Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Masters of Atlantis” as Want to Read:
Masters of Atlantis
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Masters of Atlantis

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  1,256 Ratings  ·  171 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 The Overlook Press (first published 1985)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Masters of Atlantis, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Masters of Atlantis

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sam Quixote
Sep 20, 2016 Sam Quixote rated it it was ok
A couple of gullible fools are conned into believing a book of gibberish contains the mysteries of the universe. They establish a secret society based around the text and spend the rest of their lives being idiots.

Charles Portis’ Masters of Atlantis is a light comedy/satire on cults and secret societies that should never have been a full length novel given what little substance there is here. There’s no plot or story, just a revolving door of dipshits pretending to each other that they’re wise,
Krok Zero
Aug 07, 2011 Krok Zero rated it it was amazing
Shelves: summer-2011
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
Jan 30, 2011 Lars Guthrie rated it liked it
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
Sep 15, 2009 James rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 01, 2011 Sherrie rated it it was amazing
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
David Peterson
Jan 26, 2013 David Peterson rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 08, 2011 Tim rated it it was amazing
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
Aaron Arnold
Aug 25, 2016 Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing
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
Sully Tarnish
May 25, 2016 Sully Tarnish rated it it was amazing
Utterly hilarious. Charles Portis packs more wit into a single page than most authors can muster in a lifetime of work.
Jim Leckband
Oct 01, 2011 Jim Leckband rated it really liked it
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
Art Marroquin
Sep 13, 2011 Art Marroquin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 13, 2011 Dan rated it really liked it
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,
Oct 15, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2011 Ann rated it liked it
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
Kate Woods Walker
Dec 19, 2012 Kate Woods Walker rated it liked it
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
M.J. Johnson
Sep 01, 2016 M.J. Johnson rated it it was amazing
Excellent - pure pleasure from start to finish. I love Portis, so am desperately trying to eke out the small number of books he has written - currently permitting myself only one a year! The cast of characters is spectacularly hopeless in the way that only Portis really knows how. If you're a fan of his writing this will be a treat - if not, then you're a hopelessly lost soul!

Seriously, this is very amusing. Enjoy.
Dec 08, 2014 Erik rated it it was ok
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.
Jul 23, 2012 Dani rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 03, 2014 Larry rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful find this book was. Funny, strange, and utterly unlike anything I can think of. Must read more Portis...
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
Oct 25, 2011 Bud Smith rated it really liked it
An absurd look at cults, secret societies and ridiculous stupid humans. Great book.
Jan 05, 2014 Vireak rated it really liked it
Jun 07, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2017 Keith rated it it was ok
Quirky novel about believers in cult hidden knowledge coming from ancient Atlantis. Mostly seems like a long shaggy dog story. I am not sure what I expected but not this. My first novel by Portis. I need to read True Grit for sure.
William Owen
Oct 26, 2016 William Owen rated it really liked it
If God Bless You Mr. Rosewater is my favorite Vonnegut novel, this is more than likely going to prove my favorite Portis novel.
Dec 03, 2016 Richard rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
Not quite as good as Dog of the South but well worth reading. Incredible humor.
Oct 06, 2016 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this a hundred times, but listening to the unbelievably great recording by Brian Emerson was like rediscovering it. It's one of the two funniest books ever written. (The other is Portis's The Dog of the South.) It's one of those books I can't imagine writing. What made Portis create the story of Lamar Jimmerson, Sydney Hen, and Austin Popper? By the way: that scene in which Popper has to testify about the Gnomon Society before the senators? Thirty-five minutes and a bravura performance ...more
Jun 15, 2010 Johnny rated it liked it
Shelves: humor
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
Sep 27, 2016 Liza rated it it was ok
So disappointing. I've read and loved a lot of Charles Portis, but this book has none of the narrative flair or intriguing plot points that this author tends to excel in constructing. The fact that all the reviews on the cover are for other Charles Portis books should have tipped me off that this novel would be a disaster.
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Toys in the Attic
  • The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings
  • Boswell: A Modern Comedy
  • Canaan's Tongue
  • The Boats of the 'Glen Carrig'
  • A Singular Man
  • All Hallows' Eve
  • The Most Of S.J.Perelman
  • Reckless Eyeballing
  • Eudora Welty
  • A Visitation of Spirits
  • Going All the Way
  • Cockfighter
  • Of Love and Dust
  • Losing Battles
  • A Long and Happy Life
  • Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova
  • Off Magazine Street
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...

Share This Book

“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.” 4 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.”
More quotes…