In Search of Zarathustra: The First Prophet and the Ideas That Changed the World
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In Search of Zarathustra: The First Prophet and the Ideas That Changed the World

3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  257 ratings  ·  44 reviews
A fascinating journey through time and across Europe and Central Asia, in search of the prophet Zarathustra (a.k.a. Zoroaster)�perhaps the greatest religious lawgiver of the ancient world�and his vast influence.

In Persia more than three thousand years ago, Zarathustra spoke of a single universal god, the battle between good and evil, the devil, heaven and hell, and an...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 11th 2003 by Knopf (first published 2002)
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Chris Lynch
Compelling reading, I finished this in 5 days despite a busy schedule. I bought 'In Search of Zarathustra' in the gift shop at the British Museum and was expecting a somewhat dry discussion of history and archaeology.



Instead, Paul Kriwaczek gives us a lively account of his personal journey of discovery to unearth the mysterious bronze-age figure of Zarathustra, who appears as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, prophetic figure to describe the world as a battleground between opposing poles...more
Lauren Albert
Passing a person in the street with an uncanny resemblance to yourself does not constitute proof of your father having sired an illicit love child. If you stop the person, and he or she tells you that they were born in the same small and remote town as yourself, while it may lead you to desire further investigation of your father's love life, it still does not constitute proof of your father's infidelity. Yet, on the basis of such family resemblance, Kriwaczek sees Zoroastrian love children ever...more
M. D.  Hudson
Lucky thrift store find. I took a passing interest in late antiquity “mystery cults” but have always found this area to be hard to keep straight. This book is wonderful at keeping these things fairly strait. Kriwaczek takes a trip throughout Europe and the middle east looking for traces of Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism (Parsees), the Cathars, Bogomils, Mithraism, as well as Judaism, Islam, early Christianity (St. Augustine was a Manichaean before he became a Christian)

Perhaps the best thing about...more
Elaine Nelson
It's been weeks now since I finished this one, and I'm trying to think what I still remember of it! Just an interesting wander through history around the mysterious figure of Zarathustra: a little Nietzsche, travels in Iran & Afghanistan, ruins under London, etc. He makes a pretty decent case for elements of Zoroastrianism being present in the big three monotheisms. Also, more tidbits that I can use for this idea I have for a D&D setting based loosely on central Asia.
Beeta
Fascinating book about one man's journey to discover the underpinnings of one of the world's oldest (and least understood) religions
Joe
I have a mixed review of this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the journey to various places of the ancient and medieval world that I had not heard of before, or else hadn't viewed before with the perspective of their ties to Persia and Zoroastrianism, including places I have been to before, like London and Caracassone, which I had no idea were in any way tied to Iran. I also enjoyed learning about the history of ancient Iran and the diaspora of Persian people and their culture.

On the oth...more
Monica
The "search" for Zarathustra definitely took us up, down, around and through. The vague connections made to other religions had me mostly bored and definitely struggling to piece together where this "travelogue" was taking me. I am not a scholar and I believe I made a poor choice in my first dabblings in learning about Zarathustra.

I did learn a lot about history but struggled with keeping up. The time lines were confusing and jumped around a lot. New words were added to my vocabulary and I learn...more
Hannah Givens
Fascinating material, but a boring book. There was a lot to like, especially the obscure stories like Anquetil du Perron's (a historian who wandered around India trying to translate Zoroastrian texts), and I'm very interested in Zoroastrianism and religious history. However, on the whole, I don't feel like I've actually learned anything because the book was so confusing. I think it's supposed to be in reverse chronological order, or some kind of topical order about things that may have been infl...more
Saju  Pillai
Not a history book. This particular search for Zarathustra meanders in reverse chronological order from Nietzsche (surprise, surprise), the Cathars, the Bulgars & Mani to ancient Persia proper, frequently raising eyebrows and demanding not insignificant credulity from the reader.

The reverse chronology breaks the narrative with the author tending to jump back & forth in time to make a point, while using dualism as an "one size fits all" answer to explain the supposed connections between N...more
Brett
Very enjoyable book about Zorastrianism's impact through time. The structure is interesting in that the chapters are arranged chronologically backwards. The first chapters deal with more modern fare, while the subsequent chapters get deeper and deeper into history. The middle chapters discuss the Cathar's, then Manicheism, and the final chapters are about what little we know about the origins of the faith. The book also serves as a travelogue, as the author visits each place associated with his...more
Anthony
Jun 04, 2007 Anthony rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Persian exiles, curious souls
stereotypical summer reading. i picked this book up to reminisce about my days as an amateur zoroastrian scholar. the book was fine for that purpose, although i did find it lacking in certain ways. the author frequently airs his own speculations which make one think "that's really interesting. i wonder if there's any factual basis for this?" unfortunately, his own brief end notes are completely insufficient to address those concerns. what he does give you in its place is retellings of some enter...more
Jay
I didn't actually learn quite as much about Zarathustra as I expected, but that's about the only negative thing I have to say about this book. The author says, at least a couple times, that when the experts don't agree on something, it leaves room for the amateur to comment. Somehow most of my favorite topics fall into that category. I enjoy books on topics that are still debatable, because the author is compelled to explain the debate and I learn about the whole spectrum of opinions rather than...more
Lisa
This is a somewhat scholarly work that reads at times like a history, and then at others like a travelogue, and then at others like a dense, scholarly tome. The premise of the book is Zarathustra's (and Zoroastrian) philosophy having had an impact on the modern Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As a non-religious person myself, I found it fascinating and plausible the way the author links ancient Zoroastrian teachings with the development of modern faith traditions. Especially...more
Shivam Bhatt
Absolutely fantastic story about the impact of ancient Persian religion on western culture. The author starts in Europe in the modern day and works backwards through history, tracing the legacy of Zoroastrianism backwards to its source. Along the way he touches on catholic heresies, the mystery religion of Mithras the Unconquered Sun, the evolution of the Jewish faith, the different islamic theology of the Shia and finally the Zoroastrians themselves.

The author is a great writer and researcher,...more
Amanda
Interesting subject: an exploration of how Zoroastrianism has influenced philosophies and religions, peoples of diverse backgrounds for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, this book was very uneven and disorganized. Much time is devoted to Nietzsche - biographical info and how he came to be interested in and responsible for "bringing Zarathustra to life again for a modern age" through his writings. The tone and style is more that of a travelogue than I would have wished. The author in his enthusia...more
Winnie1212
It is times like this I wish I was a better writer. It is nearly impossible for me to explain what this book meant to me and how it shifted my perspective.

While I wouldn't consider it an in depth discussion of Zoroastrianism, the author does an excellent job laying out the impacts this important prophet had on his time and how his teachings have influenced religious thought through the ages.

Anyone who is interested in comparative religion should take the time to read this book.

Additionally, he...more
Bradley Farless
It seemed to be a very rambling story. The information wasn't organized well. It would have been better if it was chronological. The main part of the book is also history lessons on almost everything but Zarathustra. I suppose I was expecting more about Zoroastrianism and how it affected the traditions of later religions. Also, the way it's written makes it harder to get through. It's not very conversational. It feels stuffy. I've read textbooks that were more clearly written. The redeeming fact...more
Russell
Paul Kriwaczek's journey from the modern to the most ancient era in search of the 'truth' of Zarathustra is an eminently readable book, part non-sequential story of his journeys through Iran and nearby countries, part reverse chronological survey of Zoroastrian origins and influences on modern religions. Written with gentle humour and respect for human nature, with a wide ranging and well read academic authority (and enough end notes to underly this authority). I would recommend this to anyone w...more
Mark
Fascinating trip back in time looking at the impact of Zoroastrianism (and Manichaenism, and migrating Iranian peoples) back through the last three millenia.
Gautam
Possibly the best book I've ever read...

It masquerades as a travel log by a seasoned travel writer, but it's actually an exploration of Central Asia's contribution to the world- philosophy, science, civilization - from the sites where it all went down.

Whether he draws upon details of his journey to induce connections across miles and millennia, or uses the works of historical authorities to deduce the same, Kriwaczek shows that the ancient world is behind every aspect of modern life.

Absolutely r...more
Vicy
My first introduction to Zarathustra was through Nietzsche, who claims his "Thus Spoke" is the Ultimate Text. It is. So I wanted to know more about the character of Nietzsche's prophet and In Search of Zarathustra was fantastic. You'll never shake someone's hand and not think of the first prophet again. This book is far more than a travelogue and if you find detailed histories and philosophies boring, don't bother trying to read it because you won't make it through.
River
Captivating read exploring the origins of Zoroastrianism. The author weaves together the many threads that form the history of the religion, the foggy origins of the original prophet, and the complex tapestry that is Persia/Iran. Having done research of my own that traversed some of the places and periods covered in this book, I had an added personal interest, but this would be a worthy read for anyone intrigued by history and the origins of monotheism.
Sophie
This book is just fascinating! I looks at the historical ruins that are still in Iran that are associated with Zoroastrianism, as well as looking into the Cathars, and the way that modern communities, most of which are not Zoroastrians, are still embracing many aspects of this traditional religion and culture. An absolutely fascinating book that will open your eyes to the past, and it's influence on modern society. Wonderful. I can't recommend this book enough.
Shirin Afrasiabi
One of the best books I have ever read. It gave me such a great overview of the world cultures and the flow of influence.As I read this book I cherish every paragraph. I am awed by it's perspective and admire this doctor for searching and making sense of so much. It is sad how our knowledge of history is limited to a couple of world wars and a few well known kings. This books tells you why and how our cultures came to be. It is just fanstastic.
Tim
Begins as an entertaining pop-history of Zoroastrianism, but by the time it insinuates that Zoroastrian Sarmatians invented the Middle Ages, I figured out that this is an exercise in exaggeration. There are interesting facts here and there, but surely there are better-written (and more factual) books about Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Mithraism, Catharism, Nietzsche, etc.
Susan Rothenberg
A very complex book about the author's travels to unravel the history of Zarathustra, a Persian prophet who first spoke of a single god, and the struggle between good and evil. His travels took him through the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The details of the book make it one that could be read several times and still be difficult to take it all in.
Les Robinson
Mar 04, 2008 Les Robinson rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Les by: Found it in the bookstore.
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was originally listed as a travel book then moved to the comparative religion section which illustrates the broad scope of subjects discussed within as it follows the threads of dualistic monotheism through history. Anyone who has any interest in history, philosophy, religion, or life in general will find this book fascinating.
Sandy
This is part history/party travelogue. The history of Zorastrianism (sp?) was good to a point but when it became about "this ruler conquered that one, and then that one conquered this other one", I lost interest. I didn't finish it but I gave it 2 stars because the first part was good. It would have been better if he'd stopped there.
Sally
A fascinating look at the history of Iran and the region through the lens of Zoroastrianism and Zarathustra the prophet. The author takes an interesting journey through several nations, looking at culture and history, and how close the culture of Zarathustra is retained today. Very interesting read.
Roar
A bit disappointing. Too many digressions. The connections between Zoroastrianism and later currents that MIGHT possibly have been influenced by it are just too weak. Scientifically it is on the speculative side. But it gets better towards the end.
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PAUL KRIWACZEK was born in Vienna. He travelled extensively in Asia and Africa before developing a career in broadcasting and journalist. In 1970, he joined the BBC full-time and wrote, produced, and directed for twenty-five years. He also served as head of Central Asian Affairs at the BBC World Service. He is the author of Yiddish Civilisation: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation, which was s...more
More about Paul Kriwaczek...
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