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History of Magic and Experimental Science, vol. 1

by Thorndike, Lynn

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Lynn Thorndike's History of Magic and Experimental Science, in 8 volumes, is still the premier reference work for the history of magic in the west. The first 2 volumes cover late antiquity through the 13th century, and volumes 3-4 cover the 14-15th century. These are strong volumes, copiously researched and well-indexed, and a major source for work on the period. But it is the last 4 volumes that are the heart of the work. Covering the 16th, and 17th centuries (2 volumes each), these four volumes remain entirely unsurpassed. Thorndike has chapters on almost everything, from major figures (Agrippa, Cardano, Bruno, etc.) to broad themes (Astrology, pseudo-Aristotelian works, etc.). Just about everything worth mentioning is at least mentioned here the index alone is worth the price of admission...Now to whom would this set be useful? Well, anyone who has a good reason to want to investigate something in the history of magic fairly thoroughly. The primary difficulties with the book, you see, are (1) it was completed in the early 1950s, so none of the more recent scholarship (e.g. any of Frances Yates's work) is taken into account, and (2) Thorndike was something of a positivist, and so he tends to pass rather summary judgment on the more unabshedly magical of his subjects --- note his hatchet-job on Cornelius Agrippa, a personal favorite of mine. If, however, you expect to do any scholarly research on some figure or problem in especially 16th-17th century magic, you need to read Thorndike on the subject. Sure, his judgments may be dated, and his scholarly methods even more so, but you will never find another reference work on magic which packs so much information so densely. Every library which claims to be a research library needs this boook for private individuals, nobody can really claim to have much of a "magical library" (for whatever purpose) unless he or she has shelled out for this set. Scholars of the subejct who don't know about this ought to be ashamed of themselves. And any occultists take note: chuck out that dreadful Man, Myth, and Magic set, and buy this instead! Columbia University Press 1923, 888 pp., searchable pdf.




Magic, Astrology, Historical

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