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The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present
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The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  124 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Three great strands of practice and belief run through human history: science, religion and magic. But magic - the idea that we have a connection with the universe - has developed a bad reputation.

It has been with us for millennia - from the curses and charms of ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish magic, to the shamanistic traditions of Eurasia, indigenous America and Africa,
Kindle Edition, UK edition, 492 pages
Published July 16th 2020 by Penguin (first published July 2020)
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Start your review of The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present
Chris Gosden is an archaeologist, who had first been a curator-lecturer at the Pitt Rivers Museum and then a Professor of European Archaeology in Oxford. His work as an archaeologist has led him to places like Papua New Guinea, Turkmenistan, etc.

At the beginning of his book, the author describes his intention as showcasing how, as he calls them, the three helix of belief - magic, religion and science, developed through time and geographical areas, beginning with prehistoric magical practices i
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
1st book for 2021.

I thought this was a decent book, but sadly it was just too information dense for my tiny brain.

Gosden uses a very broad definition of magic—basically anytime anyone interacts with the physical world via supernatural means (so prayer? many so called "primitive" religions etc). His book essentially attempts to cover magic from the last Ice Age to the Present, giving proper weight to every major world culture. As a result each chapter is very dense, but also shallow (e.g., his d
Caidyn (he/him/his)
I received an ARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!

When I requested this, I didn't expect this to be a dense, very scholarly work that really does look at magic and its history from prehistory through to modern day in basically any area that you can imagine. It's impressive and, while I call it dense, it is accessible and pretty easy to read once I got into it. It examines magic from various angles and how they culturally differ, as well as the connectedness of magic with scien
Beth Cato
I received an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

Oxford professor of archaeology Chris Gosden authored this overview of magic across world history and cultures. His approach is comprehensive, his viewpoint honest; he doesn't sniff at magic as a primitive thing, but from a neutral standpoint as an essential part of people's lives from the ice age into the modern day. He doesn't shy away from the effects of colonialism on the loss of magical knowledge, and also addresses it as an inspiration
Aug 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook, 2020
(This is a review of the audiobook version)
I was not sure what this book was going to be, but it was not what this book ended up being. In the very beginning it seemed to imply that Magic was as real and important as Science and this rationalist atheist was 'nope''.

I did stick to the book and glad I did. There was a lot of interesting material in this book and I was particularly happy that the author including a lot of - and treated as validly - non-European cultures. Essentially this book is th
Feb 01, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: witchyreadathon
As a practitioner of modern paganism and witchcraft, I'm always excited to read a book about how the Craft evolved from early practitioners of magic. This book does just that, explaining how early civilizations viewed and practiced magic. It's a comprehensive book for early eras of magic from an archeologist. Unfortunately, modern magic is given only a few chapters and is honestly pretty vague and often inaccurate. While Gosden shows a deep understanding of magic in ancient and medieval cultures ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it liked it
It has useful information. Reads much like a history textbook. Because the author is not pagan or a believes in the idea of it (assumingly) feels very drawn out. It can be a resource for Pagans,witches, and wiccans looking back at the origins and history of the life. I at this time could not find a reason to want to read it. Very much skimmed it focusing more on Chapter 8 The magics of Africa..., 10. Modern and future magic,and the timeline global history of magic. I felt that there was a lot mi ...more
Nov 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Magic: A History by Chris Gosden is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early November.

A full global and chronological timeline on magic (i.e. conjuring, rituals, divination, alchemy, animism, prophecy, clairvoyance, shamanism, incantations, astrology) and its ties to religion and science. All told, it's interesting to read so much that I don't know about from this perspective of history.
Jan 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Hm, yeah, idk. To be honest I think the audiobook ruined my enjoyment of this one - the pause and rhythm was just off enough for me that I kept getting distracted, and as this book is pretty information-dense, it was hard to get through. I think I'm also just not open-minded enough for some of the proposals. I mean I'm trying! Anyway, putting that aside, the history aspects were interesting. ...more
Anthropological look at mankind's magical beliefs ...more
Jun 16, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
**I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.**

So as much as this book had interesting things to say and really good points to make, I just could not get over the fact that it spent such an inordinate and grueling amount of time speculating about the possible magical practices of cultures with no written record before straight up skimming over the magical practices of cultures that had written records in abundance. Other readers may feel differently, but...the listing off of magical practices
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers everything from Ancient Mesopotamian magic to modern and future magic. This gives readers a broad overview of magic over time and throughout the world. This book is full of fascinating tidbits about magical beliefs, practices, and religion. However, there is a lot of info in this book and sometimes it felt overwhelming and so I had to read in small doses. The writing style also felt a little dry at times. For example sometimes we got a lot of archeological evidence laid out foll ...more
Dayle Kulakiewicz
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Remarkably comprehensive book spanning time periods from prehistory all the way to present day. I was particularly impressed at how Gosden incorporated parts the magical traditions of every continent across the globe with comparisons across numerous civilizations. Unsurprisingly for an archaeologist there is a heavy focus on archeological evidence for much of this history.
Extremely scholarly it is not a book to be read in one sitting. I frequently paused to digest the material, much of which I
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
in all, 5 stars if you're interested in magic, namely eurasian. i was disappointed by little to no focus on latin america, by comparison, and north america gets just a few chapters in regards to native populations, but it makes a bit more sense knowing gosden is namely a professor of european archaeology (university of oxford) and a british museum trustee. cave artwork, tattoos, rock art, sculpture and burial of multiple types of animals with human bodies, there is a heavy focus of trying to con ...more
Mary Armstrong
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is described on the cover as a gripping read, it covers the history of magic from the dawn of civilisation to the present,and I found the first half of the book full of academic references, details of postholes,and not an easy read at all. Things improved as the author passed the medieval period , the text started to flow more easily and I stopped having to read a passage several times to work out what was being said. I am not easily put off from finishing a book once I have started , and I ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
So this book very much reads like a master’s thesis. It’s an inexhaustible source of information regarding magic and its interconnectivity with religion and science throughout the course of history. I’d even go so far as to say that it should be required reading for anyone who calls themselves a witch, a mystic, superstitious, or even religious and scientific! But it probably should be read over the course of a semester to really take it in. What I think I liked best is how it was wrapped up in ...more
Feb 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Excellent! A wonderful exploration through history of archeological evidence of human practice in magic, medicine and science. The chapters about the Eurasian steppe is fascinating. Lots of information that was new to me. The author's interpretation of human behavior is respectful and insightful. I was less interested in the Roman-Greco era and their practices. I started to understanding as I read, that the author is weaving the interconnection between what we call magic, science, medicine. The ...more
(view spoiler) (This quote is near the end of the book so I put it in spoilers just in case. :)

So much work went into this book, that I feel I should give it 4 or 5 stars. Sadly after the first chapter, What is Magic and Why is it Import
Julia Simpson-Urrutia
Writers will find this work on magic the precise compendium needed to help fill in the knowledge bank~! Chris Gosden has done a superb job and clearly is invested in his subject. While his belief seems to be 100%, it is easy to read this book and absorb the concepts without ascribing to every single thing. That magic is believed in is indisputable, so it is worth knowing the cultures its roots are in and the diversity of practices. I have been moderately interested in magic since reading Ibn Kha ...more
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Didn' finish, intro turned me off completely. Come in expecting a book about the history of magic, leave realizing this man wants magic to endure even though, his quote, "Societies in which magic was dominant, was not harmonious and peaceful, because of their state of oneness with the universe. There was considerable violence, social collapse and disruption...."

There's more, I just don't have the time to type out 4 pages full of complaints and refutations this morning, nor do I care enough to at
Chad Axe
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was an excellent survey of magical paradigms and practices throughout human history. Godsen has a conceptualization of the three orientations human beings demonstrate, the religious, the scientific, and the magical. All three are necessary to promote the thriving of the species...also magic is far from a curiosity of the past....anyway a great academic read and really a message of hope and encouragement.
Cath (Cather.reads)
I loved reading about the history of magic and how alongside of religion and science, people have used magic to interpret the world around them. I was a little skeptical of the introduction where the author seemed to insist that magic was real, but by the end I understood that it's okay to leave your mind open to what we can discover about magic, and it's simply another way of interacting with the world. ...more
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent look through many world cultures dating from pre-history to the near-present and the reconstructions of viewpoint and magical practice we can make based on objects rediscovered or intentionally buried. Worthwhile for those looking for more information about the ancient world, or those wondering if their magical practice is truly rooted in history.
Cuba Rhodes
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very good read despite some editorializing. My interest is chiefly from an anthropological viewpoint, so some of the book was not exactly for me (the author's triple helix thesis particularly when applied to contemporary humanity) Even so, I'd recommend it. Just make sure you're prepared to feel a little bit coerced. ...more
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a long and pretty detailed history of man kind and their use of magic...spending a lot of time on the more mundane kinda and touching briefly on CHAOS magic, OTO, abd Thelema.

It's pretty dry and sometimes a lot of time is spend with some people's from 10,000 years ago...and it might seem like filler.

Still, great read,bi really enjoyed it
Amy L. Campbell
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, 2021
Maaaaaaaaan this baby can fit SO MUCH magical information in it. It was a lot. Not in a bad way. But a lot. And the feel good conclusion is magic never really went away, it's not going away, and maybe we should kind of direct it to modern day problems, which, hey, why not? Can't be any worse than thoughts and Prayers amiright? ...more
Leila Eshmawi
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really liked it and want the hard copy!
I'm afraid I stopped reading about a quarter in. I just did not care enough about the topic to want to read on. It was just a bit dry.

I actually read the audiobook, narrated by Clarke Peters, but I've chosen this edition, as it matches the cover of my audiobook. I thought he did a great job.
Loren Shultz
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Interesting perspective. Some good info. Often difficult to follow
Lee Barry
I did not read this in its entirely, as it is a peripheral interest. But the parts I did read were excellent. Definitely worthy of some of your attention.
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Chris Gosden is a Professorial Fellow in European Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He teaches students in the Archaeology and Anthropology degree. He is also an author of several books on human links with the material world, the long term history of creativity, intelligence, the emotions, and aesthetics; the archaeology of colonisation in the recent past, as well as in older periods such a ...more

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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“Magic combines what Western thought has often separated as the physical and the psychological or emotional realms.” 0 likes
“My definition of magic emphasizes human connections with the universe, so that people are open to the workings of the universe and the universe is responsive to us.” 0 likes
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