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Masters of Atlantis

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,463 ratings  ·  205 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)
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Sam Quixote
Sep 20, 2016 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
Dec 30, 2008 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
Daniel Polansky
A comic overview of the rise, fall, and sort of rise of a mid-20th century cult – the peculiar and dishonest characters it attracts. All the usual pleasures of a Portis story are here – the deft sense of irony, the brilliantly funny dialogue – but operating along a narrative structure which, while loose, is outside of the ‘first person southern idiot voice’ he does in a lot of his other books. Lots and lots of fun, not quite True Grit but still well worth your time.
Lars Guthrie
Jan 30, 2011 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 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
Nov 03, 2010 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
Apr 04, 2008 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 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
Timothy Hallinan
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Charles Portis is an American treasure, a teller of amazingly inventive shaggy dog stories, an absolute master of tone and character. His best known book, and the only one with a female protagonist, is "True Grit," but his funniest (and that's saying something) is "Masters of Atlantis."

If you don't like deadpan humor, skip this book. If you do, read it someplace where you can laugh loudly without getting killed; this is NOT a subway book. Portis writes with apparent deadly seriousness about the
Aaron Arnold
Mar 27, 2012 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 16, 2016 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
Sep 29, 2011 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
Jul 03, 2011 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
Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
After reading and enjoying "Dog of South," this was disappointing. I appreciate the effort to satirize those goofy men's societies like the Masons--good job on that--but it was just too pathetic a group of characters.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: other
An odd little book to be sure. At times I realy enjoyed it at other times I really did not. After I finished it though, it did stick in my head for several days.

The larger than life characters lived in tiny little worlds, and were mostly unlikable, but they somehow managed to grow on me anyway.
Shawn Dawson
Sep 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
Without a doubt, the worst book I have ever read in all of my years. A complete waste of my time.
Jun 13, 2011 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,
Apr 28, 2011 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
Mar 28, 2011 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
Jul 10, 2012 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
Jan 12, 2015 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.
Jul 13, 2014 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 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 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...
Bud Smith
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
An absurd look at cults, secret societies and ridiculous stupid humans. Great book.
Jan 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: modern-lit
Not quite as good as Dog of the South but well worth reading. Incredible humor.
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."
Vel Veeter
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cbr-9
This book is about perfect. It’s a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (thought predating it by 30 years) but it’s so much more tempered. Or maybe it’s more like a retelling of L Ron Hubbard, but more grounded. Or maybe it’s a kind of Flannery O’Connor novel, without the play on religion. Well anyway. It’s a kind of thing where the philosophy sounds like complete nonsense, but not insane, but also he avoids ever really telling you almost anything about it. So you get shadows of glimpses, ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
If you’ve ever wondered about secret societies, Charles Portis’ satirical and fictional story of the history of one such organization, the Gnomon Society, gives you a view into the inner workings. Portis describes how the society gets its start through an apparent con of a home-ward bound American soldier at the end of WWI. The simple soldier ends up with an odd little book with non-sensical writing and geometric figures and a wild story. And a furry hat. Over the years the society is built up, ...more
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Charles Portis Ap...: My Review of Masters of Atlantis 1 2 Oct 12, 2017 07:12AM  
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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
“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.” 5 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.”
More quotes…