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The History of Hell

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  445 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
A “lively...generously illustrated” (Washington Post Book World) survey of how, over the past four thousand years, religious leaders, artists, writers, and ordinary people in the West have visualized Hell-its location, architecture, purpose, and inhabitants. Illustrations; full-color inserts.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 13th 1995 by Mariner Books (first published 1993)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,228)
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Paul Bryant
Jan 04, 2014 Paul Bryant rated it liked it
Shelves: godreads

“Abominable fancy” is the Christian theological idea that one of the pleasures of the blessed in Heaven is the contemplation of the torments of the sinners in Hell. I was thinking about that, and it seemed to me that it might be considered a little embarrassing to be seen guffawing at someone having a hot poker shoved up their fundament, so I imagine, in consideration of the feelings of the blessed, they will have arranged these viewings to be held in a series of booths, lik
Lee Harmon
Jan 19, 2011 Lee Harmon rated it it was amazing
This is not a new book; I dug it from my shelves just to write this review. It's not a scholarly-looking book; the oversize cover, glossy pages, and color pictures on every other page make it look more like a children's book than a theological treatise. It's not the work of a notable scholar; Ms. Turner is better known for her fiction and as an editor for Playboy. So what is this review doing on my blog today?

Against all odds, this is an important book about an important topic. Is it Alice's fau
Mar 07, 2010 Tracy rated it really liked it
Really well done. An interesting look at the evolution of Hell from the Sumerians to the Age of Freud. Also includes some amazing art. My eight-year old picked up the book and flipped through the pictures. Funny, he wasn't at all frightened by the images. He just said, "Mom, why is everyone in Hell naked?" Good Question.
Mar 07, 2012 Lucas rated it it was amazing
I must have thought this book was good. For about six years now I have been rather pissed that I misplaced it and can't seem to find it anywhere.

Here's what I remember. It was a rather sleek looking book that was beautifully illustrated. But its glossy appearence belied the large amount of information in the book. That's not to say it was delivered like a textbook on the subject. I seem to recall the author had a good sense of humor.

The book describes several concepts of Hell from different cult
Nancy Oakes
Jan 20, 2009 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
from page 135, footnote:

"According to The Weekly World News of August 28, 1990, Hell is nine miles beneath the surface of a point in western Siberia where Soviet engineers drilling for oil broke through. They capped their hole after smelling the smoke and hearing the cries of the damned." Pretty interesting, huh?

The History of Hell is like the textbook for a course on (as she calls it) "Infernology". I will be up front and tell you that if you are a Christian, you're going to absolutely hate thi
Jul 01, 2009 Dave rated it really liked it
A great read, has a lot of really interesting information. The chapters at the beginning and end are a bit sparse (covering early Mesopotamian concepts of the afterlife and modern views of Hell, respectively), but the chapters on the medieval period, the renaissance, and enlightenment are suitably meaty.

There are definitely some old works that I'd like to take a look at now, though the only one I've found so far is a Victorian Poem, "The Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti. (which was claimed t
Sep 03, 2008 M.C. rated it liked it
Shelves: 2007-2008
What is Hell? We can but perceive its existence with our mortal eyes. Why should one believe something that he or she cannot sense? Such a question reminds me of peace and other ideas that we believe in. Many of these we cannot perceive but we apparently invest faith or something of the like into them. Why?Some do it for pious reasons, others for the sole satisfaction of their feelings of uncertainty, and still there are those who have alternative reasons.

The History of Hell offers a comprehensi
Aug 06, 2009 Mephistia rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, theology
It's interesting. I was actually a little surprised at how engrossing this book was. I loved the way the author traced Hell from the polytheistic influence on the Christian perception, through the various theological and political influences until we arrived at our most modern interpretation. I particularly enjoyed some of the religious theories she cited and how they altered theology in various ways. Some of the facts she included were a fascinating surprise -- the book as a whole was just a de ...more
Apr 02, 2008 Bogydog rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The Devil's Mom.
Shelves: books-i-ve-loved
Hahahahha... no one I know will read this book. And, as well they shouldn't. I just had to put this on my (so-far) list, 'cause this is the book I desperately needed when writing my thesis in college. Actually, I guess that doesn't make sense, 'cause if this book existed then, then there'd be no reason to write my thesis. So... now I'm just talking to myself. Umm... oh snap! I need to figure out what I'm bring to Phoenix this weekend. Note to self: bring pants. Doo-doo-doo... man, I'm kind of hu ...more
Feb 08, 2008 Kirsten rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating cultural history of Hell. Since it focuses mainly on Hell in Western popular culture, it draws most heavily on Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian), Greek, and Roman conceptions of punishment in the afterlife. I imagine if you have done a lot of reading about the history of Hell and Satan, this probably wouldn't reveal much that's new, but for the curious layperson it's an excellent overview, related with wit and charm. I've done quite a bit of reading about the history of th ...more
Kate Davis
Can get pretty slow in parts, when she goes heavily into the literature about Hell. Overall, I'm glad I read the first few chapters especially, which showed that the generally accepted ideas of Hell aren't ones that came from Judeo-Christian scripture. I can have more sympathy towards the idea and its followers now that I understand the history behind it, and I can also be reassured that those beliefs don't need to align with mine.
Nov 10, 2007 Theresa rated it really liked it
An interesting overview of historical perceptions of Hell from literature, art and scripture from the dawn of western civilization through the age of Freud. Beautifully illustrated with works of art from each period covered. Throughout history, ideas of Hell, its location, purpose and denizens have constantly changed. The author examines the changes and the reasons for them.
Anthony Edward Valletta
A fascinating look at the Judea/Christian concept of hell, what it was originally, where it came from and how it developed into what it is today. A must read for comparative religion or for those interested in Christian history.
Aug 06, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: occult-esque, history
Fairly complete, as long as you weren't interested in Eastern ideas of hell. Dry nonetheless. I still have to laugh at anyone's notion that unbelievers would end up in a believer's hell, but I suppose it makes sense to believers.
This book is definitely not entertainment. It is neither engaging nor engrossing. It's more along the lines of many strewn together Wikipedia articles. I didn't find this book to be something to read as I would a regular book, but sometimes more to skim through until I found something that interests me or something that I wanted to know a little something more about. It's not that it's bad, just that it is not something I can rate and define as good or bad. It is a book in chronological order of ...more
Nick Wallace
Feb 26, 2009 Nick Wallace rated it liked it
What's not to like? If only it weren't a bit more comprehensive, with the information being provided above a ninth-grade level.
Oct 31, 2009 Emm rated it really liked it
A really fun and comprehensive look at the history of Hell. Turner's writing is easy and humorous; a great introductory text!
Nov 06, 2008 Carol rated it really liked it
After I got over my initial shock, I enjoyed the book. It didn't change my views about the existence of hell, though.
Eric Armusik
Nov 28, 2010 Eric Armusik rated it it was amazing
A great reference that spans centuries and many different religions and spiritual practices.
J.M. Hushour
May 30, 2015 J.M. Hushour rated it really liked it
With an eye always on the future, I leapt at the chance of reading about Hell. Just in case. This is a fine book on Hell. There don't seem to be many books about Hell, histories anyway. This one served my purposes well because in many ways it's very much a history of how the geography of Hell evolved. Starting with Inanna, Sumerian babe-goddess who harrowed the underworld with the best of them, this book carries the story of the development of Hell's structure and torments up to Freud. It's a fu ...more
Micelle Miseracorde
Mar 10, 2009 Micelle Miseracorde rated it really liked it
Hell is a fascinating and evolving place.
Feb 26, 2014 Katelynne rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This book is not a scholarly work - Alice K. Turner openly admits this in her Acknowledgements. It is, however, incredibly well-researched and offers an interesting overview of the perceptions of Hell throughout history. I was very impressed by the scope and depth of her research. (Really, the only thing that would be needed to make this a scholarly work would be footnotes or endnotes.) Turner also makes all this information accessible through engaging writing and well-organized chapters. If you ...more
J.W. Baccaro
May 27, 2012 J.W. Baccaro rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, awesome, kick-arse book! I was impressed with the level of knowledge behind the author. She sure did her homework, to the max.

This book takes you back as far as the Mesopotamian and Egyptian beliefs in Hell, or Hades, or the Great Below, and brings you all the way up to the modern day Hell of Christianity, (I think my only disappointment was that it did not cover the Islamic Hell, which is also quite interesting). There's also a great deal of illustrations from artists dating back to
Madeleine Emerald Thiele
There is nothing subtle about this book, The History of Hell. Whilst the ground covered is vast and potentially calls for a ‘lively account’, the writing is abrupt and in need of a good editor (which conversely the author was at one point). Large statements are frequently made, e.g. about angels and Shintoism on page 35, but there is never any expansion or persuasion.

See more here:

Apr 20, 2016 Alison rated it liked it
This took me a long time to read. Even though Dante and hell fascinate me, this book read like a text book. I finally forced myself to sit down and finish it, and it did become more interesting. I liked reading the history of how hell developed and changed through the centuries and especially how Purgatory came into being (because during times of war and famine, people didn't have time to properly atone, so Purgatory is "reserved" for those who only repented on their death beds).

A very interest
Aug 18, 2012 Joseph rated it liked it
Shelves: academic
A good resource to get an overview of views of the afterlife from ancient times until today in the west (Islam and modern Eastern religions aren't really covered). At times her understanding of the nuances and variations within a religious tradition can be a bit shallow (especially within Christianity). Also, she does seem very eager to find connections between Hell traditions that aren't necessarily significant.

Still, for what it is meant to be, an overview (only about 250 pages) about the his
Robert Dunn
Nov 23, 2014 Robert Dunn rated it really liked it
Loved this. Nothing like standing back and taking a good look at the boogy man.
Jan 18, 2016 JLeigh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hardcover - Bought in Bretagne
Jul 13, 2015 Michael rated it it was ok
Not what I was expecting when I picked this book up. The idea was really interesting, but for some reason I felt like I was forcing myself to read it. Loved the plates in the book.
Victoria Gaile
Jan 12, 2012 Victoria Gaile rated it it was ok
I only read a few specific chapters of this before my break was over & I gave it back to the library, but I was a little disappointed in the shallowness of the information. I didn't like the art as much as I thought I would, either. Still, I might take it out again and read the rest of it: I still approve of the concept of the book.
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