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This book is such a treat!
on 17 June 2009
This book is such a treat! Contrary to the erroneous information on this page, it's already been published in hardcover, and well worth buying in that format since it's a book one will want to refer to forever. The writing is lucid and wonderfully easy to read, yet conveys an astonishing amount of information. Although I am very well-versed in the subject, practically every page contained things I didn't know, and while it is indeed a perfect book for the "intelligent novice" it's far more than that - it's a serious, in-depth survey of a massive topic. Philip Carr-Gomm wears his erudition lightly, but this is no light-weight study; co-author Richard Heygate vividly portrays the insights of the many contemporary magicians he interviewed.
Fact after fascinating fact, idea after intriguing idea, character after eccentric character, all described with intelligent appreciation and the occasional tongue in cheek. A generous sprinkling of delightful anecdotes - my favourite being a gentleman named Cyril Hoskins, who fell out of a tree while trying to photograph an owl and "while suffering concussion had given permission for a Tibetan lama, with the full name of Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, to inhabit his body." Bless! Only in England. Note, please, that it's an OWL - the bird of wisdom!
The book is also very well put together - nice paper, gorgeous cover, decorative section headings, lots of illustrations (Mr. Rampa is shown with an enigmatically smiling Siamese cat). Little "potted biographies" of notable figures are set into the text, so it's perfect to read in little snippets....but beware! I opened it with the idea of leafing through first, reading more thoroughly later...several hours passed.
It would have been a wonderful book even were it merely an historical account, but at each step the book does more - it invites the reader into the reality of magic in several ways. First are the many interviews with real people, who speak of their magical experience and work. These "open up" the book by providing windows into other lives; it is as though a druid and a shaman, an alchemist and a dowser came by for a cup of tea and sat talking at the kitchen table until late. And each of them is someone we'd be happy to have stay overnight, so we could resume our conversation in the morning.
Another way the book reaches out to us is the "interactive" section at the end of each chapter, which presents Things to Do, from ley-hunting to Renaissance astrology, alchemy to ESP. The suggestions include some that are ideal for the whole family, but also others suitable for considerably more advanced students. There is in each section as well a comprehensive resource guide, including both print and online sources and, most excellently, sources in fiction, for those who know that fiction is often truer than fact! The innocents among us are warned, in sections called "Traps for the Sorcerer's Apprentice" of the various delusions that await the unwary.
Books about magic tend to have been written - with a few exceptions - either by people who "believe in it" - tiresome in their credulity - or by academics who by definition don't - equally tiresome in their elaborate, futile attempts to explain the obviously non-material in materialist terminology. It's a real pleasure to encounter these authors' refreshingly balanced approach.