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Illuminatus! #1-3

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

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It was a deadly mistake. Joseph Malik, editor of a radical magazine, had snooped into rumors about an ancient secret society that was still alive and kicking. Now his offices have been bombed, he's missing, and the case has landed in the lap of a tough, cynical, streetwise New York detective. Saul Goodman knows he's stumbled onto something big—but even he can't guess how far into the pinnacles of power this conspiracy of evil has penetrated.

Filled with sex and violence—in and out of time and space—the three books of The Illuminatus! Trilogy are only partly works of the imagination. They tackle all the cover-ups of our time—from who really shot the Kennedys to why there's a pyramid on a one-dollar bill—and suggest a mind-blowing truth.

805 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1975

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About the author

Robert Shea

47 books136 followers
Robert Joseph Shea was a novelist and journalist best known as co-author with Robert Anton Wilson of the science fantasy trilogy Illuminatus!. It became a cult success and was later turned into a marathon-length stage show put on at the British National Theatre and elsewhere. In 1986 it won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award. Shea went on to write several action novels based in exotic historical settings.

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5 stars
6,391 (42%)
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 898 reviews
Profile Image for Seth.
122 reviews178 followers
August 26, 2007
I gave this book 5 stars.
- As science fiction it would get 2
- As philosophy it would get 1 (the world-view it argues for is much better discussed in other books--some of them even by RAW)
- As humor it would get 3. Maybe 4 on a good day
- As conspiracy theory it would get 4
- As research it doesn't even rate 1
- As a good guide to things to research for yourself, it's a solid 4 (great game: open to a random page and pick 5 things to look up in a library)

But it crosses the line on two things:
* Cultural references that make points and explain things in the SF/geek/outcase/introvert subcultures. The Roberts nailed the experience of believing you're different and believing that what you want or experience is different and wanting to share it with the world. The terms and phrases that come out of this (fnord, illuminati, AUM, "You'll like it inside the apple," All Hail Discordia, Law of Fives, Aneristic Illusion, Paratheoanametamystichood, etc.) may not all be original, but they have built a part of a culture. Much like it's worth seeing Monty Python even if you don't "get" the humor to understand the "code."

It inspired two (excellent) card games and a wide variety of "bits" of other games, books, comics, and so forth.

* This book is one of the best tools for an adolescent or young adult (not YA--young adult) colonostickectomy. A young person hiding their creativity and trying to be "serious" so they can make it through life will get a huge amount of value from this book. You have to forgive them for believing the viewpoint for a few years and then you have to forgive them for rejecting it for a few. In the end, they'll probably come to a happy medium, but they'll always be gratefull for getting that damned uncomfortable thing out of their butt.

Oh yeah... the first 100 pages suck. Really. They're bad. But they're never referenced again (well, until the last 100 pages, which you really just skim looking for jokes), so skim them or skip them. You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page.

Actually, that might be the simplest and best review of all:
You really don't need to start reading until the words "Egyptian Mouth-Breeder" appear on the page.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews9,591 followers
October 27, 2016
A sprawling, many-faceted, satirical series, Illuminatus! is difficult to rate and more difficult to review. There are so many aspects which one could address, so many points of divergence, ideas, philosophies, and influences, but at it's heart, it's a rollicking adventure story that, despite its many political and social themes, rarely takes itself too seriously.

I can certainly say I liked it, but it's hard to say how much. Some parts were better than others, but there are many parts to be considered. Unlike other reviewers, I did not find the numerous asides and allusions to be distracting. If one piqued my interest, I looked it up and more often than not, learned something entirely new. Some didn't intrigue me as much, and I was happy to let them be.

I treated the book like I treat life: following those threads which seemed, to me, to be the most fruitful, and refusing to become bogged down in the fact that I can't know everything. If a reader tried to track down every reference, they'd be going to wikipedia three and four times per page and likely lose the thread of the story entirely. The sheer volume of research behind the book is an achievement in itself, sure to keep the attention of detail-obsessed trivial pursuit players of the internet generation.

Others have also complained about the structure of the book, switching as it does in place, time, and character with no forewarning, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph. Certainly these switches can cause a moment's uncertainty, but they hardly make following the plot impossible. The authors could have put more line breaks in, it would be a minor change. So minor, in fact, that I find it difficult to take seriously any claim that the lack of such breaks somehow ruined the story.

It was a deliberate effect by the authors, meant to impart information realistically and force the reader to take a more active role. In life, we are constantly inundated by information and it is up to us to decide what is important and where to make strict delineations. Likewise, in this book, the authors want us to take responsibility for our own parsing of data, refusing to spoon-feed it to us like so much propaganda.

The authors, themselves went through huge amounts of data to combine all of these conspiracy theories into a grand ur-conspiracy, too large and detailed to be believed and too ridiculous to be doubted. I've never had much interest in such theories, so it was nice to have them all in one place where I could enjoy them as part of a fun spy story.

I also admit a lack of interest in the beat poets, psychedelic culture, and World War II, so I'm glad to have gotten those all out of the way in the same fell swoop. This book is, at its heart, a chronicle of a certain point in American history, a certain mindset, a baroquely detailed conglomeration of the writings and ideas of the raucous sixties.

The book is at its least effective when it is taking itself seriously, particularly in the appendices. When it seems to believe in its own conspiracies or Burroughs' bizarre understanding of history, it becomes a victim of its own joke.

It is at its best when it takes nothing seriously, least of all itself. The authors were involved in the flowering of the Discordian Movement, which has been described as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion. The movement plays a large role in the text and is analyzed from all sides, but basically boils down to religion as imagined by Mad Magazine.

The revolutionary thing about Mad was not that it undermined authority, but that it simultaneously undermined itself. Its humor lay in the insight that only a fool would believe any one thing to be the source of wisdom, but that you were perfectly justified in mistrusting everything.

Rather like the remarkable Sixties BBC series 'The Prisoner', the final message is that you must decide for yourself what is important, what is real, and what is misdirection. Also like 'The Prisoner', Illuminatus owes much to the spy genre of the sixties, from freewheeling sex to ultra-modern undersea bases and high-stakes secret missions. There is even an overt parody of the Bond franchise running through the books.

Unfortunately, it also seems to fall into the Boys' Club atmosphere of spy stories. Though it switches between narrators, all of them are men, and the focused sexuality of the book is usually aimed at women. There are moments where bisexuality, homosexuality, and feminist sexual power dynamics are explored, but these tend to be mere intellectual exercises while the hot, sweaty moments are by and large men taking their pleasure from women. I can enjoy porn, but I wish it were as balanced as the rhetoric to which the authors pay lip service.

Many male authors have shied away from writing female characters from the inside, despite having no compunction about getting inside them in other ways. I cannot reiterate enough the late Dan O'Bannon's insistence that the secret to writing women was writing men and then leaving out the penis.

He scripted 'Alien' without gender markers, all characters being referred to by last name, and Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Ellen Ripley has proven one of the most realistic and unaffected of any woman in film. It was a disappointment to see Shea and Wilson so fettered by gender while simultaneously spouting the latest feminist sound bites.

In many ways, Illuminatus provides a bridge between the paranoid, conspiracy sci fi of Dick and the highly referential, multilayered stories of Cyberpunk. Conceptually, it represents a transition from Dick's characters--always unable to escape destruction at the hand of their vast, uncaring society--and Cyberpunk agonists who are able to adapt to their distant, heartless society and thrive where they can. The language of Illuminatus is flashier and cooler than Dick's, but has not yet reached the form-as-function linguistic data overload of Gibson or Stephenson.

The writing is quite good: crisp, witty, evocative and mobile. Far from the accusations of being a text 'written on an acid trip', it is lucid and deliberate, even if it does take itself lightly. There certainly are those aspects which are inspired by psychedelic culture, including the free-wheeling structure. The authors invite comparison between moments, events, and characters which, in most other books, would be separated by the strict delineation of the page break.

But then, the surest sign of genius is the ability to synthesize new data from the confluence of apparently disparate parts, as Da Vinci did one day while studying the eddies in a stream for a painting, finding himself suddenly struck by the notion that the heart would pump blood more efficiently by forming such swirling eddies in its chamber instead of working as a simple pump. In the the past decade, internal body scanners have proven the accuracy of his small corner sketch. By inviting you to make such comparisons and synthesize your own conclusions, the book respects the potential intelligence of its reader. But it is not all such conceptual exercises, and the lesson Cyberpunk authors learned was that a fast-paced, flashy shell can sugar even bitter pills.

But what delighted me was the realization that at its heart, this is a story of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. Outside of Lovecraft and Howard, very few of the stories set in that universe are even passable, but this one comports itself ably, taking to heart the notion that an overabundance of data can break the human mind, which dovetails nicely with the cautionary lesson of conspiracy theory: it seems vast, inexplicable beings of unimaginable power can also be human, and have cults just as Unaussprechlichen.

Overall, the series is interesting, unique, informative, humorous, and entertaining. There are moments where it bogs down, but overall, it is well-structured and well written. There aren't many books where you get a fun spy story, a harrowing Cthulhu tale, and a rundown of the zeitgeist of an American era all in one, but there is at least one.

Unless you're a teenager looking for a counterculture to believe in, the conspiracy mish-mash probably won't be a life-changing revelation, but it might be food for thought. Conspiracy fiction is big business these days with 'The Name of The Rose', 'Foucault's Pendulum' and 'The Da Vinci Code', yet the originator of the genre gets insufficient credit.

But this book is not designed to be easy to digest. You are not meant to internalize its message thoughtlessly. It's funny, contradictory, and self-aware, and it's hard for people who take themselves seriously to get caught up in a book that, for the most part, doesn't. I could say this book deserves to be more than a cult classic, but at its heart, this book is a cult classic, and its cultural influence will continue to seep with or without grander acclaim.
Profile Image for Ryan.
128 reviews27 followers
September 30, 2009
I'm re-reading this now, and felt I should clarify my position on this book, as I often list it as one of my favorites.
High Literature this is not. It is campy sci-fi, saturated with gratuitous sex scenes, psychedelia, conspiracy theories, counterculture etc. When I recommend this book, it's usually with the caveat that the authors are sort of bumbling about and finding their feet for the first 80 or so pages.

When it finally does start moving along, the reader finds his- or her-self bombarded with multiple, conflicting realities and extremist, revolutionary politics from all points of the spectrum. The intended result is mind-expansion. This book invites the reader to become more skeptical, but also to start thinking about what he or she thinks about the world and why.

The narrative is experimental; Wilson has an obvious admiration of Joyce that shows up not just here, but also in his lectures and more autobiographical books. As such, it jumps between characters, places, and times, sometimes mid-paragraph, sometimes entering stream-of-consciousness. This may make it difficult for readers who feel that whatever Wilson and Shea are getting at isn't worth the headache. You need to be on your toes, but it's probably best to just "roll with it" and not spend overlong trying to tie every piece together. In any case, re-readings can consistently reveal new interrelationships.

Early on, one of the main protagonists comes across a painting bearing the message, "think for yourself, schmuck!" which probably sums it all up.
Profile Image for Danny.
32 reviews22 followers
November 21, 2008
If James Joyce was a one-man literary IRA, then Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea are the literary Al Qaeda. As these groups can be viewed as either terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on your point of view, so it is with this book.

As is probably not ironic for a book considered to be the holy grail of conspiracy theory, it's definitely not difficult to perceive the Illuminatus Trilogy as an act of intellectual terrorism. This is not an easy book to read. Time, location, perspective, and identity can and do shift without warning in mid-paragraph, sometimes mid-sentence (making an interesting model for the idea of the 'collective unconscious'). The best analogy I can think of for this book is that it's like reading someone else's acid trip, and that someone else is criminally schizophrenic and watching 15 televisions at the same time.

It is definitely a product of it's generation. The copious drug use, and underlying philosophies are very typical of most of the underground cult classics of the '70s that I've read, but for the most part it's brilliantly insightful, and has many fantastic aphorisms that you'll probably want to repeat later. It's also beautifully self-satirical, which is probably a good thing because if this book took itself seriously it really might have been an act of intellectual terrorism.

You will probably either love this book, loathe it utterly, or possibly even think it's totally ridiculous. If you're not up for a difficult read, you may not want to bother. But if you do find you like it, you might be happy to know that it's a hell of a lot easier to read the second time through.

Profile Image for Elf M..
95 reviews41 followers
June 4, 2012
The Illuminatus! Trilogy saved my life.

It won't save yours.

Since first reading it at age 13 (the year it saved my life), I have dutifully re-read the entire trilogy (really, it's not that long) every five years since. But when I was 13, that was 1979: the jokes about Nixon, late 60s and early 70s rock bands, the coming of disco, the obscure neopagan nonsense that washed through every college campus in the late 1980s, bizarre alternative histories and conspiracies theories, were hilarious and fascinating.

There's even a page from the Principia Discordia mentioned, and that too was life changing, because in tiny print in one corner it contained this quote: "When I was 8 or 9 years old I acquired my first split beaver magazine. You can imagine my disappointment when, upon examination with a microscope, I discovered all I could see was dots." And I realized that, hey, I'm not the only one who's tried that. Being 13 and finding someone like Robert Anton Wilson, who wrote so irreverantly about sex, morality, religion, politics-- all the things that do not make up polite dinner conversation-- does change a life, especially when that life had been constrained by a middle class conventionality wherein parents seethed with their own furtive excesses and failed to understand their SF-reading child.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy really is a beast of its own time, and that time has passed. It is a historical oddity. The wacky conspiracy theories of Illuminatus! have become either the grist of Dan Brown's mill or the weirdly pessimistic thought experiments of Scott Adam's Dilbert. Our culture now has its own bugaboos-- we are a highly pornographic culture, with nearly-naked underage nymphs selling underwear on billboards and Disney promoting boy bands with lyrics about irresponsible lust and desire, yet at the same time we consider red-lettering for life any and every man who had sex in a public park at midnight or chatted up just the wrong person at the wrong moment. The Internet tightly wires our entire informational existence together which has had the effect of telling us what other people really think and feel-- and paradoxically led to the even stronger vehemence against those opposing worldviews because now we perceive just how many people hold to them. These habits of thought, these expectations, just do not live in Illuminatus! and we miss them. Illuminatus! is a historical oddity and a good one, but unless you have a grasp of that history, Illuminatus! will be a hollow and unmemorable pleasure.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
536 reviews141 followers
October 18, 2019
When I find myself in times of trouble
The counterculture speaks to me:
"The whole damn world's gone nutty,
"Let it be."
71 reviews4 followers
July 16, 2007
Honestly, the bury-the-needle rating on this is primarly from nostalgia and gratitude. The thing is, the book saved my soul. I say this because I read the Illuminatus! trilogy the very first thing after stumbling into reading Ayn Rand's Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged in high school, as a fairly bright and moderately-creative geek, which qualities looked even more exaggerated by relative comparison to a very small class size. That's like getting injected with concentrated live-culture viruses after your immune system has been taken out by heavy radiation blasts.

But the Illuminatus! trilogy is like a gene-tailored antidote to that. Who knows what abyss I would've fallen into otherwise?

It also was instrumental in priming me to get right with "Bob" later in life. It couldn't fully open the Third Nostril, but it loosened things up in there for the eventual forceful blow.
Profile Image for Naomi.
88 reviews2 followers
March 30, 2007
The authors thought they were WAY more clever and intellectual than they really were. Mostly these books were pretentious and boring and a regurgitation of themes that had been explored numerous times in numerous other places. Not to mention the fact that the whole trilogy pretends to be building up to some huge world-altering event that never actually happens. It's like the authors finally realized after 3 books that they didn't really know what they were trying to say or where they wanted the plot to go, so they just decided to end it. A huge, utter, complete waste of time.
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 7 books102 followers
January 1, 2019
At 15 I found this psychedelic tour de force mind-blowing. Rereading it just now, 42 years later, I found it amusing, annoying, original, dated, clever, sophomoric, occasionally insightful, often boring, and very, very long. Structurally, the books are a mess, with the narrative POVs shifting frequently, sometimes paragraph by paragraph or even sentence my sentence. Adding to the confusion are numerous contradictory conspiracy theories and alternate histories. If one doesn't try too hard to keep track of the storyline(s), one can enjoy the book as a font of fun thought experiments and interesting conjectures. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who doesn't have a fascination with the New Left, occult mysticism, or the paranoid style in American politics.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,107 reviews1,829 followers
June 23, 2017
Maybe I'm destroying the integrity of my reading list and goals for the year by rating this along with the three individual novels. I have thus only read either three books instead of four, or one instead of four if I want to think of the books I've read as something closer to the books I've bought, since I don't own old mass market copies of the three books, and thus only 'read' from one book. I think in the spirit of this book it's most appropriate to add four books to my reading list... since I think it was Pythagoras who called four (or a tetrad) the perfect number, because contained in it is the number 10 (1+2+3+4), and ten is 5 two times (I'm trying my hardest to come up with some rationalization for all this that ends in the number 23 but I'm failing, I'm sure it's there somewhere though..... oh oh oh, I've got it, by rating four books the tetrad becomes 5 and 23, 1+4 = 5 and 2 and 3 in the middle are obviously 23, thus this trilogy needs to be read/rated in this manner, or at least now I can feel comfortable having done so and not feel like I'm throwing off the whole 'how many books did I actually read' number or feel like a total fake when December 31, 2017 comes around and I'm reading some comic book just to get one last book to on to my 'read' list for the year so I can earn yet another 'reading goal' little image on my profile...).

Without having to use the crazy logic of this book to support this decision, the real reason I'm rating this alongside the three books that make it up is that the whole here is greater than the parts. Each individual book I only gave four stars to, but as a whole, it's definitely deserving of five stars. It's right up there with Gravity's Rainbow for me.

I don't know if it's a good thing or not that it took me twenty years or so to finally getting around to reading this (as a note: I haven't owned the book for 20 years, I actually bought it right before I started reading it, but it had been something I had felt I 'should' read on and off for the past two decades). If I'd read it twenty years ago I might be able to say that this book was a huge influence. I didn't and it wasn't. Instead, there is an awful lot in this book that (politically, at least, and maybe ontologically) felt like Oh My God! this is how I think, and because it's so convoluted kind of insane sounding and often times seemingly contradictory it's also the reason why I don't talk about politics (or almost anything actually) with people... and why if I were of a paranoid state of mind I would believe that the sound of goose-stepping jackboots were (still) coming from the right and the left. I have no idea what this says about me.

Anyway, five stars, and now back to my regularly scheduled reading regiment, where I go and re-read a book that I didn't enjoy the first time reading but which other people love, and which I'm hoping to enjoy more the second time around.
Profile Image for Billie Tyrell.
148 reviews21 followers
September 6, 2021
This works as a historical documentation of what conspiracies theorists were obsessed with in the olden days. The ideas are so big and iconic in the popular culture nowadays that in the 21st century most of it feels just a teensy bit passé. The writing style is experimental - which is cool - but only experimental because of it's genre. Having rambling and moderately crazed narrators is something that's done in literary fiction all the time. So I guess if you only read sci fi and fantasy this might be the craziest book you've ever read. Maybe I sound like I'm being harsh? I liked this enough and there's points in it where it's actually very funny. This is one of those trilogies where I'm sure it's a work of genius, lots of work has been put into it, but your mileage is going to vary as to how much you like it. It's totally up to you if you want to read this heavy landmark or not.

Also (whisper) I found it quite sexist and racist so maybe this guy can f*** off.
Profile Image for Tim Pendry.
980 reviews354 followers
January 1, 2015

[This review is dedicated to the anarchist and occasional friend Steve Ash who sadly died last year. This book meant a great deal to him.]

Wrongly sold as science fiction, this is an anarcho-libertarian bit of mischief mashing up some serious indirect philosophy and psychology with popular cultural memes, conspiracy theory, erotica, the occult and a lot of dated political satire.

It is so deliberately occult in places as to become occasionally (and ironically) a bit pompous, much like its 'hero' Hagbard Celine, the Captain Nemo of the story. The satire is somewhat jaded and the three novels taken together are too long and sometimes over-written.

But, having said this, the book is mostly a great deal of fun and, once you get used to the technique of having apparently disconnected tales flow into each other without any clear sign that the narrator has changed, easy enough to get through.

It is a classic text because it introduced into popular culture an entire alternative way of thinking about the world which, though sometimes as absurd as the 'morning of the magicians', is genuinely liberatory and, ultimately, 'true' or 'as true' as anything else.

We have to remember the time when it was written - the depressingly reactionary period in early 1970s America that emerged in response to the counter-cultural liberatory aspects of the 1960s.

Yes, the 1960s were an era of unorganised narcissism whose final result was Hillary Clinton but, in that specific context, Shea and Anton Wilson provide us with a cogent popular explanation of why anarchic narcissism may be the only appropriate response to authority.

The themes in these book - Lovecraftian, erotic, science fiction, conspiracy, new age - have, for better or worse, embedded themselves in the minds of those who will not accept that state authority is anything other than oppressive.

In this respect, the seeds laid by Shea and Anton Wilson in the 1970s act as counterpoint to those laid by Saul Alinsky, as alternative democratic sub-socialist and anarchic sub-libertarian responses to Leviathan, the State - or rather to Man's determination to submit.

The dominant model of political organisation in relation to the American State on the American Left is a sort of 'femininised' or beta male baring of the arse in order to be buggered in the hope that eventually the old beast will die and the buggered beast will inherit.

The anarcho-libertarian model seems to abandon all notions of Right or Left (which confuses the traditionalists of the Left) and laud the trickster, freethinker, pirate and even criminal against the very notion of order.

It is a view of human nature as good in the very end - or at least as less bad than when it is in under orders. The politics may be questionable but the psychological and philosophical insights are less so, even if presented in quasi-Zen parables and obfuscatory occultism.

The Trilogy (and the 'serious' Appendices, with no more 'truth' in them than any other part of the books) offers us versions of a number of theories questioning the reality that we create out of our sense perceptions and, in particular, social reality.

This questioning of social reality will last far longer than the political satire and the book's somewhat stock appropriation of cultural memes, such as Lovecraftian monsters and Nazis waiting to rise to make blood sacrifices to 'immanentize the eschaton'.

The book is justified by its bringing these thoughts about social reality subliminally to thousands of young people in every generation although, sadly, for every one who gets it, ten or a hundred will not and cease to be as functional in their own interest as they might.

Many observers have not noted that, as a book of constant paradox, the Trilogy, with its twists and turns has inherent fascistic aspects too - the elite eroticism, the leadership principle underpinning Hagbard, the cyclical views of history, the appropriation of traditionalism.

There is also implicit in the vision a disturbing sense of history as elites manipulating masses but without any real outrage being expressed - the Discordians seem simply to wish to play in the game on equal terms, disrupting the forces of order to restore 'balance'.

In this world view, there is still a hierarchical view of humanity. The masses could have their eyes open, and the Discordians devoutly wish that this would happen, yet a deep conservative pessimism in the game players leads them to accept that it will not.

The clever trick played in the book is that the naive reader who thinks he has 'got it' is really being manipulated into the false belief that, because he has 'got it', he is now part of the same elite that gave 'it' to him. He is not. The authors warn but not directly.

Look hard and there is a paragraph in the Appendices where an argument for human sacrifice of a most primitive type is made too plausible to be ironical, a nod perhaps to Evola, yet contrasted with horror at the mass immolations of war and that 1970s preoccupation, the Holocaust.

This is where the 1960s Generation can be seen to be bifurcating into an authoritarian and ideological optimism on the one side and a tendency to inverted rage and pessimism. The slave now adopts guerrilla tactics to undermine what cannot be destroyed frontally.

Magick and the occult in particular are the tools of the frustrated and the outsider and this book is heavily imbued with magical thinking.

Contemporary anarchism, Goth culture, popular horror, fantasy and the occult are now very much combined as a model for libertarian resistance to Leviathan - and the fantastic aspects do not stop police raids even today on those who withdraw from the system and wear black.

Culturally this is an important book, a tour de force in terms of its organisation of literary references and even plot. Its weaknesses are those of its time and we can only understand it by referring back to that time.

Beyond the politics, the book must be marked out as a text that introduced radically new ways of thinking to a mass audience - even if its subtleties have bypassed and will bypass those who read the New York Times and the Guardian and think they represent reality.

Related Review

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6... - the history of magical grimoires and their use as forms of resistance

Profile Image for rachelm.
104 reviews2 followers
October 9, 2007
As I'm having trouble summarizing this book myself, I've decided to quote the meta-review of their book which the authors wrote into the novel:

"'It's a dreadfully long monster of a book,' Wildeblood says pettishly, 'and I certainly won't have time to read it, but I'm giving it a thorough skimming. The authors are utterly incompetent--no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors--whom I've never heard of--have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mishmash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy.'

'If The Lord of the Rings is a fairy tale for adults, sophisticated readers will quickly recognize this monumental miscarriage as a fairy tale for paranoids.'"

That said, it was a great book. If you either like science fiction or are skeptical of privilege and politics, you should read it. If you don't see the fnords, they can't eat you.
Profile Image for Ray.
Author 16 books282 followers
October 11, 2018
Hail Eris!

Hail Discordia!

Every so many years or so, the world becomes and unrecognizably strange place and I am drawn to Illuminatus! once again.

This current misinformational and confusingly conspiritorial age isn't quite what RAW may have predicted, but at least he tried to go there. Oh how he (and Shea) went there. On so many levels.

The tale of Hagbard Celine and all the contradictory theories of just what the hell is really going on, and what a ride it is.

Hmm I do wonder how it would play out if written today... if every conspiracy theory online was true, how would that work? Someone should write that version and make it a prestige cable drama.

Anyway, whether it's 2018 or 1975 don't ever stop the mindfuck and keep re/reading!

Immanentize the Eschaton!
Profile Image for Robyn.
282 reviews27 followers
March 26, 2011
Be careful if you're going to pick up this book. This is not the kind of story that hands everything to you, or wraps up every element of the plot in a neat little bow. This book demands a lot of you, it moves fast, and not always in the way you expect, and you just have to keep up. Yes, there are plenty of places where you are going to have NO IDEA just what is going on, you are going to have to go back and re read passages to understand them, and you do need to read all of the appendices if you want to fully get it.

That being said, this book has great rewards to offer. I can't even begin to try to explain the way that this book changed the way I think, and the way I see the world. I'm not the only person in this world for whom this book was an utter revelation, if you don't believe me, just google it.

This book has pretty much everything that I could want from a book, conspiracies and plots, philosophy, romance, action. My boy friend reminds me that this book is also Hilarious, on so many levels, whether you have a taste for goofiness, dark humor, or dry irony, there is something to laugh at. And if course, when you're reading it, it's perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to laugh at anything you aren't sure about.

This is one of those books I think Everyone should read. So, get yourself a copy, and strap in for the ride.
November 11, 2016
What a strange, strange trilogy that I *unfortunately* was not able to finish. I was 1/4 way through "Leviathan" (the third and final book in the trilogy) before calling it quits. It got so repetitive to read and the stuff they daresay call "humor" was well, kinda boring and not original at all.

I meant to review this trilogy after I read it but it sort of just left my mind until my mom brought the book home that she borrowed from a co-worker a couple weeks ago. I looked at the cover and instantly remembered. I was kind of surprised to see my mom bring this home, for my mom is the one who reads classics, philosophy, and noir horror.

I asked her "Uh, are you interested in reading this book?"

She looks at me and says "No. Looks outdated and lame." She's 100% correct on that on, and all she hadn't even opened the dang book. This book tried selling itself as being funny and having raunchy sex and foul language. Does it deliver on both levels?

Eh. Kinda vanilla, really. I think they only put it in the book because they thought it would sell, and sell it DIDN'T.

In some ways I'm partially disappointed I didn't finish it all, but part of me is just patting myself on the back. This book was an absolute CHORE to get through. It's also not a very original piece of literature. Imagine taking concepts that have been to death and spanning them for 500 pages each, the throw in boring banter and humor, vanilla sex every now and then, and some swear words cuz why not? You got the Illuminatus! Trilogy.

I will admit though, this book does start out intriguing, but by the end of the first book (The Eye in the Pyramid), it started losing a lot of steam. It was midway through The Golden Apple where I was just trying to prop my eyes open from reading this, but I managed to finish it. I then started Leviathan and called it quits by page 100 or so.

Even though I thought this book was boring and unoriginal, do I hate this trilogy? No. Not at all. It's just that this book felt like a CHORE more than escapism, which is why I read books in the first place. Lots and lots of them.

Some people are gonna say I should not review this book since I didn't finish the trilogy, but let me tell you, I WAS SO CLOSE, yet so far. I seriously couldn't even try on this book anymore. I lost all my steam and patience for it.
Profile Image for Michael.
902 reviews133 followers
May 16, 2013
For me, this book was a moment of Awakening, and the changes I wrought in myself after first reading continue to reverberate today. I had been brought to it through playing the card game it inspired. A desire to Seek the Mysteries caused me to follow up on the "Bibliography" included with that game, and I picked up this book expecting a sort of "In Like Flint"-style spy thriller/parody that exploited theories of vast conspiratorial networks. What I found was an exploration of reality on various levels that deconstructed my assumptions about the nature of politics and existence. It won't work this way for everyone; all Awakenings are personal. It remains, however, a very funny book with a surprising amount of metaphysical insight - a pretty rare combination (although I daresay that the truly Enlightened laugh while reading the Bible or the Tao Teh Ching).
On re-reading it today, I perceive that I came upon it at a propitious moment in my life. It has also become clear to me that it works less well for others than it did for me - in the book club I was in, none of the women were able to finish even the first book, which seems to result from the rather adolescent attitudes toward sex expressed by the authors. It was healthy enough for me as a 16-year-old male, but it does occasionally make me wince as an adult. A more minor concern is that there is so much bad German (since the "Illuminati" were Bavarian, of course). It's pretty clear that neither author spoke German, yet they tried to insert it in various places to spice things up. When I read the German translation of the book, this led to some amusing moments as the translator often just left their nonsensical German phrases in the midst of the prose. The many English puns often went right over his head as well, so I guess it was even.
A lot of the book hinges on then-current political events, which makes it a kind of funky-hippy lesson in American history: Watergate, Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination(s), the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Woodstock, the Weather Underground and the Civil Rights movement all play their parts. Discerning between the parody and the reality may require some knowledge of the period, or perhaps one could create annotations to the text through frequent reference to Wikipedia. Part of the awakening aspect I spoke about for me was figuring out what it was everyone was so worked up about when I was a kid, and seeing the political world through the eyes of concerned and disillusioned adults.
I suspect one of the reason people have difficulty reading it is that it is written in an experimental and seemingly random third-person omniscient perspective, which floats into the first person and occasionally changes from past tot present tense. The sort of thing that was common enough at the time, but today gives editors (and many readers) fits. This may help to explain why I have such a hard time reading contemporary fiction - if the point of view hasn't changed after three chapters, I'm bored. I do think however that Wilson & Shea handle their transitions and pacing well, it just takes some getting used to if you're new to it.
I still enjoy the book greatly, and it belongs in the pantheon of "important" books of my life. It is not without flaw, but I owe it a great deal nonetheless.
Profile Image for Aaron.
25 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2007
Couldn't finish it. Didn't even finish the first book in the trilogy. Interesting. Ever-shifting in perspective like Ulysses , but Ulysses unlocalized. Instead of focusing on one person on one day in a very distinct place, it looks at a number of disparate people all over the world in places both real and imaginary, with no regard for chronology. Some fine writing in there, but the hyper-leaps from the JFK assassination to underwater battles over Atlantis to graphically-described sex rituals (sometimes without even a paragraph break!) are just a little too messy for my taste.
Profile Image for Carolina Liechtenstein.
69 reviews9 followers
March 3, 2017
Approaching this book like a puzzle is the best way to read it, in my opinion. It is a puzzle, linking many pieces into a loose network of organizations, individuals and leaders. It reveals the loosely linked nature of the Elite influencers at the top. Going in this book talking it lightly, I completely enjoyed it. I also learned a great deal about the Elite.
Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 2 books418 followers
August 3, 2013
(Edit, 8/3/13: finally finished this. Review still stands.)

On p. 650 of 800 but the last 70 are just appendices and I feel like writing a review now, so . . .

I've been reading this very slowly over the course of many months, which I guess is a reflection of how little it has really engaged me. On the other hand, I feel no animosity towards it, and fully intend to finish it eventually. To my taste it is neither especially good nor especially bad; it is just a odd, underwhelming if inoffensive sort of book that seems to have been intended for an audience I do not belong to.

According to Wikipedia, this is how the authors came up with their premise:

The trilogy was originally written between 1969 and 1971 while Wilson and Shea were both associate editors for Playboy magazine. As part of the role, they dealt with correspondence from the general public on the subject of civil liberties, much of which involved paranoid rants about imagined conspiracies. The pair began to write a novel with the premise that "all these nuts are right, and every single conspiracy they complain about really exists".

The trilogy is pretty much what you'd expect to yield from such an idea, or specifically what you'd expect from a work that set out to thoroughly explore that idea at the expense of plot and characters as traditionally conceived. The narrative is a phantasmagoria of crackpot ideas, rarely sticking with one character or idea for more than a few pages. To say that the plot is full of twists would be misleading -- in fact there is not so much a "plot" as an extended, rather monotonous sequence of shifts from one weird worldview to the next. The reader quickly learns not to be surprised when any given perspective on the story begins to break down, so there is little room for these shifts to have anything like the impact of ordinary "plot twists."

Reading the trilogy ultimately feels a lot like surfing the internet in search of information about conspiracy theories. If you've ever done that for fun (and I have), you may find it entertaining. But 800 pages worth of conspiracy surfing is quite a lot. There is a set of recurring characters but none of them are especially well developed -- different segments of the book are told from different characters' perspectives, but often these are barely distinguishable -- and, outside of a few fairly effective scenes of frightening peril, there is very little "human interest" material to sustain one's interest. The prose is mostly flat, unadorned description, with occasional not-very-impressive stream of consciousness episodes. There is plenty of violence, unusual sex, drug use, and far-out ideological talk, but the people who engage in this behavior feel to the 21st century reader like a set of 60s/70s cliches, and the trilogy's attempts to be weird and shocking feel like quaint artifacts of their time, much less truly mind-bending than, say, Joyce (whom Shea and Wilson clearly idolize -- in fact they mock themselves for this in the text).

I get the feeling that Shea and Wilson would agree with me that their characters are cliches. Much of the trilogy is written with a deliberate sense of artifice, as if the authors want their characters to feel like they are outgrowths of ideas -- cliches, conspiracy theories, ideologies -- rather than organic, independent beings. The goal is, I guess, to instill a universal skeptical wariness in the reader, to encourage them to reflexively doubt every element of the story, whether it emerges from conventional wisdom or from the furthest-out fringe. Again, though, 800 pages of this is a lot, especially for readers for whom universal, reflexive wariness is not a new idea. The parts of the trilogy I have most enjoyed are the parts that come closest to ordinary extended fictional narrative -- such as a segment about the history of Atlantis -- and these segments make me wish Shea and Wilson had written something closer to a straight science fiction novel about an elaborate mega-conspiracy, rather than this campy, self-parodic, under-characterized not-quite-a-story, which stretches its gimmick out at great length in the name of some fairly obvious principles of critical thinking. It's not that I have a problem with experimental writing, or with novels that don't have conventional plots, or with works that joke about and undermine each discourse they invoke -- it's just that there are plenty of books that do those things much, much better. When Shea and Wilson bring up their love for Joyce it's hard not to wonder what they think they have to offer that he doesn't.

Nonetheless, this is a pleasant, readable, likable work that occasionally achieves the kind of transcendence-through-zany-bricolage that its authors are striving for. It apparently has a lot of extremely devoted fans, which I don't entirely understand, but I'm not going to question the validity of their enthusiasm. Maybe if I had read it ten years ago -- or had been born thirty years earlier -- Illuminatus! would have blown my mind. As it is, my opinion of it is almost entirely neutral, as if it and I have passed through each other in ghostly fashion without touching or leaving any marks.
Profile Image for Tech XXIII .
76 reviews2 followers
November 25, 2017
in some sense, true
in some sense false
in some sense meaningless!
i also arrived here on the back of the k.l.f., john higgs, and the principia discordia (of which i'd say would be a great help, read before commencing this book), and as illuminating as the journey turned out to be, i was completely knocked on my eris, flat out battered into wonderment! i'll be coming back here often, as it has the feel of a place where all the relevant action is - you don't want to miss a minute or you'll be forever lost, or worse, subject to a greyface downer!
the 'conspiricy' content is endlessly fascinating, and perfectly well covered in other reviews, so i'll go on the things that struck me the most. and the first must be how fresh and un-dated the book is - the 'real' characters of the time being the only giveaway, otherwise it's timeless and could have been written yesterday. the second thing was a notion of w.s.burroughs influence, which increased the more mentions he received, in fact i'd say that his 'hauser and o'brien' routines were a major factor in the 'gumshoe' set-up with goodman and muldoon, as a base line anyway! but the greatest thing is the total (operation) mindf*** as things unfold (or don't!), possibilities and credibility are stretched to the point where belief is suspended - 'nothing is true, all is permissable' - and your head is scrambled! direct hit then? easy to see why this book has the reputation it has, playing with folk's minds like that!
as a card carrying 'pope' (isn't everyone?), i stand behind this book, or mibbe, in front of it, to the side, on top of it, i don't know, just as long as it's there! seriously, this has shot into my top ten books ever - get yourself down to mad dog, texas, and join in mr hagbard's wild ride! hail eris!
Profile Image for Norman LaFave.
Author 2 books18 followers
April 29, 2011
This was the strangest book I have ever read. I almost gave up a couple of times but I am glad I didn't.

The book presents every conspiracy theory known to man in a fashion that seems to defy coherent timeline and consistency. It is as if each chapter was written independently, with only the faintest of connecting threads. I often thought that I was reading someone's acid induced musings.
It wasn't until I had read well into the book that I realized there actually was a pattern to the story. It was sort of like looking at a TV screen with your eye an inch from the screen. Everything looks random and disconnected. It isn't until you back away do you see that the pixels form an actual picture.
I found this unique approach to be fascinating once I understood what the authors intended. The story comes together not through a timeline, but like seemingly random brush strokes on a canvas makes a painting.
Couple this with a truly paranoid story, strange characters, sexual perversion, and lots of drugs, and you have a truly unique and disconcerting tale that leaves you wondering if you had been secretly slipped LSD while you were reading.
Author 2 books2 followers
November 8, 2018
The only book that could possibly have followed War and Peace, and it has eclipsed War and Peace - almost. This is the most psychedelic book I have ever read. It is like Virtual Reality, coupled with a mind capable of making the most of that artform.

I don't know what I can say about Illuminatus, except that - if. by some bizarre chance you are reading this - you ought to read that instead.

Bits of it are beautiful. Bits of it are dumb. Bits of it are dumb and beautiful at the same time. What more could you want?

Rub a dub dub
Profile Image for LordSlaw.
445 reviews2 followers
July 11, 2018
One helluva trippy, sprawling, funny, frightening, weird, baffling, wonderful novel that I have read many, many times.
Profile Image for Geoff Gerrietts.
19 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2007
I have given this book away so many times now. It's the only way I can repay the favor Jayson did me when he initially loaned it to me. This book literally changed my life, and I can only believe for the better.

Countless bizarre ideas and ideologies are brought together in a raucous, chaotic storyline spun through three volumes. Discordianism, Kabbalah, the Church of the Sub-Genius, elaborate retellings of conspiracy theory and countless other bizarre and interesting ideological landscapes get mashed together into what I can only describe as a snapshot of all those eddies and pools that can't quite make it into the main stream.

This book has a sort of cult classic status to it. It's got a lot of post-adolescent hormonal appeal to it. It's got an uneven narrative and the characters range from human to cartoon, sometimes within the same character. But for its flaws, it's a touchstone for alt.geek culture.
Profile Image for Matt.
94 reviews302 followers
March 30, 2008
I like this book because it takes every conspiracy theory that existed prior to 1975 and weaves them into a grand narrative of the 'haves' pulling a fast one on the 'have nots' since before the beginning of recorded human history. Also, similar to William S. Burroughs, I think you have to examine RAW's work in the context of him being such a defining force in the American underground culture. Having said this, I do have one major complaint about this work. This is one of those books that has too many damned characters involved in too many damned things. The fault may lie in my attention span, but I think it is a problem when a character reappears after a couple of hundred pages and the reader has to stop and think, "Now who was that again?" Part of the genius behind the whole thing is that the writers could sit down and write this thing and manage to keep all the characters (some with shifting alliances), conspiracy theories, and storylines straight.
Profile Image for Josh.
88 reviews6 followers
February 6, 2008
This book was so unbelievably aggravating to read it's hard to fully explain. There are no chapters, three gazillion characters and plots, and most of them are on acid the whole time, so it's nearly impossible to keep track of what's happening. But, there's so much information in it that everyone should know about the rich history of conspiracy theories and mythology that it's hard not to recommend it. Basically, this is a book that you want to have read, but not to actively read.
August 14, 2018
What a ride! Easily the best romp through the counter-culture I have ever read. Full of imaginative twists and turns. A bit wild, but a lot of fun. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Jack Waters.
255 reviews94 followers
May 1, 2010
Over 800 pages (though the pages span over three books)
Who in the world are these authors?
You don't want to be caught in public holding a book that looks like this.
Not for the dogmatically sensitive.

The plot of Illuminatus! is difficult to describe, but I'll try. The offices of a magazine are bombed, supposedly by a conservative group of some sort. The editor of the magazine has disappeared without a trace. Detectives assigned to the case find out that the cause is actually much more confusing than originally supposed. Yes, this sounds similar to plots from other books you've read. But involved here is a likely conspiracy that may go back 18,000 years in the past. Or perhaps just back to the eighteenth century. Or maybe it's all made up. It really is up to the way you interpret it on your own. Okay, that also sounds like other books you've read. But Illuminatus! isn't hack writing like Dan Brown.
Could I convince you to read it knowing that you can expect talking dolphin poets fighting off a secret government's pop stars' zombie Nazi army during a Woodstock type of a rock festival? Or that it is full of Zen philosophy, Discordian ideals(look it up online), Freudianism, nympho free masons, and outright nonsense? It is also chock-full of secrets societies, conspiracies, LSD, giant golden submarines, and escalating cold war issues. The humor and blatant non-seriousness of these woven stories leaves a reader with a feeling of not knowing what to believe. The overall feel like you're reading a parallel universe of alternate history book. The book sets out to break the readers mind down by stripping away your preconceived ideas on each of the above topics and will have your head spinning after the first few pages.
The authors themselves were kind enough to review their own book on page 238;
"It's a dreadfully long monster of a book..." "The authors are utterly incompetent -- no sense of style or structure at all. It starts out as a detective story, switches to science-fiction, then goes off into the supernatural, and is full of the most detailed information of dozens of ghastly boring subjects. And the time sequence is all out of order in a very pretentious imitation of Faulkner and Joyce. Worst yet, it has the most raunchy sex scenes, thrown in just to make it sell, I'm sure, and the authors -- whom I've never heard of -- have the supreme bad taste to introduce real political figures into this mismash and pretend to be exposing a real conspiracy."
What the Illuminatus! Trilogy is really like -- imagine your uncle leading you along in an interesting and likely emotionally-drenched story, and then cracks a joke seemingly out of nowhere, at which point you are likely not going to be able to ascertain whether it's really funny, or really messed up. Or like the feeling of watching a really good History Channel documentary delving deep into secret societies or regimes and then sitting on the remote, causing the channel to change abruptly to Family Guy. It clumps chronologically separated moments into a thread of continuity that actually makes the books better off for doing such. History nuts aside, who really remembers precisely when historical events took place, rather than ‘in the past’ or ‘in my textbook?’
Put your Dan Brown and Hot Chocolate down, and request that the bookstore orders a copy of the Illuminatus! Trilogy. I had to get my copy at Ken Sanders Rare Books in SLC, and it was on a bookseller’s recommendation that I got the book. I have yet to see a purchasable copy in Utah County. Call the store beforehand. Illuminatus! is a ‘Rated R’ to Dan Browns ‘Rated PG-13’ if that makes sense. You'll be happy you did.
Profile Image for Rum Raven.
9 reviews
June 10, 2017
I think the proper term this would fall under would be "PseudoScience-Fiction". All throughout the story multiple and conflicting worldviews that go from radical politics, occultist spirituality, drug hallucinations, conspiracy theories relating to the Illuminati and Atlantis. All told in a very experimental format that jumps between different points of view in different points in time. With the main plot taking place at the end of April leading into May.

I enjoyed this so much but first i'll get my criticisms out the way. Firstly it occasionally has a habit of meandering around and stops the different plots from moving forward. It is especially true of the first 80 or so pages and midway in The Golden Apple. A good example of this was in Leviathan where there was one or two pages dedicated to reading off all the fake bandnames in the Ingolstadt festival. Also the point of view switching can occasionally send you back a few pages to figure out who's POV you are reading from.

However, the plot and cast of characters here are really good. An absolute standout is Hagbard Celine, who is this rich pirate recruiter of a secret society of discordians. His character has this amazing energy and really moves the different worldviews in extremely funny dialogue. George Dorn and Saul Goodman are also rather good with a good deal of backstory and psychological analysis done. All of which have a sociopolitical angle which gets skewed and challenged on many occasions. Even just the characters that get introduced for very minor roles do a good deal to build the overall metanarrative.

Another thing I adored about this book was how on point the humour is. It is very silly, juvenile and irreverent. Funniest being a few of the drug trips some of the characters have which are written with a very well timed prose. Another being a scene in which the main character is shown a documentary about High Atlantis and how different ideologies were created out of it's fall. It also managed to get fourth wall breaking humour very right. The book basically ends on one and makes self referential jokes to itself a few times all very placed and not all all trying it's patience.

Overall I'd read this if you are interested at all in experimental narrative or even just conspiracy theories in general.

(Originally Posted on my old account)
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