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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Secret Any More
It's the mark of a good book that it can reach conclusions with which the reader disagrees while maintaining the integrity and objectivity of the writer. David V Barrett provides such a volume. He doesn't disguise his position but he has a much clearer understanding of the differences between liberal and envangelical theology and between evangelical Christianity and...
Published on 10 Sep 2010 by Neutral

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2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, but not without bias.
Although I agree with other reviewers that this book does approach conspiracy theories calmly, it is not without bias. There is a constant predisposition towards the explanation of the covert activities of secret societies via comparison with other more transparent mainstream institutions.

This lead me to believe that authors intention was to suggest that these...
Published 22 months ago by Daniel G


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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Secret Any More, 10 Sep 2010
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of Secret Societies (Paperback)
It's the mark of a good book that it can reach conclusions with which the reader disagrees while maintaining the integrity and objectivity of the writer. David V Barrett provides such a volume. He doesn't disguise his position but he has a much clearer understanding of the differences between liberal and envangelical theology and between evangelical Christianity and Fundamentalism than has been shown by crusading atheists such as Dawkins or Hitchens. He also draws attention to the fact that some of the secret societies which he discusses do not regard themselves as such. His approach is a subtle combination of historical and thematic blended together with an easy to read style without ever losing its focus.

His opening contention is that "the history of secret socities is the history of esoteric religion and is the history of magic." His argument is that many of the ideas of Judasim can be traced back to earlier Babylonian or Sumerian versions of the same event and the influence of Zoroastrianism which originiated in Persia. He attributes the development of priests as attempts to explain natural events and that "the inner secrets of religion became hidden not just from the public but also from many in the priesthood." It's a line of thought which can be found in any modern presentation of magic in history and not one which has much to recommend it or carry evidential weight. Similarly, Barrett's account of Mithraism is marred by his assumptions that "it is probably" and "it is thought".

There were a number of competitors of early Christianity including Neo Platonism, Gnosticism, Arianism, Peleganism, Manichaeism and Cabalism all of which had doctrinal differences with the Church, some of which survived in different forms for centuries by meeting in secret. The Cathars who appeared in the eleventh century showed gnostic and dualist tendencies. They believed the Spirit was trapped in Matter, the former representing the Good Principle and the latter the Evil Principle. Christ had come as Spirit not Matter to show how the Spirit might be freed from its restrictions. This suggested that crucifixion and resurrection were Spritual not physical events. They were convinced they could lead the perfect life. Their pious lifestyle contrasted sharply with the wealth and hypocrisy of the Church. Pope Innocent the Third instituted the Albigensian Crusade which Barrett describes as " a shameful episode in French history" which many French historians skate over in much the same as they prefer not to mention the Vendee during the French Revolution.

Persecution was very much the order of the day during Medieval times, the Knights Templar falling victim in part because of their secret initiation ceremonies (although their vast wealth was also a factor). Trials were held, initially for secular offences and then for offences against Christian belief . What was common was the Church authorities' distaste for difference, a distaste which was rolled over into Protestantism. The Spanish Inquisition remained in existence until 1834 and it was not until 1951 that the law against witchcraft in Britain was finally abolished. The secret society of mystics known as Rosicrucians appears to have provided the inspiration for the Freemasons while the Illuminati, so beloved of conspiracy theorists, made its appearance in Bavaria in 1776. Despite having many well connected people as members the Freemasons were always regarded with suspicion by proponents of the open society. Exposes in the late 1980s caused severe damage to its membership and some organisations, such as the police, require officers to acknowledge if they are members.

Esoteric societies were especially popular in the nineteenth century and continued into the following century, often making headlines because of the activities of their leaders such as Aleister Crowley and the founder of Scientology, L Ron Hubbard. Theosophy, Tarot Readings and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn were amongst groups which thrived on celebrity membership. It had a dark side including the occult leanings of some Nazis, the role of the Ku Klux Klan in resisting negro emancipation, the existence of the Mafia with its code of silence and, lest it be overlooked, the Official Secrets Act which was used to prevent legitimate information reaching the public. Peter Wright's Spycatcher showed how the Act could be circumvented and further breaches have occured.

Barrett argues that secrecy tends to provide esoteric groups with a self-styled insight into the real world. Many of the rituals tend to reinforce this point. However, he also points out that such groups can provide members with an avenue for personal development. His concern is with the impact that esoteric groups claiming specific insights into "reality" can have on freedom in liberal society. He recognises the problems involved in knowing where to draw the line between freedom of speech and the welfare of society as a whole. In that respect he argues that in an increasingly intolerant society it may be in the interests of esoteric societies to maintain their secrecy to avoid becoming victims of a witch hunt. Barrett has an excellent grasp of the subject and, despite some points of divergence, I have no hesitation in awarding it five stars.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Well researched, but not without bias., 24 Jun 2012
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This review is from: A Brief History of Secret Societies (Paperback)
Although I agree with other reviewers that this book does approach conspiracy theories calmly, it is not without bias. There is a constant predisposition towards the explanation of the covert activities of secret societies via comparison with other more transparent mainstream institutions.

This lead me to believe that authors intention was to suggest that these societies are just as acceptable in an open liberal society as any other more transparent institutions, sentiment that I do not entirely agree with. One cannot help seeing the author as an apologist for the short comings of Free Masonry. There is too much recourse to a `bad apple' theory when explaining the wrong doings throughout history of secret societies.

This said the book does approach the subject matter in a non-sensationalist manner, however it cannot be said that it is not without its bias which may frustrate a reader that is genuinely interested in sorting fact from spin.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A measured response to the hysteria of conspiracy theories, 6 Jun 2011
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of Secret Societies (Paperback)
We all love a good conspiracy theory as Dan Brown's book sales prove. However what David Barrett has done is take the heat and conjecture out of the stories to show you what facts exist about groups such as the Freemasons.

This is a highly readable book which while scholarly in style is never unnecessarily dry. There are hints of humour and the occasional aside to the reader. It also spends a lot of time exploring some of the myths created by either the societies themselves or from conspiracy theorists and showing how the facts just don't stand up to the claims.

While the background research is thorough there are slips for example the year 1187 in the text talks about the fall of Tiberius and Hattin, I think what is meant here is after the battle of Hattin, Jerusalem was lost to the crusaders- quite a bit different. Likewise while he does a good job of demystifying the assassins, he does stick to the now debunked story of initiates being drugged, waking up in a pleasure garden then a few days later drugged again and returned to the "real" the real world. Modern suicide bombers show you need far less elaborate tricks to get someone to kill themselves for your cause.

However the errors are minor and most importantly it is a calm voice of reason amongst either the societies hinting at secret knowledge they have held for thousands of years that is probably common sense and no older than 500 years old and the conspiracy theorists who think these groups are responsible for everything from World War 2 to presumably the inexplicable success of Strictly Come Dancing.

Read it and get some facts rather than just rumours.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well balanced read., 23 Jun 2011
By 
N. Peter (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Brief History of Secret Societies (Paperback)
I came across this book whilst searching the book stand at a local newsagents. I've always had an interest in the escoteric, so this book caught my eye. It's a very interesting read, and comes across as more balanced than most books on the subject. It's academic, but very accessible and easy to read. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to find out more information on Freemasons and other secret socieites.
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A Brief History of Secret Societies
A Brief History of Secret Societies by David V. Barrett (Paperback - 26 July 2007)
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