Saturday, 30 August 2014

Brajesh's Review : A Short History of Myth

The title and size (149 pages) of this book - "A Short History of Myth" by Karen Armstrong, are both misleading. This is not a quick read at all. This is a book which expands horizons, gives perspective, questions history and addresses the issues of post-modern world through the lens of Mythology.

The book is a part of  the "Myth Series" similar to “The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ” written by Phillip Pullman.

This book was published the same day in 33 countries in 28 languages, in what The Washington Post called "the biggest simultaneous publication ever.

The book begins with a simple example of a Neanderthal grave. Using this Karen outlines the 5 core threads of a Myth.
1. It is about DEATH and beyond
2. RITUALS are integral
3. Works at the EDGE of experience
4. TELLS us about living practices and the
5. PERENNIAL Philosophy.

The book then takes us from 20,000 BCE to year 2000AD across 5 section of history. Each section is separated by a significant change in human evolution and corresponds with evolving themes of Myths. It is amazing to see the principles of Myth-making holding true over such a large historical commentary.

While I hate to mark my books, I read this book like a text book and the accompanying picture of my notes will give you an idea on how much there is to absorb in this so called “short history”. I quote from the jacket of her other book “History of God” which has been on my shelf for some-time: the perfect summary for this book. “Karen has the dazzling ability : she can take a long and complex subject and reduce it to its fundamentals without oversimplifying”.

I am filled with total and utter reverence for Karen and her writing. If you are not the reading type, I would still recommend you to spend 20 mins on her TED talk titled “The Charter for Compassion”.

The most amazing section for me in the book was the last chapter corresponding to 1500-2000 AD. In this section Karen laments the death of Mythos at the altar of Logos. Then summarizes beautifully by writing “using reason to discuss the sacred is like trying to eat soup with a fork”. Logos can tell us What & How, but it is only Mythos that can answer the broader bigger and existential question of Why.

The only reason the book doesn’t get a perfect 5, is the sheer weight it demands on ones intellect and can never be recommended, even to a casual reader of non-fiction.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

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