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Publisher's Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.  

Three great strands of practice and belief run through human history - science, religion and magic. Over the last few centuries, magic - the idea that we have a connection with the universe and that the universe responds to us - has developed a bad reputation. But it is still with us, as it has been for millennia, as Professor Chris Gosden shows in this extraordinarily bold and unprecedented history.  

As Gosden argues, magic preceded religion and science, and it has been with us from the curses and charms of ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish magic, to the shamanistic traditions of Eurasia, indigenous America and Africa, the alchemy of the Renaissance, colonial dismissals of magic as backward, and quantum physics today, where magic and science converge. Today 75 percent of the adult population of the Western world hold some belief in magic, whether we believe that the mind of a patient influences recovery, or find it hard to stab a photo of a loved one.  

Drawing on his decades of research around the world, with incredible breadth and authority and stunning detail - from the first known horoscope to the power of tattoos - Gosden reveals magic's positive qualities and how we might use it to rethink our relationship with the world. This timely history of human thought across thousands of years rightly shows the role that magic has played in shaping civilisation.

©2020 Chris Gosden (P)2020 Penguin Audio

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  • papapownall
  • 22-09-20

It's a kind of magic

Archaeology Professor Chris Gosden has written a book about the History of Magic. Much of the first third of this book is focused on the ancient worlds of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China and discusses customs and traditions regarding ceremonies and relationships between the living and the dead. We then hear of the animism of the Russian Steppes and learn how Shamanism influenced other cultures and is still alive today.

According to the author the death of magic started with the Greek philosophers who changed popular opinion from myth to logic. Over the course of the next 2000 years, we hear that although religion and science have replaced people's belief in the power of magic, some elements have remained, most prominently through astrology and superstitions that have deep roots in history. There is undoubtedly a fine distinction between magic and the miracles that form our religious beliefs. The author is a bit sniffy about the existence of ley lines and new age culture and considers that every generation "gets the Stonehenge it deserves" as magic is invented and reinvented.

Whilst much of this book is dry and academic, in the final chapters, which, in my view are the most interesting for a casual reader, we hear how magical traditions have adapted and survived on different continents and how the practices of placebo medication, Feng shui and I Ching are, ultimately rooted in magic.

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  • Alias Grace
  • 19-01-21

A 'history of magic' which is devoid of any magic

Magic has been stripped of any joy, creativity, relish, interest, or intrigue and turned into a fatiguing, dull list of facts, places and geographical features.

It's like looking at a Picasso and listing where the paints came from.

I'm listening at 1.5 speed and I can't wait for it to end.

3 people found this helpful