man. Furthermore, by claiming to be divining the reasons of men who are incapable of lucid reasoning, whose real motives are lost in time and/or may not be those they profess, and who are capable of holding irreconcilable viewpoints simultaneously, Frazer pretty much gives himself license to impose any reasoning he wishes on the observed facts. This is nit-picking though. This is a book of ideas rather than truth. Frazer is the first to admit that his central thesis is unproven by the end of the book. Indeed, proving this may not have been his real goal at all, for in the last chapter he moves on to expound a different conclusion entirely (which he claims to have drawn from his survey, but which looks suspiciously like an opinion held a priori).
All of the above probably makes the book sound like one extended argument, but the bulk of it is taken up with examples of ritual and folklore. Example after example... These are the books real value to posterity, transcending Frazer's interpretation. I therefore feel somewhat churlish when I complain that, boy, when you've read one example of people dancing around a maypole you're read them all. And this is the abridged version! The best chapters are those where Frazer interprets myths, positing their origin and exploring the parallels between them and folk customs. He may not be correct but he is inspiring, provoking further thought.
Ultimately, if you're interested in this subject this is probably an essential book. If you're not interested... why are you reading this?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I encountered this as undergraduate; I had had Graves' "The White Goddess" thrust into my hands by an enthusiastic reader - my house-mate - who had discovered it after deep and lengthy reading of Ted Hughes, his favourite poet. We both discovered "The Golden Bough" as a result of that journey.
Although I would not say I had read every word (it is not that kind of book), I began to realise worlds with which I had been unfamiliar but which lay behind worlds I had entered. It is a fascinating journey through the myths and magic of our ancestors in their attempt to make sense of the world in which they found themselves, much as we do today and so much of what we "use" today is rooted deep in our ancestors' past. Layer upon layer upon layer, generation after generation after generation and Fraser explores the links, branches and roots.
Although there are many editions of this, some very expensive, this Wordsworth edition (like many of their books) made it available to a much wider audience at a vastly reduced price. My students used Wordsworth edition regularly and their ill-fated computer software on Shakespeare, which was the best of its kind I had seen when it was published; in serious studies in which a number of texts were required, these Wordsworths were expendable, could be annotated and highlighted without guilt. They served their purpose perfectly.
This is not easy reading; it is an old text in a traditional, scholarly style about an esoteric subject difficult to research and write about with quotable references but it is worth the time and tiny financial investment. For more detail content, see other reviews.