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Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  515 ratings  ·  118 reviews
It touched lives as disparate as those of Frederick Douglass, Franklin Roosevelt, and Mary Todd Lincoln—who once convinced her husband, Abe, to host a séance in the White House. Americans all, they were among the famous figures whose paths intertwined with the mystical and esoteric movement broadly known as the occult. Brought over from the Old World and spread throughout ...more
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Published September 1st 2009 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2009)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,402)
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Tamara Mitchell
Having studied esoteric and occult culture for well over half my life, this book doesn't contain anything that I hadn't already read about. However, the author's treatment of his subject matter is a refreshing change from either the condescending manner of skeptical writers or the credulous tone of New Age proselytizers. While the book itself is a slim volume, its pages are full of characters and their exploits, woven together quite skillfully into a concise history of the main esoteric belief s ...more
Sesana
Mar 02, 2012 Sesana marked it as dnf-or-not-gonna-happen  ·  review of another edition
I just couldn't bring myself to finish this. The title gives the impression that mysticisim and the occult actually played a big role in American history, and that the author will be revealing fascinating secrets. Nope. Instead, it's just a simple history of the various weird things that people have believed in (for a certain value of weird, of course). It's actually very dry, which is a shame. Probably overresearched and overwritten. Top that off with a complete and total lack of critical reaso ...more
Andrew
As the book explains, the occult in America was far less dark than that in the Old World, and most of the US occult/mystic movements were good & positive & emphasized self-improvement. It starts with the Shakers and some of the New York/New England mystics, especially Andrew Jackson Davis - "The Poughkeepsie Seer" - who was one of the most famous/influential mystics of the nineteenth century. Equally influential was Madame Blavatsky & the Theosophical Society. Both Davis & Blavat ...more
Raj Ayyar
Mitch Horowitz: Occult America --
The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation (Bantam, 2009)
A Review
By
Raj Ayyar
Mitch Horowitz leads us on a fascinating journey through an alternative U.S. history – a landscape peopled with colorful eccentrics, inspired visionaries and self-help savants. Contrary to a certain stereotype about the hardboiled pragmatism and muscular materialism of the American, Horowitzian America offers us a peek into a radically different, occult America, whose thumbpri
...more
Allison (Well-Read Reviews)
I found Occult America to be an absolutely engaging historical account of the spiritual leaders and movements that helped pave the way for Mysticism in the world today. Many people were brought to my attention that I had never before heard of, but have played such a pivotal role in the spiritual movements such as Johannes Kelpius, Ann Lee, and Jemima Wilkinson to name just a few.

Occult America also discusses well known historical figures such as Mary Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln’s wife) and her
...more
Paul

This is a fascinating book that describes the history of the spiritualist movements in America. Too many details to recount here, but here's a few choice tidbits that I enjoyed hearing about:

1) Spiritualism was associated with the womens' suffrage movement in the early 20th century. Most of the mediums were women. Apparently, the same kind of crazy idea that suggested women should vote were then able to conceive of a spirit world.

2) The eye over the pyramid on the one dollar bill was proposed by
...more
Marlowe
The title "Occult America" is a little misleading in that its main concern is the growth of Spirituality and New Age concepts in the USA, often in tandem with its relationship to Christianity. It often reads like Colin Wilson lite but without the depth of insight and interest that Wilson brought to his books.

Another slight irritant is that many of the chapters feel as if they were taken from separate publications and then glued together - people are dealt with at length in one chapter and in a f
...more
Katharine Kerr
It's important to review a book for what it is, rather than what you wish it were. Judging its intent by a publisher's attempt at a snappy sub-title isn't very fair, either. Horowitz has written a journalistic, superficial survey of various intellectual trends in United States' history. He defines these trends variously as mystical or occult on the basis of criteria that he applies too loosely in some cases, sloppily in others. The concepts of the New Thought movement, for example, that eventual ...more
Rachel
A sweeping and scatter-shot survey of the history of esoteric spirituality in America. Useful as an introductory overview; it helped make sense of some of the connections between occult ideology and more mainstream religious and social movements. Horowitz provides ample illustration of his central thesis -- that occult traditions have had a significant, often largely unseen, influence on the history of the United States, and that American culture in turn has left its distinctive stamp on these t ...more
Bailey
Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation seems to be a very well researched book, but the writing comes off heavy-handed, like student's research paper. Horowitz's casts such a wide net with his subjects that most are regulated to a cold recitation of their first publication/occult experience, major events of their career (briefly noted), and their death if it is odd enough to mention. The only figures the author seems to enjoy are Madam Blavatsky, Edgar Cayce, and E ...more
VanHalen
Oct 02, 2009 VanHalen rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Horror Authors, game masters, those interested in the occult
Recommended to VanHalen by: no one.
I suspect that the extreme period of time which it took me to finish this book has less to do with the subject matter than with me.

I believe that when I am reading a book for review from the Giveaway lists, that I am indeed agreeing to provide an in-depth, honest review of the material.
I also suspect that reading non-fiction books cause me to slow down my normal reading pace in order to attempt to learn the material presented.

However, this book took me much longer to read than I would have expec
...more
Sienna
This began promisingly but soon fell flat, a grab bag of facts and stories collected from other secondary sources and dwelt upon only long enough to pique the reader's interest. (Do you get the feeling that scholarly history books are ruining their rumpled, anemic, popular cousins for me?) The chapter on Edgar Cayce, who has never previously caught my attention, proved to be the highlight. This is very thin on Freemasonry — though, to be fair, there's plenty of superior research and writing avai ...more
Kelly
I was very interested to get this book. I won it on First Reads giveaway. Unfortunately, I was also very disappointed with the book. Based on the title, I thought that it would a macro look at how mysticism and the occult were involved in society/politics/development of the nation. While there were moments where the author touched on this, it really was more of a micro level who's who of occult history. The writing was very slow-moving and I ended up simply skimming the last couple of chapters. ...more
Ann
I was excited to have won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.This was the first time that I've participated. I thought it looked very interesting.So when I recieved it I dove in with gusto.The first part was indeed interesting but after about the first 40 pages or so I just could not get any further.I skimmed the rest of the book(which I feel really bad about).It obviously took a tremendous amount of research to write this book,and I really loath giving it such a low rating,but I just couldn't ge ...more
Min
A bold work attempting to show the little and large strands, some forgotten, that lead into the modern American thinking. Particularly the early American history demonstrates that these subjects and ideas have floated around even before we were a nation. Watching the progress of practice and concepts with his selected and sometimes brief histories proved fascinating for me. The author gives us a view of the major trends from colonial into the mid 20th century. A new insight for me is how these i ...more
Matt
Occult. Not revealed; not easily apprehended or understood; hidden from view; not manifest or detectable by clinical methods alone. (Definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster.)

The occult, in short, is that which is hidden from view. The term is used to refer to the belief that there are powers in the world unknown or undetectable by peoples' earthly senses. Although unseen, the irony is that the occult is all around us. The pyramid and "all seeing eye" on the back of the dollar bill? You can thank
...more
J.D. Stroube
I'm not sure what I expected when I opened this book. It was difficult for me to immersed myself in, but that isn't to say that the writing was horrible. Rather that the book did not appeal to me nearly, as much as I hoped it would. Without giving away details, I found some of the content to be incredibly interesting, while other aspects were questionable...
Steven
Shows how American do it your self mysticism has influenced everything from different kinds of Christianity like 7th Day Adventists, all the way to self help & positive thinking. The book makes occult thinking seem rather harmless, if still kind of odd.
Rhyk
A fascinating real history of the a movement and a phenomenon that has morphed and evolved since the 1850's. Journalistic in its approach. Not pro-mystic propaganda at all. Very interesting insights into American culture in general.
Sean Foley
What with all this talk lately about the Illuminati and the monstrous meaning behind the "All-Seeing Eye" on the dollar bill, I wanted to get some sober information on the subject from a historian. I was expecting to be scared by stories of supremely powerful and wicked secret organizations.

The actual history, in this book anyway, is a lot less dramatic. The "occult" influence on America amounts to the popularity of things like Tarot, numerology, fortune-telling, meditation, and knowledge of oth
...more
Nick
A really cool pop history book. It touches on such a huge variety of movements and individuals that a summary is basically impossible. This is both a strength and a weakness of the book, as it gives you a wide survey, but sometimes gives you less detail than you'd prefer. However, it does give you plenty of material to google and research on your own.

Just some tidbits to give you a taste of what its like

*--"The Secret" and Mormonism have a common ancestry in the burned over district of Northern
...more
Todd Martin
Occult America looks at the history of the occult and mysticism in the US from colonial times to the present. Topics include Free Masonry, the Mormon church, Spiritualism, Mesmerism, mediums, hoodoo and voodoo, Norman Vincent Peale and "The Power of Positive Thinking", Rhonda Byrne and “The Secret” and other subjects that can loosely be grouped under an umbrella that the Amazing James Randy would refer to as “Woo Woo”. This superstitious nonsense has a long history in the US and is, in fact, st ...more
Bri Saussy
Other reviewers have noted that the tone of the book leaves something to be desired. I read through Danielle Laporte's Fire Starter Session in 2 days--this book took me a month to finish! With that said, I think that its very important reading for anyone involved in alternative religious/spirituality/healing paths. And its also a fascinating glimpse into arcane Americana that really challenges the notion-apparently held my New Agers and conservative Christians alike, that America is a Christian ...more
Rachel
"The secret history of how mysticism shaped our nation," the title says. But it doesn't seem that there's really all that much of a secret to this history -- it's simply not well known. And even more disappointing, the history doesn't reveal much about how the nation was shaped. In fact, as Horowitz admits at the end, it's really more a matter of how the history of mysticism was shaped by our nation: "The encounter between America and occultism resulted in a vast reworking of arcane practices an ...more
Richard Gazala
For purposes of his workmanlike study of the impact of so-called alternative spiritualism on American society over the past two hundred odd years, author Mitch Horowitz defines American occultism as an enterprise embracing a multitude of "mystical philosophies and mythical lore, particularly the belief in an 'unseen world' whose forces act upon us and through us." In Horowitz' view, American (as opposed to European) occultism largely has been a crusade for personal self-improvement and beneficen ...more
Alex
This was quite interesting. It is what the title says -- a look at occult movements thoughout America's history. It's curious how most of European occultism was focused on secrecy, whereas the bulk of American mysticism has been about getting the word to John Q. Public so he too can be enlightened. Kind of neat.

There are lots of interesting little tidbits in this. For example, I knew a little about the Theosophical Society of the mid-1800s, but I didn't know that its founders helped save native
...more
Miss Michaele Hoodoo Foundry
I'm not even halfway through, and finding out that many of the great New Thought pioneers were (gasp!) Socialists, or otherwise allied or sympathetic with the DamnLiberals of their day. The author of The Science of Getting Rich wrote:

"You do not have to take anything away from anyone. ... You do not need to let anyone work for you for less
than he earns. ...

"Individuals of that type who become very rich do so sometimes purely by their extraordinary ability on the plane of competition, and sometim
...more
Hans

Like I mentioned before this is a very superficial introduction to the not-well-known history of the occult in America. It does a decent job of illustrating that Americans do seem to have a bit of a mystical vein. Today is most widely manifest by the popularization of its once "mysterious teachings" in things like "The Secret", the pentecostal and evangelical mega-church movements, or even motivational speakers for that matter. The whole "Positive-Thinking" the "Imagery" movements all of that st
...more
Linda
All in all, this was a pretty enjoyable book. It provides a lot of data and background history, which is expected since it is advertised as a secret history and therefore doesn't expect the reader to be too familiar with the topics, and it is occasionally overwhelming.

I had an advanced copy (won on Goodreads), so my version didn't include an index, which is at the very least a nice perk for those of you who do get one, since later chapters have references to previously discussed people and even
...more
Joshua Buhs
Popular history, of the un-incisive variety.
Has no real overarching story to tell, other than: the occult is an important strand in American history, and its effects can be seen in popular culture. Idea about relationship between occult and religion is un-nuanced--religion tries to squash the occcult. As a result, no good sense of what occult is besides what weirdos believe. (Gets his definition from description of I Ching: as above, so below.) Also, based on great-man history. Much of this is j
...more
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MITCH HOROWITZ is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and the author OCCULT AMERICA: THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOW MYSTICISM SHAPED OUR NATION (Bantam, Sept '09), which has been called "a fascinating book" by Ken Burns and "extraordinary" by Deepak Chopra. Visit him online at www.MitchHorowitz.com
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More about Mitch Horowitz...
One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life Wake Up and Live! How to Attract Good Luck: And Make the Most of it in Your Daily Life The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life Kybalion: A Study of the Hermetic Philosophy of Ancient Egypt and Greece

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