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The Illuminatus! Trilogy

(Illuminatus! #1-3)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  14,502 ratings  ·  819 reviews
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 f ...more
Paperback, Trade Paperback, 805 pages
Published December 1983 by Dell (first published 1975)
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Angie Fiction. And it's Discordianism (yes it does exist) a deliberately ridiculous religion formed around the Greek Goddess of Discord Eris.

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Apr 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Teenagers, fuddy-duddy geeks, SF fans
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:
J.G. Keely
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 cons
Jan 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 wi
Dec 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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, an
Tom Quinn
May 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I find myself in times of trouble
The counterculture speaks to me:
"The whole damn world's gone nutty,
"Let it be."
Elf M.
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 fas
Jul 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 af ...more
Mar 30, 2007 rated it did not like it
Shelves: scifi-fantasy
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Tim Pendry

[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' H
Sep 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Mar 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 yo ...more
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 o
Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
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 instantl
(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 sor
Carolina Liechtenstein
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Hippies, Discordians, Young Men
Recommended to Michael by: Steve Jackson
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 ...more
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-tech-select
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 foreve
Norman LaFave
Apr 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 wa
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: someone who relishes in confusion
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 ...more
Sam Davidson
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One helluva trippy, sprawling, funny, frightening, weird, baffling, wonderful novel that I have read many, many times.
Geoff Gerrietts
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all my friends
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 m
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: alt-history
Bit of an odd one, this. I have decades of experience of the books, just about everyone I know has read them and the themes are constantly quoted all around the place in half-joking asides, yet I never got around to reading them.

So, I figured it was about time I did. And I'm sorry to say they were a bit of a disappointment.

I think that had I read them when I was 18, I too would have been entranced and thought they were brilliant. But reading them now, I found the writing style extremely irritati
Best book I've read all year. I can't describe it. I can only say that my reading list has quadrupled since adding sources I learned of from this book. It is ostensibly about a detective investigating a bombing, but it is actually about everything and I'm not being hyperbolic. I will recommend it to every smart person I know. It blew my mind so hard. They have me investigating Buddhism, magick, negative-interest currencies, Discordianism, Gestalt therapy, game theory, and so so much more. It con ...more
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
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.
Andrick Schall
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jill Bowman
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this in my 30s and thought it was really good and lots of fun. At 60? Who knows. Maybe I should reread... but I won’t.
Advice? Enjoy it while you’re young and before you get too cynical. 😀
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SSG: Spy/Spec-Ops...: 'Illuminatus' trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson 1 11 Oct 20, 2020 08:06AM  
Secret History: Robert Anton Wilson 1 29 May 02, 2012 02:06AM  

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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 se ...more

Other books in the series

Illuminatus! (3 books)
  • The Eye in the Pyramid (Illuminatus, #1)
  • The Golden Apple (Illuminatus, #2)
  • Leviathan (Illuminatus, #3)

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