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Masters of Atlantis

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  1,068 ratings  ·  141 reviews
1917 France, Lamar Jimmerson finds a little book of Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles, alchemical metaphors, and the Codex Pappus said to be the sacred Gnomonic text. He expands the noble brotherhood, survives scandalous schism, bids for governor of Indiana, and sees Gnomons gather in East Texas mobile home. This is an America of misfits and con men, oddballs and innocen ...more
Paperback, 248 pages
Published March 1st 2000 by Overlook Books (first published 1985)
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Community Reviews

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Krok Zero
My favorite Portis, I think. Such perfect command of tone: stone-face deadpan treatment of screwball-nutty material, like the prose equivalent of a Buster Keaton film. The nominal subject is cults and secret societies, but that's just Portis' entry point into the same kind of earnest eccentrics that all his novels are about. These kooks' behavior is presented totally matter-of-factly. This book is so hilarious. Was there a 20th century fiction writer funnier than Portis? I'm failing at writing a ...more
Lars Guthrie
I rank ‘Masters of Atlantis’ fourth best in my listing of Charles Portis novels. It’s also his fourth chronologically. Number one, of course, is ‘True Grit,’ then ‘Norwood,’ then ‘Gringos,’ and last, ‘The Dog of the South.’ If you are a fan of the quirky, of common-man American culture in quaintly bizarre representation, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

In ‘Masters of Atlantis,’ Portis takes on an odd American institution that worms its way into all his work—the society with secret knowledge
I'm now 4/5 on the Portis-spree I've been on since December now - this Portis novel is definitely the funniest - something in his delivery of sly little jokes will certainly remind you of the Coen Brothers, Conan O'Brien AND the Simpsons all at once. I am pretty sure the guys who wrote the great Stonecutters Simpsons episode must have loved the heck out of this book about a Atlantean secret society called the Gnomons...that seems completely fradulent & imagined - and yet, completely real in ...more
There's underrated, there's severely underrated, . . . and then, there's Charles Portis, one of the truly all-time greatest writers you've never heard of. Oh, sure, you may be smart enough to know that he wrote the novel _True Grit_, which of course was transformed into that Great American John Wayne film, but did you have any inkling that that novel was, oh, roughly 43,879 times better than the film? (I am in no way putting down the film, which I actually like.)

And this novel, Masters of Atlant
David Peterson
Jan 26, 2013 David Peterson rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Cool people.
Recommended to David by: Tommy Nosewicz
The novel doesn't have a lot of action, and it isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's consistenly amusing the whole way, though, and Portis shows in a very entertaining way how absurd secret societies like this one are. At the same time, though, he's not unkind, and the ending is so sweet, absurd, tragic, and, at the same time, uplifting, that I didn't know exactly what to feel, but I felt it a lot. It's an ending I'll never forget, and certainly one of my favorites of all time.

Link to Full Review
Aaron Arnold
What makes an American novel? What makes a great novel? And what makes the Great American Novel? Masters of Atlantis isn't the Great American Novel, that elusive white whale of navel-gazing twentieth century writers, but it is great, and, to judge by the jacket copy on every single one of his books, extremely American. I agree with that sentiment, although I really can't say why. Obviously the fact that it's set in America makes it American in some way, but I think what those reviewers are tryin ...more
Jim Leckband
When I was an undergraduate searching for belief systems (or for denunciations of belief systems - they are essentially the same thing) I came across a curious book in the Main Library. The book was called Lawsonomy and it was a wacky introduction to a early 20th century "philosophy" of Alfred Lawson. "Lawsonomy" was self-published and must have been donated to the library at some point. In any case, the all-encompassing claims, magical thinking and off-the-wall screwiness (the "zig-zag" theory ...more
About 70 pages into his fourth novel, Charles Portis seems to decide to turn up the heat on his simmering cauldron of fun and set the whole mess to bubbling and popping, cleanup be damned. "Masters of Atlantis" (4.5 stars) thereafter goes from a quite enjoyable, fairly amusing tale to just about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.

The problems (albeit minor) the novel has in getting untracked are due mostly to the setup and history-building in this story of a secret (and often not s
Art Marroquin
This is one of those books you don't want to end. Portis tells a story of some really ordinary people who think they have become privy to obscure secrets of the universe. What follows, as the author would say, are "displays of robust ignorance" that leave you chuckling, or laughing out loud. These guys (they're all men), for instance, have a plan to win WW II according to the principles of "gnomonism" that features "compressed air" and they mean to tell FDR about it. Why won't he listen? Put Vol ...more
Masters of Atlantis tells the life story of curiously passive Lamar Jimmerson, Master of the Gnomon Society, and the various acolytes and ne'er-do-wells who tag along with him for the ride. Of these the most interesting by far is Austin Popper, a sort of low-budget Elmer Gantry. There are one or two female characters in supporting roles, but the main characters are all men. The book reminded me of Michael Chabon's Kavalier & Clay, with the exception that the events in Kavalier & Clay wer ...more
A Texas state senator, grilling one of the Gnomons–a secret sect, promising hidden knowledge of the ancients to its initiates–says of their books: “You get hardly any sense of movement or destination.”

You could guess that this line is one of Portis’ many little jokes, his summary of his own book. Portis’ portrayal of the slippery thought and inadequate personalities that go for such societies is a delight. He recognizes that those caught up in the un-real thinking delude others, their victims,
From the other reviews I read, I expected a funnier, but not necessarily a happier book. I didn't find much to care about in this well written story about men who are on the fringe, looking for some secret truth and/or some meaning in this life. I found it bittersweet and almost too understated. I didn't care enough about the characters to laugh or cry. While you could argue that they finally find community and even happiness, it is really only a half-measure because that is all these characters ...more
What a wonderful find this book was. Funny, strange, and utterly unlike anything I can think of. Must read more Portis...
Kate Woods Walker
After learning that Conan O'Brien recommended this book, I knew I had to read it. And, indeed, Charles Portis's Masters of Atlantis was laugh-out-loud funny just as promised.

It's a fine and lighthearted palate cleanser of a book. Portis, maybe unwittingly, shows just how far men in funny hats will go to prove they are set somewhere above women, children and commoners.

But it's choppy and disjointed, not much in the plot department. More a gathering-in of various comic scenes, with absurdity its
Billed as a humorous look at secret societies, this book never really captured my interest. There were times when I found some of the statements funny, but because I didn't find any of the characters terribly appealing and/or interesting, I found myself finishing the disjointed story not because I wanted to see how the story ended, but rather just to get to the next book in my to-read stack.
Bill FromPA
I’ve been gradually reading Portis’ novels in the order of their publication; this is his fourth and penultimate (so far) book. This book concerns the Gnomon Society, a sort of bargain basement secret society based on the preserved wisdom of Atlantis, and follows the fortunes of its major adherents, particularly its founder Lamar Jimmerson, from the end of the first World War to the 1980s (the book was published in 1985). It is really the tale of a succession of con men and dupes, the dupes bein ...more
Tyler Jones
This is my favourite Portis book, partly because the subtleties of Southern culture that make up so much of the comedy of most of his novels are lost on a someone like myself, who thinks of Idahoans as living down south.

The focus here is on screwball semi-religious types; a much more universal theme. The human need for status, the power that comes from knowing the real truth, and plain old ego drive characters that Portis never overtly mocks, but simply allows to prance about the page before us
Joe Gaspard
The critic, Ron Rosenbaum, in his afterward of Portis' "The Dog of the South" talks about the cult of Portis, the great unread master of twentieth century American Letters. While this may be overstating the case, Masters of Atlantis has such loopy charm in the way it keeps you interested in men who are all just a few bubbles off level. A scene in front of a Texas Legislative Committee is one of the funniest chapters I've read in a long time. Rosenbaum is dismissive of "True Grit" as being too po ...more
Bill H.
Interesting look into the psychology that leads Americans into forming or joining exclusive or secret organizations. In the land of the free, we yearn for the keys to order and structure (and meaning), willing to narrow our lives to give us the security and peace we so desire. Portis, author of the more famous True Grit, has always had a fondness for odd characters, con-men and the self-deluded. In this novel, a WW I vet buys into an alleged sacred book from the lost city of Atlantis, with comme ...more
Conical hats play a big role in this hilarious book. Should be much more well known. Recommended for people who like "Confederacy of Dunces" and not just because that calls to mind a conical hat too. Recommended for people who like comedy, atheism.
Mary Lou
Humorous premise, became repetitive and obnoxious about halfway through (or maybe I just don't have the right sense of humor for such things). I never made it through "Confederacy of Dunces."
Bud Smith
An absurd look at cults, secret societies and ridiculous stupid humans. Great book.
Jeff Lewonczyk
Oh, this is just so, so good. Funny and sad and just right about so much. There's nothing more banal than a secret, and nothing more pathetic than a group of people convinced that they have one, and the lot of us all is that we want nothing more than to be a part of such a community. The bland, craven lack of romance that suffuses American life is left to twist into its own self-generated contortions in these pages, and it's glorious. Everyone has it just a little less together than you'd like, ...more
“Do you know what’s going on?”

Ahhh… another Portis read. Finding an old booklet filled with wisdom from the legendary city of Atlantis (or just a drunk sod’s incoherent scribblings) the movement of Gnomonism was born and flourished, then floundered, and fell flat in America.

Reminded me of my civics class back in the 7th grade. Coach Ledet, clipboard breaking football coach and teacher of civics taught us about the freedom we enjoyed in America; freedom even to worship a banana
This one is a tough call. It's odd when you have a great liking for a book without really being able to figure out who you'd recommend it to, or what kind of endorsement you'd give it. As a prose stylist totally in command of the story he wants to tell, this book should probably get a five. But the story he wants to tell is so offbeat, and the humor so understated that I'm still not even sure why Portis felt compelled to tell it.

Masters of Atlantis follows an ever growing cast of characters as t
In this marvelous send-up of esoteric societies, Charles Portis touches one's risability with a series of chaotic reverses and unintended consequences worthy of a Marx brothers movie. To be sure, there is nothing that "couldn't" happen in Masters of Atlantis. It isn't zany in the sense of Robert Asprin's Myth, Inc. or the bizarre future detective adventures from John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem (as in The Radioactive Redhead), but there are times when it seems like changes in circumstances appear ...more
Nate Shelton
If you have at least a passing interest in all those strange cults, secret societies and self-help programs of dubious origin and worth that seem to travel with humans like fleas with dogs, and you enjoy humor in your writing, then you're lying about at least one of those preferences if you don't enjoy this novel.

Stretching from the waning days of WWI to presumably the '80s (specific dates are mentioned infrequently, but the book was published in '85 and the timing fits), it's another quick, fun
Stefan Petrucha
As a long-time lover of the esoteric and someone blown away by True Grit, I was excited to learn Portis had written a novel about secret sects. My excitement continued for the first few pages, with some sparkling, funny images, but quickly waned.

While True Grit’s characters are flawed, they were compelling, likable and wrapped in a driving story. Seeing the world through their eyes was an intimate experience. It reminded me of Steinbeck, one of my favorite authors, who clearly loved his characte
Jun 07, 2013 Chris rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: i-own
This is the third Charles Portis book I've read in a row. (The previous two were "The Dog of the South" and "True Grit.") I've loved them all for different reasons, but I am going to take a break now before I read the others. For one thing, there's only five novels (and an odds-and-ends anthology) in total, so I might just as well conserve my thrills. Also, with really distinctive writers like this and Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Beckett, long immersion in that voice leads to one becoming inured to ...more
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Charles McColl Portis was born in 1933, in El Dorado Arkansas and was raised in various towns in southern Arkansas. He served in the Marine Corps during the Korean war and after his discharge in 1955 attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He graduated with a degree in journalism in 1958.

His journalistic career included work at the Arkansas Gazette before he moved to New York to work
More about Charles Portis...

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“Babcock knew no Southerners personally but he had seen them in court often enough...and Ed's manner and appearance said Dixie to him. He imagined Ed at home with his family, a big one, from old geezers to toddlers. He saw them eating their yams and pralines and playing their fiddles and dancing their jigs and guffawing over coarse jokes and beating one another to death with agricultural implements.” 2 likes
“I don’t know what position you’re talking about, sir. The Gnomon Society has never questioned the rotundity of the earth. Mr. Jimmerson is himself a skilled topographer."

"Excuse me, Mr. Popper, but I have it right here in Mr. Jimmerson’s own words on page twenty-nine of 101 Gnomon Facts.”

"No, sir. Excuse me but you don’t. Please look again. Read that passage carefully and you’ll see what we actually say is that the earth looks flat. We still say that. It’s so flat around Brownsville as to be striking to the eye.”

"But isn’t that just a weasel way of saying that you really believe if to be flat?"

"Not at all. What we’re saying is that the curvature of the earth is so gentle, relative to our human scale of things, that we need not bother or take it into account when going for a stroll, say, or laying out our gardens.”
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