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A Short History Of Myth (Myths) Hardcover – 21 Oct 2005

4.1 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; First Edition edition (21 Oct. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841956449
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841956442
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 2 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 482,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"The most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken." The Times"

Book Description

Karen Armstrong's concise yet compelling investigation into the history of myth. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As someone who has a real interest in myth, its origins and its uses, but has found the likes of Joseph Campbell (who Armstrong references regularly) somewhat over my head, this was a very accessible and enjoyable read. She doesn't assume previous knowledge of the great mythologies, and builds a solid foundation from which to decide a future direction in one's reading.

The final chapter, "The Great Western Transformation," makes her perspective regarding the famine of mythology in the modern world clear and is very persuasive, although I was surprised and somewhat disappointed to find she did not touch on Jung in particular and pyschoanalytical theory in general. I empathised with, rather than believed in, her conclusions regarding the power of the novel as a replacement for myth.

But overall, a thought-provoking introduction into a facinating topic.
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Format: MP3 CD
In this brief account, Karen Armstrong looks at the general changes in mankind's mythologising that have occurred over the Palaeolithic and Neolithic ages, the early civilisations, the 'Axial Age' (800 to 200 BCE), up to modern times. It is interesting to see how changes in the way we live have caused corresponding changes in our myths: Palaeolithic hunters were concerned with pacifying the spirits of the animals they killed, whereas Neolithic farmers' myths were more to do with the ground and the natural forces that affected their crop-raising.
In her introduction, Armstrong points out how mythical thinking is different from the rational or scientific-minded thinking that predominates today, though it is interesting to note that even the earliest men of the Palaeolithic period seemed to sense a gap in their lives, a separation from the world of their myths. The final chapter, The Great Western Transformation, looks at how art has come to replace sacred myth in our demythologised culture.
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By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a slender tome on a massive subject, so if you're looking for someone to cover all the bases as regards the life of myth then forget it. If you're looking for someone to give you a quick gallop through the evolution of mythology, some of its central preoccupations and some key starting points for a further exploration into the world of myth, then Armstrong is your woman. Written as the first and introductory tome for the Canongate Myths series, which invites well known authors to rewrite and refresh their favourite mythological stories, this is just as useful as a standalone, educational text, and doesn't need to be read in conjunction with any of the books featured in the series, particularly as each author prefaces their work with the reasons behind why they wrote what they wrote. This is still a good book to have. It deals with the broad concepts of what drives and keeps myth alive rather than the debate over how to study or interpret it, which is fine, as there are hundreds of books out there by anthropologists and other students of myth, all with their own particular axe to grind. It is particularly refreshing here to find a reasonable, coherent argument that just is.
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Format: Hardcover
I must confess I did enjoy this book, and it acts as a good introduction to the Myths series. It deals with a vast range of myths and, perhaps more importantly, their contexts, something missed in many tellings of old stories. The old favourites such as the descent of Persephone are recounted as are the oft-neglected Mesopotamian myths. Armstrong also successfully deals with the place of myth in people's lives and society throughout the ages, tackling the resurgence of myth as well as the great western drive towards logic and science over the study of myths and symbolism.

I do have a few gripes however, as a student of Anthropology I have to note that her portrayal of early Homo sapiens and other hominids tends to be a bit askew, seemingly biased by the typical "caveman hunter" stereotype and how this would affect myths and world-views. In actuality most hunter-gatherer peoples in relatively good areas of land largely relied (and rely) on plant materials, not on hunting. Hunting provided a small percentage of food, other than in difficult areas such as the far north (ie modern Inuits). This aside, her theories provide much of interest, and although not the most complete book on the subject, "A short history of myth" acts as a very good starting point.
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Format: Paperback
One of my reading resolutions for 2010 is to read the entire Canongate Myths series - re-tellings of age old stories by great authors. While I'm not intending to read them in strict publication order necessarily, it is sensible to make Karen Armstrong's scholarly appraisal of the role of myth in history the first.

But, what is a myth? Chambers dictionary defines it as:

"myth / mith or (archaic) mîth/ n an ancient traditional story of gods or heroes, esp one offering an explanation of some fact or phenomenon; a story with a veiled meaning; mythical matter; a figment; a commonly-held belief that is untrue, or without foundation. [Gr mythos talk, story myth]"
This doesn't get us much further, as there is scope within that definition for rather almost contradictory ideas - from tales of the divine exploits of ancient Gods told for a moral purpose, to the tabloid-fuelled rubbish we're pushed to believe today.

However, for Armstrong myth is spiritual; it is all about belief and the evolution of human society. She takes us from the Paleolithic belief in the sky gods, through the development of more anthropomorphic gods, to the great classical era when cities were built and the ancient Greeks started philosophising. The balance between myth and what the Greeks call logos - the logical, pragmatic thinking was beginning to change.

"Plato disliked tragedy, because it was too emotional; he believed that it fed the irrational part of the soul, and that humans could only reach their full potential through logos. He compared myths to old wives tales.
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