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108 of 127 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2009
I've often wondered, when reading the worst of the pseudo-historical, -archaeological and -cosmological books over the years, who on earth commissioned them, and how the authors got away with their unsupported premises, their dodgy logic and their blatant factual errors. How could any editor possibly have allowed such sloppy and inaccurate writing to slip through? Well, now we know. "Jonathan Black", the back flap usefully informs us, "is the non-de-plume of Mark Booth" who runs Century, a Random House imprint, and has edited many well known speculative historians.

The Secret History of the World purports to be just that: "Here for the first time is a complete history of the world, from the beginning of time to the present day, based on the beliefs and writings of the secret societies." Now, that would be fine if the author were saying "This is what these people claim, these are their beliefs", but no. Black presents everything as fact. Just a few examples from throughout the book:

He refers to Jesus as "Jesus ben Pandira, the leader of the Essenes", but doesn't bother to give any evidence for either assertion. He states as fact that there were two identical Jesus children. He states as fact that the crucifixion was on 3 April AD 3 (does he actually mean 33?).
He makes careless remarks like "from the time of St Paul and St Augustine" - only 300+ years apart!
He tells us that "The stories of the Grail... are based on historical events". Parsival, we're told, "was a man of flesh and blood, a reincarnation of Mani, the third-century founder of Manichaeism". Not "some people believe", but "was".
He asserts that "Saintly individuals can sometimes live on almost nothing but sunlight". Really? Evidence, please!
He makes the common mistakes that Bernard of Clairvaux was the founder of the Cistercians, and that the Friday the 13th superstition is because of the arrest of the Knights Templar. Wrong in both cases.
He states that Oscar Wilde was a member of the Golden Dawn; he wasn't, though his wife Constance was. He states that Bram Stoker and WB Yeats were members of the OTO; they weren't, but Yeats and possibly Stoker were in the Golden Dawn.
And so on, and so on, and so on. Sloppy and careless research.

No sources are ever cited for any of his assertions - not a single numbered footnote. He does have "A Note on Sources and Selective Bibliography", but this just lists people and books he finds influential, especially Rudolf Steiner and GI Gurdjieff - and some current authors, including several of his own: Knight & Lomas, Robert Bauval, David Ovason, Robert Temple, Graham Hancock. The index to this 415 page book is a mere two pages long.

By the time he says of his book, on the last page, "The teachings of the secret societies have been pulled out into the light of day for the first time", one has become just a tad sceptical of such a claim. He then says, "This has been a visionary history..." If by that he means a history that cares nothing for factual accuracy, perhaps he is correct.

If there is any esoteric spiritual message in this book, it is sadly buried under pages and pages of bad argument, confused logic, ludicrous generalisations, lack of clarity and poor exposition of uncertain and completely undocumented "facts". This book commits so many of the classic sins of the stereotypical speculative historian, I kept wondering if it might perhaps be a massive spoof of the genre.

Of the many speculative history books I've read over the years, this has to rank amongst the very worst.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 February 2014
This is a very large and unwieldy subject to tackle and Booth does it bravely. This is a very useful resource book for anyone interested in the area as Dan Brown has shown by using it as such! Anyone remotely interested in the secret history should have this on their shelves- Booth has done a significant amount of legwork here. Booth has clearly been at this subject for a very long time, long enough to see the patterns start to emerge and he has a broad and uncynical eye. His writing style is good if a little enthusiastic at times, but this is a 'magnum opus' of which he should be proud- one cannot fail to come away without food for thought and a great deal of further reading is suggested- for the reader of course, not for Booth, he should probably give his eyes a bit of a rest if anything. Excellent work :-)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2014
I won't attempt to repeat the many credits that have been given in other reviews.
This book is excellent and was very well researched and casts a radically different light on history - not always as it has been written by the victor...
The first few chapters may be slow and difficult but the story gradually picks up and gathers more and more momentum.
Perhaps some people might find it better to read the final chapters and then having their curiosity aroused - go back to the beginning but overall the scope and breadth are wide ranging and consistent.
If you already suspect that there is something missing (or hidden) from the modern way of life then this book will move you forward otherwise it just might be the spark you need to make you wake up from your dream...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2013
This is a fascinating and comprehensive disquisition on the totality of world history, taking in both spiritual and scientific knowledge and thinking. The author posits the view that consciousness itself evolves along an inevitable path, taking many thousands of years, but making step changes at certain junctures in time. Assuming little or no knowledge of physics or even of religion, he illuminates the disparate and sometimes mutually exclusive domains of mathematics, astronomy, religious ritual, magic and mental development, tying them into a compelling narrative which resolves these paradoxes. Some truly stunning facts are presented which resolve the confusion we all feel about the fact that there is something wrong with the world which we yearn to fix. There is a ring of truth to the overall purpose of existence as revealed in this hugely compelling book. Quantum physics, classical mechanics, astrology, prayer, magic, ritual - even human sacrifice - are revealed as part of a grater truth of history, which is anthropomorphic yet universal. He treats with Gurdjieff, Stein, Bacon and many others, in a way which ties them together in a 'bigger picture' view. The author wears his learning lightly. I highly recommend this profoundly interesting book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2014
I chose this book as I was questioning my faith and looking for some deeper meaning to life..I found it intriguing, very informative and also very illuminating regarding historical figures past and present. It has provoked me to delve further into esoteric literature and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the development of the world as we know it.

Kookeykez
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 20 June 2009
I did find this book very interesting but having said that the publisher was not making it easy for me. As a student of things arcane and esoteric I found it very useful as a history of the development of consciousness from a particular perspective. It will give me food for thought with regard to my own spiritual practice but it was a difficult read. The presentation of the figures with long winded text placed willy-nilly throughtout the book made staying with the flow less than easy. Notes at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book would have helped with the narrative. I am also a little suspicious that this is maybe a much longer text that has lumps cut out by an editor which left some paragraphs disconected with what came before and after. Certainly the use of a highlighter is a must to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Still once you connect the dots it has a contribution to make.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2010
I'm actually lost for words...... My first port of call after buying, and subsequently reading 150 pages of it (MISTAKE), was to look on the internet to see if this book was an academic equivalent of Spinal Tap.

Where to begin.............the general incoherence, presentation of EVERYTHING as fact, not a single citation, awkward sporadic images hardly ever referenced to within the 'narrative', contempt for science and then subsequent appraisal of scientific/ psychological experiments that back up his 'argument/ history' (whichever word you want to use, I doubt he has ever bothered to use a dictionary) ....... ad nauseam.

In all fairness I do agree with some criticisms of polarizing religious and atheist thought and also the materialism that seems ubiquitous throughout the West but even these topics lack serious discussion within the book.

To use a vegetable metaphor (something the author loves), this book is a really big juicy looking fruit, maybe about the size of your head, and you are itching to open it up and eat what it contains. After much pulling and tearing away at the outside layers you eventually get to the juicy bit you can eat, only to discover its the size of a sesame seed.

It all leaves one wondering how on earth this guy is the editor of a publishing company.
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69 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2008
First of all "caveat emptor". I bought this book believing that it was a reasonably objective history of mystery religions, secret societies etc. It's not objective; the author is a fervent believer in it all. There is very little criticism of anything. Virtually everything is accepted as genuine manifestation of secret knowledge.

The style becomes tedious. There are smatterings of facts but all too often there are meaningless sentences such as "According to ancient wisdom, so long as there has been no barriers to the spirits, gods and angels ranged up against them, there has been no possibility of humans enjoying the individual free thought..." I got about halfway through and then gave up. Every individual who amounted to anything was initiated...Shakespeare, Cicero, Da Vinci, Attila the Hun...how the hell did it all remain secret?

It's not history. 400 pages without a reference or footnote. I suppose that's the beauty of writing a history of secret societies. The small elements of this book which I know a little about (the ancient world) betray poor scholarship. It is stated that the Roman writers Seneca and Cicero "argued that all slaves should be set free" (p207). Produce your evidence Mr Black, because as a Classics teacher I have never seen this. No text in the ancient world survives questioning the institution of slavery from that era. And Apuleius wrote the "Golden Ass" not the "Golden Asse". But maybe I just don't know the "Secret History".

If you liked the "Da Vinci Code" you might like this. If it's real history you want, keep looking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2015
Was so looking forward to some substantiated or at least consistent insights into alternative history. Not hocus pocus but alternative with valid sources. Most of this is just unsubstantiated nonsense. I wanted 'secret history' and got story time at play school...
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on 14 September 2012
The book is a very interesting overcast of esoteric philosophy, history and ideas. Focus is given to no single area so it can be frustrating when you get into one area it jumps to another. Can be hard to get your teeth as a result but then it does encourage to look at other more focused books. The 'secret' element of the book is interesting as a lot of the mystery schools are veiled in secrecy. Strangely, the act of transforming oneself is very personal and introspective - something the esoteric schools encourage above all else, to 'know thyself' - a very discouraged ambition at many points in history. A great book I highly recommend as a follow on is 'The Three Dangerous Magi' by P.T. Mistlberger - a very wonderful experience that is both biographical and very insightful not to mention thought provoking.
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