7 January 2020

A YEAR OF GREAT BOOKS

It is now an old Magonia tradition, going back, oh, several years, to look back at the previous year's reviews and rank the top ten. Of course, those which were posted at the beginning of the year, and have been on line the longest, tend to have been read the most, and this year is no exception.

The tenth spot is taken by Alan Price’s review of The Paranormal Surrounds Us, Psychic Phenomena in Literature, Culture and Psychoanalysis, by Richard Reichbart. He finds it an illuminating account of how paranormal ideas have influenced literary and artistic thinking.

The number nine place is taken by my review of a collection of essays edited by Edward Beyer and Randall Styers, Magic in the Modern World. Ranging from the inability to prove the reality of magic by scientific methopds,. to examining the use of H P Lovecraft's Necronomicon as a text for magical practitioners. I conclude that the book helps to confirm "contemporary magical practices as subjects worthy of scholarly study."

Next on the list, at number eight, is Jenny Randle’s overview of volume four of Jacques Vallee’s ongoing diary of his UFO and paranormal research and writing, Forbidden Science 4, The Spring Hill Chronicles. Covering the last decade of the twentieth century. Although "the book ranges over many topics in a haphazard manner and rarely goes into depth", she concludes "as reader you get what really happened day by day from a true giant of the UFO field. That is worth any deficiencies the diary format inevitably brings. Roll on Volume 5!"

At number seven, we find Nigel Watson looking at bizarre stories of cattle mutilations in Ireland. In States of Denial the authors Dermot Butler and Carl Nally suggest that there is a global conspiracy to hide the truth about these cases. Unsurprisingly Nigel is doubtful, but still finds the account “nightmare inducing”!

Sixth position is taken by my review of two books looking at how occult and magical beliefs developed through the horrors of the First World War, looking at issues such as the growth of Spiritualism as people tried to contact the souls of relatives killed in the trenches, the use of lucky charmes for protection, and how the conflict affected belief in conventional religion. The titles under review were Leo Ruickbie’s Angels in the Trenches: Spiritualism, Superstition and the Supernatural During the First World War, and Owen Davies’s A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination and Faith During the First World War.

At number five is Clive Prince’s discussion of Occulture, the Unseen Forces that Drive Culture Forward, by Carl Abrahamsson. He finds it an interesting and readable account of the influence of occultism and that “Abrahamsson doesn’t confine the influence of those impulses – the hidden forces of the subtitle - to the arts. As he writes, the occult ‘has also been the breeding ground for ideas and concepts that have later on been integrated in the natural sciences, religion, and psychology.”

Number four is my own review a review of a collection of essays by the always interesting Mike Jay, Stranger than Fiction. Covering topics as varied as nineteenth century decadence, the Lewes bonfire, drug-taking engineers in India, and how Humphrey Davy was ultimately responsible for painless dentistry, this is a book which has something for everyone

Third in the annual list is Kevin Murphy’s review of The Inkblots, by Damion Searles, which is not, as he points out, about the popular 1950s American singing group the Inkspots, but an account of the life and work of Hermann Rorschach, deviser of the famous ‘ink blot’ psychoanalysis test. He concludes that Rorschach deserves to be remembered “as a man as well as a name.”

Gerrard Russell’s review of Peter Shaver’s The Rise of Science: From Prehistory to the Far Future, is our second most read review of the year. He concludes that the book is “an ideal introduction to the development of scientific thought for the interested general reader, and could well be a standard textbook for schools, which would instil a real enthusiasm for science as well as provide the basic facts.

Although published at the beginning of the year, so not unnaturally coming high in our listings Gerry Russell's review of Rare Astronomical Sights and Sounds, by Jonathan Powell is not only the top read for the year, but even a year after its initial publication this piece still shows up amongst the top-read reviews each month, and is now the third most read piece on Magonia review since records began in 2011! Mr Russell is impressed by the book, which he says demonstrates that the author “revelled in writing this book and he is filled with the wonder of collecting data on the celestial movements of this Universe”, but not as impressed as I am by the popularity of his review with Magonia review’s readers!

So wishing a happy and peaceful New Year to you all, and assuring you of another twelve months of fascinating books and insightful reviews. – John Rimmer.

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