Customer Reviews


32 Reviews
5 star:
 (10)
4 star:
 (9)
3 star:
 (6)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (4)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un-realising a "perfect" world
It's not easy categorising John Gray. He's generally listed as a "philosopher", but he rarely delves into the roots of human behaviour. His philosophy is founded on recorded history. Like most modern "philosophers", his arena is the canon of Western European tradition and practice. That approach, at least in Gray's hands, makes him more political commentator than...
Published on 29 Dec 2007 by Stephen A. Haines

versus
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pessimism Of The Will, Pessimism Of The Intellect
At the centre of John Gray's book "Black Mass" is the not unreasonable assertion that grandiose plans to turn the world upside down and reach Utopia overnight have entailed a great deal of human misery and very little Utopia. There is nothing particularly novel in this assertion, though it is a little more palatable from the pen of John Gray, than say Isaiah Berlin (see...
Published on 6 April 2010 by S Wood


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un-realising a "perfect" world, 29 Dec 2007
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Hardcover)
It's not easy categorising John Gray. He's generally listed as a "philosopher", but he rarely delves into the roots of human behaviour. His philosophy is founded on recorded history. Like most modern "philosophers", his arena is the canon of Western European tradition and practice. That approach, at least in Gray's hands, makes him more political commentator than philosopher. The shift of emphasis doesn't erode his thinking prowess nor his ability in expressing what he has derived from it. His prose is clean and unpretentious, almost hiding the power of the thinking behind it. In this exciting little work, Gray examines the history of modern "utopian" ideas - their misconceptions and their persistence.

The idea of utopias has long diverted us from confronting realities, Gray suggests. This self-generated departure tends to hide consequences of our acts until it's too late to deal with them successfully. Naturally, one of his glaring examples of this situation is the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Gray demonstrates how it was planned intentionally long before the causes were manufactured for it. The planning was clearly utopian in that the intentions were delusionary and inappropriate. Both governments declared their intention - based on false pretenses - to "extend democracy into the Middle East". This ambition was expressed without any perception of whether it would be welcomed. It's an underlying principle of utopian thinking, Gray observes, that a society can be re-created from within or imposed from the outside. The failure of such thinking is readily apparent in Iraq - a war that has lasted longer for the US than WWII. Utopian ideas have been seeded on infertile soil.

In explaining how the utopian idea arrived in the Middle East by way of the US-UK "special relationship", Gray skips lightly over Thomas More's original idea to the Enlightenment era. There is a link, however, in that while we are generally taught that the Enlightenment thinkers were building a secular world, they were relying on Christian precepts to expound their ideas. "Improvement" was the means of overcoming disparities in the human condition, and the State could replace the Church in making beneficial change. Among other virtues of this thinking was that it seemed realisable within human timespans. In the 20th Century, a wide variety of such proposals were tried, and Gray brings Marxism, the hippie communes of the 1960s and the Fascist-Nazi movements into the same paddock. Once thought as a "Leftist" ideal, Gray is unsurprised that it is now the policy of choice of the "neo-cons" and their supporters on the "Christian Right". Yet, it seems that no matter where on the political spectrum utopians arise, they continue to commit similar blunders. The goal blinds them to the perils of trying to achieve it and utopia becomes tragedy.

It's easy to peg Gray as grim or dismal. That's a common label pinned on those who seek to have us confront reality and think more deeply about our decisions. In this sense, Gray takes a long view of the role of Christianity in Western thinking. The shift of utopia from heaven to Earth, while seeming to provide improvement, was just as likely to introduce anarchy. He compares two contemporary thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza, in their approach to this problem. Modern liberals declare the unrestrained State as the greatest threat to freedom. Hobbes understood that anarchy was an even greater threat and government was needed to quell it. Spinoza, on the other hand, while unwilling to grant the state power to stomp on emerging anarchy, had a different proposal. Humans are part of the natural world, and turning to the state for salvation of any kind was erroneous. His realistic view was that disorder and peace are natural cycles of the human condition. We must approach this situation realistically, without any fixed or unattainable goals to repress the one to gain the other. Such simplistic thinking can never succeed. Gray has offered an exceptionally rational set of pointers on avoiding such single-mindedness. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rewarding but flawed, 25 May 2008
I picked this book up having been recommended the authors previous effort "Straw Dogs" by a college. Though I haven't read straw dogs, I was attracted by the discussion of Utopia.

The book is well written and most of the central ideas of Utopia, Religious Apocalyptic History and political ideals are communicated well. The author takes time to develop his ideas and provides well drawn examples supporting his interpretation. In particular, his discussion on the USA's use of "facts" in certain ways to justify means is very interesting and entertaining. In addition to this, the book is enjoyable in that regardless of whether or not you agree with the authors conclusions, he is certainly not overly dogmatic.

For me, what stood out was the books willingness to engage with the reader and get them to think. It is a book that asks many questions, more than it answers and really got me thinking about how to interpret history. For me, though the factual / historical focus of the earlier chapters was hugely entertaining, the final chapter was probably the most engaging. While I disagreed with certain aspects of it, that the author took the time to make conclusions that actually derived from his discussion, rather than simply being a restatement of what he thought, was particularly interesting and rewarding.

My criticism of the book would be that some liberties with interpretation are given. The author is prone to oversimplifying ideas for the sake of expediency and on one or two occasions this seemed to me to be slightly misleading. For example, one of his descriptions of Aristotle's thought is far too reductive to do justice to Aristotle's thought. However, I understand that this was for obvious reasons concerning the flow of the book.

All in all, a very entertaining and thought provoking read which takes time and effort to engage the reader, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest interested in the world and our interpretation of it.

DD
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pessimism Of The Will, Pessimism Of The Intellect, 6 April 2010
By 
S Wood (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
At the centre of John Gray's book "Black Mass" is the not unreasonable assertion that grandiose plans to turn the world upside down and reach Utopia overnight have entailed a great deal of human misery and very little Utopia. There is nothing particularly novel in this assertion, though it is a little more palatable from the pen of John Gray, than say Isaiah Berlin (see The Crooked Timber of Humanity) who liked to promote his own particular -ism (Zionism), including spying for them while in British government service.

Some Gray's contentions are interesting, for example the link between the search for Utopia and Christian doctrine. At other times he seems to over egg the pudding, as when he draws a link between the Holy Trinity and the three stages of orthodox Marxism (I thought it was four?), as if there is something particularly important about the number three. The association appears meaningless and asinine, despite the apparent solemnity and objectivity of Gray's tone.

Another problem was the continual flow of questionable generalisations with regard to historical facts and figures. Cuba is categorised as a totalitarian dystopia, but not a word on the circumstances in comparable countries in the US sphere (say Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, or indeed any of the Latin American countries). With regard to Russia, he talks of "when Russian voters repudiated Yeltsin in favour of Putin" when such a choice was never before the Russian electorate. His account of the end of the British post-war consensus is light on historical context and essentially shallow. The assertion that preventive war was a unique Bush doctrine is questionable, and though his administration was a vocal promoter the idea has had a long history in American policy, and no doubt will continue to.

Having said that, the criticisms of the Iraq War are pungent, but again focus on the alleged Utopian dimension of that policy (the US and UK bring liberal democratic capitalism to the Middle East) at the expense of a full appreciation of the factors that played a part in that misadventure. His criticisms of Francis Fukuyama, Milton Friedman, and a number of other ideologues are sharp and reasonable. The sections that deal with Leo Strauss, and the intellectual influence he has had with the American right, was a real - and scary - eye opener, and almost worth the admission price alone.

As far as solutions go, Gray posits that a sense of realism should inform foreign policy, though he admits that the last self-proclaimed realist (Henry Kissinger) contributions were less than ideal in Cambodia. This is being far too modest about Mr Kissinger's contribution to mass murder. With regard to the broader questions of society, the feeling is one of helplessness and pessimism about the advisability of striving for anything that might be regarded as progress. This is the hole in the book, Gray has nothing much to say on how we should live collectively, though he does suggest that we would be better advised spending time with poets and hedonists. Pleasant company I'm sure, and not to be avoided if the chance presents itself, but does this really make him the "the most important living philosopher" as the back page blurb states?

With all those reservations, I still found it interesting, occasionally entertaining, informative, and always provocative reading. It just doesn't seem to me to be as profound, and as comprehensive as some are making it out to be. Read it by all means, but with a pinch of salt and critical faculties at the ready.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Daring Book, 7 Aug 2007
By 
John O'Gorman "cecrops" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Hardcover)
A daring and breathtaking view of Modern Western political thought, starting at its roots in pre-Christian religions and taking us up to the Neo-cons and Blairites.

It builds successfully on his earlier works such as False Dawn and End Games. He attacks the ideas of progress and terror inherent in Christian, Liberal and other philosophies. I believe his attacks are significant and worth considering. I was always puzzled by the place of violence had in most Western philosophies. But I never saw it in terms of creating a new type of Human. Gray discusses the uses of terror in realizing these impossible goals. This was worth the read alone.

He also touches on the foolishness of universal answers. All problems are contingent and must be solved as they arise and not from an ideologically approved menu of solutions. There is no overarching narrative that must be followed.

It is strong on analyses but short on answers. Answers were not the point in this analyses though. He believes realism is the way out though. Some statements are left hanging. Such as a discussion of ethics based on realism asserts it is the best source for ethics, but never developed this. It is however well footnoted. So it is also a good starting point.

Not an easy read, but a good one. Enjoyed it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the apostle of self-knowledge, 23 Oct 2007
By 
This review is from: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Hardcover)
John Gray made me aware that, though an atheist by 'reason', I am also a closet Christian, or at least highly influenced by Christian attitudes and ideas, one of which is a belief in human progress via science.He also seems to have made me aware that I am believer, unbeliever and agnostic depending on whether I am reading a novel, a book on history or a tome of painfully precise philosophy. This kind of self-knowledge makes me feel less confused and more at ease with myself. There were so many ideas and revelations in this book. I made twelve pages of notes and felt the book had both clarified my thinking and made me aware of certain illusions I had held dear.He hammers home his ideas with grace, skill and humour. Very much of an eye-opener!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Difficult, but gripping., 20 May 2008
By 
Mr. N. T. Baxter "Neil" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
I found this book extremely interesting although sometimes it was quite heavy going. The book looks at how the idea of a perfect world/state developed as an unachievable ideal, and how the attempts to realise it in later times have caused so much suffering and pain in the world but have achieved so little. Whether communism, Nazism or the current American Christian model of a world of democratic capitalist nations all attempts to remodel the world have ended in disaster.

This utopian thinking has a resonance for all of us, I think. It's easy to believe we can reach a state of perfection in our personal or professional lives where we will be happy and live in harmony, but our very natures make this impossible. We are always reaching for something - it's human nature - utopia for ourselves and for society as a whole is unachievable and we would do better to take a more pragmatic approach to the world's problems.

The other thing I got from this book was the idea that human beings are not rational creatures, nor are we going to become so in the future. We will always fight, compete, envy and believe in things we cannot possibly know. That is what it is to be human. Most of the decisions/beliefs of most of the people of the world are made and held because of emotion, belief, culture and the influence of others; not through rational analysis. There is no point attempting to develop conceptions of a better world that do not take this into account at their very core.

On the down side, this book was heavy going at times, and a little too focused on the recent Iraq war later on in the book. However, I'd certainly recommend it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three stars does not entirely reflect its excellence, 14 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I seem to recall that I was perceived to be a little uncharitable towards Heresies, so I will make up for that by expressing my pleasure in this book. I will thus ignore any doubts I might have over Gray's grasp of history, or the accuracy of his predictions - the book is a few years old now; for, his central thesis, that Liberalism is a form of secular Christianism with its proponents setting sail for Utopia (and dare I add without Forgiveness - one of Christianity's better aspects) is not merely pleasing to me but seemingly correct.

I recommend this book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dare to have your mind blown away, 20 Sep 2009
By 
Mr. Fox Stephen "S. P. Fox" (Barcelona, CAT.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
A book that is lucid in style, ferocious and indignant in tone, erudite and insightful in its content. It will challenge - just as any philosopher worth the name should - all your preconceived ideas about society, ethics, history. You won't agree with everything he says, but if you want to understand the world round about you today, if you want to understand you relationship to that world, and by implication your own identity, then read this book. Go on, I dare ye....
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece for those who delve into social discourses, 23 Nov 2008
By 
commodityfetish (Southampton, England) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book has an incredibly original take on culture, religion and national politics which attempts to elucidate the foundations upon which today's thought, political rhetoric and beliefs stand.

I will keep this review short and simply say that you do not need a guidebook to take you through his ideas - his writing is clear and compelling. This takes you on a journey through history looking at how ideas of social idealism, utopianism, action, intervention etc. have "developed" (or perhaps "changed" might be a more appropriate term). Implications for today's world are clear in each word, but are drawn out skillfully throughout the book. This should be of interest to anybody interested in social issues from international/ cultural conflict to language, politics to philosophy.

This is one of the most important texts I've read in years; one that is important to read in order to understand the world, our ideals and our differences - and to problematize them all. A classic which will inform social, historical, philosophical and political theory for the foreseeable future.

*Additional point responding to other reviews (years later)* This book is more about social continuations of thinking and orienting thought, regardless of whether they're 'religious' 'scientific' or anything else. Some reviewers clearly find it hard to accept the concept of underlying rhetoric and socially performed/constructed orientations towards problems & solutions, evil & good, beginning & end, knowledge & mysticism, and other such polemics. Gray puts forward a compelling argument - not understanding it, or even disagreeing with it, doesn't make the book 'bad'. There are some very silly low reviews here that only serve to say "I didn't get it, but I am arrogant enough to shout my opinion from the Amazon roof-tops"!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Acute Analysis, 20 Aug 2007
By 
A. I. Mackenzie "alimack" (Glasgow, Scotland.) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (Hardcover)
Grey's book is a very accurate and concise summary of the various ways Utopian thinking has always been present in western thinking. He's probably correct in thinking that the Enlightenment has contradictory aspects or even a dark side. Valuing abstract reason above all other human values can easily lead to disaster. So what has he added to Popper's analysis in ` The Open Society and its Enemies'?

He really nails Thatcher/Bush/ Blair in their variety of wishful thinking and actually explains what philosophy underpinned their actions, which I've not seen done as well before - he is alive to the contradictions between their aims and the actual results, with the effect of making their mistakes seem more comprehensible.

He's also interestingly brought in Freudian analysis to the party, which I've not seen done before. It's an interesting thought that suppression of the religious impulse might lead to the creation of a different set of neuroses.

However, I think Islam's main current problem is that it has only superficially engaged with the enlightenment, rather than undergone a process of internal change. And that as a consequence it's hard for Islamic countries to achieve a stable, productive split between the secular and the religious. I think this is one of the essential corner stones of democracy.

A very interesting, well written read, nonetheless - recommended , whether his whole thesis hangs together I'm not convinced. He is to my mind excessively pessimistic about the benefits of liberal democracy. I also still believe 'liberal democracy to be the worst system of government apart from all the others' to paraphrase Churchill and that it's worth defending.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia
Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia by John Gray (Hardcover - 5 July 2007)
Used & New from: 0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews