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on 19 March 2011
Having spent some time now looking into the ancient history of the world both from an academic point of view as well as so called "pseudo historical facts" I have turned my head towards the esoterical and mystical side of history. Having read quite a few of the books in the bibliography here I have also had a fascination with religion and it's history and impact on the world for a long time. There was something about this book that made me purchase it and I have not regretted the purchase.

For someone of a closed mind or of strict religious views this book is not reccommended as you will find yourself in a world that is "topsy turvy" (which is the way of the ancient teachings that constitutes esoteric thinking to begin with), and might anger you that someone is arguing that "magic" and mysticism is at the core of religion as a whole. Especially concidering that religious leaders have condemned the very idea of magic and occult teachings as the workings of the devil.

Jonathan Black's style of writing is easy going and very engaging, which helps you understand the heaviness of what is discussed here.
To me it is clear that he has a vast knowledge on esoteric and religious matters, and as he makes you take part in the experience that is reading this book with his imaginative exercises, you might gain an appreciation that goes beyond the pages of this book. I have gained new energy in my search for understanding of the past and present as well as a vast body of books to sift through in addition to what I'm already looking into.

He makes no claims as to say that this is anything but a history of the world looked at from a esotheric stand point, and you may disagree to any or all of what is written, but you cannot deny that it makes you look at things in a different way than you used to. He wants you to use your imagination and in doing so see the world in a new way, and that is something we all can allow ourself to do without hesitation in my opinion.

This is food for thought and a must read for anyone who is open minded or just plain curious. For anyone wanting one book on the esoterical view this is that one book!!!

Hope to have been of assistance and wish you luck in your search for knowledge!
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on 19 June 2008
This is a certainly an unusual book and I found it a very stimulating read. It invites the reader to take part in an imaginative exercise, which involves having an artistic and emotional response to the book's ideas, as well as an intellectual one. In a way, it's an experiment to see if we can approach the same kind of consciousness as our ancestors, when people could be rational and mystical at the same time.

Pythagoras, Copernicus, da Vinci and Newton are some of the better known exemplars of this way of thinking, but the book draws its inspiration much more widely than the usual poster boys.

Comparisons between Lao-Tzu and Heraclitus are illuminated with comments on Confucius and Rudyard Kipling, for example. Creative artists as varied as David Lynch and Botticelli are shown to be nourished by the same ideas - as was P.L. Travers, creator of one the most famous children's magicians of all time: Mary Poppins.

The author explores the significance of certain archetypes and symbols down the ages - and personally I found the writing nimble and light of touch. Yes, it makes connections that are sometimes surprising, but that's the point. Ever wondered exactly what the difference is between Satan and Lucifer? Or why French revolutionaries adopted the Phrygian cap as their headgear of choice? Did you know that St Thomas Aquinas and St Francis of Assissi both claimed to have levitated?

What "The Secret History" never pretends to be is yet another conspiracy theory book, or an academic history. (A fact that seems to upset some of the other reviewers.) It would be better to think of it as an esoteric mind gym.

Sure, it structures itself as a "secret history" of how humanity and human consciousness developed but this is, after all, just a metaphor. The author has created that narrative form as a way to explore the ideas that have fascinated some of the greatest minds in the actual, real, (footnotable) history of the world.

Conspiracy theories close things down; this book is an ambitious, enjoyable attempt to open them up and offer a graspable alternative account of how human consciousness has developed - from the creation of the world through to dadaism and beyond.

Definitely worth a read, if you like ideas and knowledge and can cope with them being taken out of their boxes and shaken round a bit.
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on 10 January 2009
I have been interested to read the wide range of comments about this book which I personally found fascinating.

The Secret History of the World presents a different way of contemplating the world that we live in. Whether you agree or disagree with the author's ideas - and there are so many different ideas, links and connections here that why should you agree with all of them? - the book is about opening your mind to a radically new way of thinking about the mystical history of the world and about our own human consciousness.

It isn't necessary to agree with everything the author writes to find dozens of fascinating avenues to explore. The whole point of a book like this is to be an entertaining read and to raise the consciousness of the reader by presenting ideas that remind us that different civilisations did not regard or understand the world in the same way that we do.

We cannot assume that our thought processes and our attitudes to life are comparable to those of our ancestors who experienced their lives at different times and in different societies throughout the ages and had no knowledge of industry, science or technology as we understand it today.
Everything they believed in was based on the much more limited (in most cases)knowledge that was available to them at the time.

In the past twelve months people everywhere are seeing the collapse of so many organisations and systems in our society that they had assumed were fundamentally stable. The book is very timely because we are entering a new era in our civilisation where we will have no choice but to adjust our thinking about many different things. The Secret History of the World can be used to expand your mind introducing original and mystical concepts which have been common throughout many different civilisations in history and for that reason are worthy of consideration when our present-day globally linked and crowded world is heading towards its own tipping point.

What this book tells us is that things are not necessarily what they seem and that history and science and everything we think we know and understand can be turned on its head and seen from a different angle - if we choose to open our minds to other possibilities.

The concept of the book - a secret mystical history of the world in under 1000 pages - is huge and I do wonder how much material had to be left out. I would love to read more of the research because some of the sections are of necessity rather sketchy. I was also very much aware that so few women featured in it. But secret societies have tended to be for men and run by men.

While I was reading the book I thought of a lot of people who I would want to recommend it to. It is a love it or hate it book, arousing strong feelings in readers. I recommend it to everyone who is not afraid to accept that there is only a very thin veil between the world we think we are familiar with and the unseen and unknown worlds which lie just beyond our everyday thought-processes.
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on 7 September 2011
I read this book over a period of four weeks and found it to be very interesting. Black has covered a wide area of esoteric knowledge and managed to cram it in to about 500 pages. He spends about two or more pages discussing the relevance of different ancient Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and many other worldy myths and not just myths but Occult knowledge. From Jesus, Mythra, Krishna to Madusa, from Enoch, Isis and Osiris to Joan Of Arc, from Francis Of Assisi to the Templars he has covered just about everything in this book. He spends a rather short period of time on each myth which is why I say it's a good introduction to esoteric knowledge. I don't think he has tied everything together as well as it could've been. However, buy this book if you are knew to the Occult world as there is some very interesting information in which secret societies have been studying for many years and which could help enlighten the man on the street if he was exposed to it.

Also, one of the points the author makes which I found fascinating was that the type of people who are initiated into these secret societies are not always who you think they are. They are often people who appear quite normal, they could be a cleaner in the back of a class at the local university or a road sweep in your local village. They are highly enlightened individuals around the globe who are working together in harmony with the earth waiting for curious people to reach a certain level in cosnciousness so that they can approach them... These highly attuned individuals according to Black can not be surreounded by dark forces or evil people as they are sussed straight away... I felt this really made sense! There is also some great quotes and information about Meister Eckhart who talked about the demons that we see at the moment of death and that if we could see them with the right eye we would see that in fact they are not demons tearin us apart but angels who are setting us free... I found this perspective rather intriguing I must say!
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on 17 June 2008
I am rather flummoxed by a few of the negative reviews of this book and do wonder whether some readers simply expected a book on entirely different subject matter - for example the reader who complained that it didn't mention the big crime families...this is a book about esoteric beliefs, not a book on conspiracy theories, although naturally the two occasionally coincide.
I am also puzzled by the assertion that the author's pen-name is a 'red flag' (to a conspiracy, maybe?!)since his identity is clearly outlined on the book jacket and, indeed, in the Amazon summary of contents.
Oh well. I thought it was great. I would never normally pick up something like this but fancied something different, that delved a bit deeper into the facts beneath the Da Vinci Code fiction, perhaps. That's exactly what this does. It is obviously the product of committed research,and occasionally one does need to stop and re-read if not familiar with this stuff, but I found it, overall, highly readable and enjoyable. He is very good, I think, at making difficult concepts understandable.
I guess this was always going to be a controversial book, given that people who are very into the subject matter tend to disagree with each-other as a matter of course about the true nature and origin of things that are, by definition, obscure or obscured!
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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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on 5 March 2014
I was drawn to this book not least because I attended a Rudolf Steiner school, and my mother has studied his writings for many years. Which I've tried to read some of, but been deterred by the frustrating 'difficulty' of them. Jonathan Black says he's read about 30 of Steiner's books, as well as hundreds of others covering 'esoteric' beliefs and practices. Throughout he regularly references Steiner, who he rates as the most knowledgeable, remarkable and accurate teacher of spiritual, esoteric, ancient and everlasting knowledge of the 20th century. I've heard other people say that too.
I couldn't resist the premise of not only an accessible introduction to the teachings of Steiner and many other important visionaries, but also a chance to learn powerful and profound secrets, which have been guarded by secret societies for many thousands of years.
Interestingly, Jonathan Black says that Rudolf Steiner intentionally wrote in such a way as to not be too easily accessible ; He also says that an unspecified number of Steiner's books were, on his instructions, not published in his lifetime : In which case those, in Switzerland, who guard his legacy, are still waiting for what they assess to be a suitable time for their publication.
Some reviewers here opine that The Secret History of the World is very well written, others that it is very badly written. For me it began and ended interestingly enough, but the bulk of it is a long, long saga of brief outlines of hundreds of myths and legends, seemingly all presented as factual.
I admit that I speed-read through some of the long middle section, despairing of finding anything in it which I could relate in any way to life today. Which, I accept, may be due to intellectual failings on my part. It is neither very well or very badly written. But it's frequently rambling, repetitive, and apt to veer off on tangents which, though undoubtedly related, do not enhance its readability.
Jonathan Black is a pseudonym of the publisher Mark Booth. He highly, and I'm sure sincerely praises the Irish spiritual medium Lorna Byrne, whose books I presume he publishes.
I neither love or hate this book. I will keep it, and likely refer to it from time to time. I'm not qualified to comment on any possible innacuracies in it.
So what have I learnt from it? The meaning of 'mind over matter' as opposed to 'matter over mind' theories of the creation of our universe, as well as snippets of manifold other theories and realities. Apparently 'The Antichrist' is physically with us, and he is definitely not either Barack Obama or Richard Dawkins!
No powerful 'secret knowledge' is to be found in it. But just maybe some pointers in the direction of acquiring it for those who are sufficiently sincere, open minded and not easily deterred.
If you 'religiously' believe that modern science has all the answers you'll likely find it infuriating. But for the truly open and inquiringly minded it's a half-decent introduction to ancient/new ways of thinking. But be prepared to wade through a seemingly endless river of myths and legends.
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on 11 September 2015
The book pulls together many historic writings and modern perspectives, looking predominantly at western esoteric traditions, and attempts to consolidate them into a single theory. Many people looking for the big answers outside standard religion and philosophy have had similar views to the author, and what Black writes is nothing new; just a modern, semi-science-conscious slant.

The standpoint suggested is that the universe is conscious-based, and that matter is a recent development. As we’ve evolved (or indeed devolved) deeper into that universe of matter, we’re told we’ve lost our connection to the spiritual. Over that time, however, there have been particular groups and individuals who have discovered, or been initiated into, ‘the truth’. The book seeks to persuade readers that these stories provide holistic proof of its conclusions.

It is generally presented as a chronology, with particular elements of our history conveniently missing where they do not fit the mould. Things seem hopelessly out of place too; alchemy is referred to throughout the book, but only explained toward the end. Perhaps this is just a symptom of the nature and complexity of the subject, or could it be sloppy, confused writing? It covers some good ground with respect to international religions and philosophies, but usually only in brief. There are lots of examples, and it’s a fairly extensive read, but there are many elements either missing or desperately lacking in detail. This makes the book useful as reference only, and much less convincing.

For example, Black states, pretty much out of the blue, that the, “Lohan, like the Mona Lisa, was created so that if you commune with it, it will speak to you.” There are two ways of looking at this; that most great art has the ability to communicate with its audience (which is true, but how is that esoteric?), or that it is designed to magically interact with man, personally (in which case, where’s the rationale, sentiment, justification, proof etc.?).

Similarly, we’re advised that Raphael’s “great masterpieces depicting the Madonna and Child, with their strange and uniquely compelling quality, were in effect painted from memory.” I understand that this is the belief of esoteric tradition, but I need more info than that. Why would one think so, and on what basis is the tradition established? Just because the artist focussed on particular biblical stories? Well, perhaps Andy Warhol only ate Campbell’s?

With that in mind, one can see this book as just a roll-call of famous names, each listed to establish tentative linkages and supposed proofs. Where scientists and intellectuals have investigated alternative philosophies, we’re told they’re all from the same underground pot. There seems to be no room for diversity of thought.

I suggest that one should not believe something just because it is written, others have believed, or because the old theologies still pertain to basic truths. Faith, belief and opinion only seem to have divided and troubled man through history, despite ‘the answer’ remaining unknowable. I am therefore fundamentally rationalist, treating theology as concept, and question everything; science, religion, the soul, spiritual matters, existence and the like.

I have, however, tried to rate this book by its general presentation rather than from any theological position that might compromise my understanding and appreciation. It’s been very difficult, purely because of the nature of the material. The two stars are just because it gave me a good giggle every now and again. The trouble with this subject is that you’re likely to upset those who are invested in their beliefs, and especially with this work, as the author makes it very clear what he does and does not believe. Esotericism is, for many people, metaphorical, and promotes free thought, but this book contains as much doctrine and opinion as most other religions. This I found disappointing, as I would have preferred the author to have informed, unbiased. What we’ve got, though, is a book that tries to persuade. And if that was the intention, it fails, as the arguments are loose and ineffectual.
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on 19 April 2012
I am a scientist with a love of art, religion and history, and have an open, inquiring mind. I approached this book with great expectations of learning something about the history and development of esoteric thought. Alas, I was completely disappointed. The fault is not in my "too rigid academic mind", but in the writer's failings. I am prepared to forgive his obvious and irksome polemical disdain of conventional academic thinking (which I am sure is a belief platform from which the writer can justify a lamentable lack of scholarship), but no genuine student of history, however esoteric his or her leanings, can forgive sloppy thinking, sloppy writing, inconsistent lines of argument, and a total failure to quote references, either for specific statements of history or even for so-called "original" conclusions. As Robert Graves showed over half a century ago (with his "The White Goddess", which is still in print) it is entirely possible for original and unconventional historical ideas to be substantiated (at least in part) by sound historical and literary foundations: as Graves himself so aptly put it, it is important that historians "quarry cleanly" if an historical thesis is to survive scrutiny. Black's quarrying is painfully unclean. Even Lynn Picknett does a better job.

This book is a waste of time and money. I would give it zero stars if I could.
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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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