128 of 139 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Esoteric Mind Gym, 19 Jun. 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.