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The First Psychic: The Peculiar Mystery of a Victorian Wizard Paperback – 3 Aug 2006
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Lamont has conjured a fascinating story (SUNDAY TIMES)
[A] sprightly account (GUARDIAN)
Lamont, with equal amounts of erudition and charm, unpicks the extraordinary life of a man who, if he was a fraud, was the best fraud in the business... Along the way Lamont provides sardonic accounts of seances in this superb, ingenious biography. (SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY)
THE FIRST PSYCHIC must surely rank as the definitive work on the extraordinary life of Daniel Douglas Home... This book is peppered with the glitterati of the period. (SCOTS MAGAZINE)
A non-fiction Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell -- the amazing true story of a notorious Victorian wizardSee all Product description
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Lauded by the notables of the day - writers, politicians, international royalty and nobility - Home is distinctive in being the only major figure in Spiritualism not to be convincingly exposed as a fraud. The question of his authenticity makes the whole tale all the more intriguing. This is definitely for unsolved mystery lovers, though: although Lamont explores possible explanations for Home's feats, there's no definitive answer either way.
Inevitably, the supernatural element is something that any writer on this topic has to deal with, one way or the other, and I was prepared for a bias to scepticism or belief. Lamont handles this very well, though: although his stance is laid out clearly towards the end, he doesn't shirk from describing both the unexplained elements of the story (of which there are many), and those that are manifestly explainable in a non-supernatural sense.
I had already done a little research on Home (purely out of interest) when I came to read this book, but it was still a page-turner, both for the central character and for the many not-so-incidental characters he encounters in his bizarre life. If you've never heard of him, after reading this you'll seriously wonder why.
Then, on page 163 he refers to the "deceased husband, Edgar Allan Poe", of Sarah Helen Whitman. In fact, Whitman and Poe never married, though they were engaged and a mistaken announcement of their nuptials was published in January 1849. (See: Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 385-388. ISBN 0060923318)
So, having noted these two errors, I cannot help but wonder how many other errors this book might contain which are not part of my own knowledge base but which might be caught by others? In short, I'm afraid that this may not be a very trustworthy account even if it is entertainingly written and does cover the life of Daniel Home fairly comprehensively.
I would have liked to have seen the book include more extensive accounts of Home's seances written by contemporaries instead of bits and pieces here and there.
I also find it interesting to note that, despite the abundant evidence for psychic phenomena that the author recounts, as well as the overwhelming evidence of social denial, which is acknowledged and discussed more or less rationally, the author himself believes that Home was a charlatan.
The book paints a rather unattractive portrait of many scientific and literary individuals who one might otherwise have thought were open-minded and honest. At the end, despite his declared attempt to write a "balanced" bio, one even questions the honesty of the author.
Still, as I said, it can be entertaining and, even if one cannot wholly rely on the facts presented, this book can be a jumping off point for further research on one of the most interesting figures/events in the history of the paranormal.
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