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Masters of Atlantis

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  873 ratings  ·  122 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 TP (first published 1985)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,917)
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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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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
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
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,...more
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...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.
“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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
Randy Wise
This is another great one by Portis. The emphasis here is not on what secret knowledge supposedly is held in the "Codex Pappus" or by the Gnomon brotherhood, but on the quirkiness and obsessions of the secret society founders. Jimmerson, Babcock, Hen and Popper begin their secret society amidst the greatest conflict of the twentieth-century, WWII. However, they have little concern or interest in the war or, actually anything resembling reality. It is this obsession with so-called Telluric Curren...more
Mary Richard
Masters of Atlantis is supposed to be a spoof on various secret societies in which "other people" participate. The main character, Lamar Jimmerson (an American)is a recently-discharged WWI vet who is swindled by a man who gives him a book, the "Codex Pappus," which is supposed to contain the collective wisdom of Atlantis, and for $200.00, allows him admission to the secret Gnomon society. Although the swindler is never seen again, Jimmerson, with Sydney Hen(an Englishman), starts a American bran...more
Patrick McCoy
I have to say that I was really impressed by the first two Charles Portis books I read, Dog of the South and Norwood, so I recently ordered the rest of his back catalogue. Master of Atlantis is the first of those books I’ve read. I have to admit this one was a little more difficult to get into at the start with all the talk of occults, conspiracy societies, and secret societies, which are things that I have little interest in. In some ways, Portis is the master of creating portraits of American...more
What if you knew the secrets of the lost city of Atlantis? Would knowledge of their great mathematical and alchemical arts not make you and your disciples a force to be reckoned with?

Masters of Atlantis does not have the driving narrative impetus of True Grit, but is a kind of benevolent dissection of an imaginary minor cult, lampooning such institutions, but portraying the participants in a clear (forensic) but humane light.
not a major work by any stretch of the imagination but shot through with a gentle, absurd humor and facility with language. listless in a good way, absurd, gentle. the story of a strange cult of rejects and their assorted separate and conjoined misadventures, ending up playing dominos on the texas coast in a collection of mobile homes, with all the history of their atlantean obsession blowing away in the wind. has some bland passages but a very nice comic novel. not nearly as electric as TRUE GR...more
Richard Thompson
Some laugh-out-loud funny stuff.

Unfortunately, there is no character that you can develop a strong attachment to.

The book begins with a con. Lamar Jimmerson, a soldier in France at the end of the First World War, is invited to become a member of the Gnomon Society, a secret organization dedicated to preserving the lost lore of Atlantis. It never occurs to Lamar that the guy who "borrowed" three hundred dollars from him has sold him a bill of goods, and he devotes the rest of his life to the stud...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
More about Charles Portis...
True Grit The Dog of the South Norwood Gringos Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany

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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.” 1 likes
“He said he enjoyed doing security work for Mr. Jimmerson, keeping nuts and gangsters out of grenade range of the Master, but that one day he hoped to marry a woman who owned a Jeep with raised white letters on the tires. He would take her home and ride around town some. “Look,” the people would say, “there goes Ed in four-wheel drive, with his pretty wife at his side.” The way to get women, he said, was with a camera. Chloroform was no good, at best a makeshift. But all the girls liked to pose for a camera and became immediately submissive to anyone carrying a great tangle of photographic equipment from his shoulders. You didn’t even need film. He said he had once killed a man when he was in the Great Berets by ramming a pencil up his nose and into his brain.
Babcock said, “It’s the Green Berets.”
"What did I say?"
"You said the Great Berets. But you weren’t in the Green Berets or the Great Berets either one, Ed. I don’t know why you want to say things like that. I’ve seen your records."
"I was in a ward with a guy named Danny who was a Green Beret."
"Yes, but that’s not the same thing.”
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