24.4.17

Spirits and Showbusiness

Simone Natale. Supernatural Entertainments: Victorian Spiritualism and the Rise of Modern Media Culture. Penn State Press (15 Apr 2017)

In Supernatural Entertainments, Simone Natale vividly depicts spiritualism's rise as a religious and cultural phenomenon and explores its strong connection to the growth of the media entertainment industry in the nineteenth century. He frames the spiritualist movement as part of a new commodity culture that changed how public entertainments were produced and consumed. Starting with the story of the Fox sisters, considered the first spiritualist mediums in history, Natale follows the trajectory of spiritualism in Great Britain and the United States from its foundation in 1848 to the beginning of the twentieth century.

He demonstrates that spiritualist mediums and leaders adopted many of the promotional strategies and spectacular techniques that were being developed for the broader entertainment industry. Spiritualist mediums were indistinguishable from other professional performers, as they had managers and agents, advertised in the press, and used spectacularism to draw audiences. Addressing the overlap between spiritualism's explosion and nineteenth-century show business, Natale provides an archaeology of how the supernatural became a powerful force in the media and popular culture of today.

23.4.17

City Limits

Darran Anderson. Imaginary Cities: A Tour of Dream Cities, Nightmare Cities, and Everywhere in Between. University of Chicago Press (10 April 2017)

For as long as humans have gathered in cities, those cities have had their shining--or shadowy--counterparts. Imaginary cities, potential cities, future cities, perfect cities. It is as if the city itself, its inescapable gritty reality and elbow-to-elbow nature, demands we call into being some alternative, yearned-for better place. This book is about those cities. It's neither a history of grand plans nor a literary exploration of the utopian impulse, but rather something different, hybrid, idiosyncratic. It's a magpie's book, full of characters and incidents and ideas drawn from cities real and imagined around the globe and throughout history.

18.4.17

The Known Unknowns

Marcus Du Sautoy. The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science. Viking (11 April 2017)

From the publisher's website: Ever since the dawn of civilisation we have been driven by a desire to know. But are there limits to human knowledge? Are some things beyond the predictive powers of science and the capacities of the human brain? Or are those challenges the next big discovery waiting to happen?

In The Great Unknown, one of the world's most brilliant mathematicians takes us into the minds of science's greatest innovators as he probes the many mysteries we have yet to solve. From the very large to the very small, from the distant future to the deep past, from the complexities of the human brain to the infinities of mathematics, Marcus du Sautoy invites us to join him on a journey to the seven frontiers of knowledge, the outer edges where scientists are actively grappling with the unknown. Can we locate consciousness in the brain? What is dark energy made of? Can we speak of time before the Big Bang? Is it possible to predict the future?

At once exhilarating and mind bending, The Great Unknown will challenge you to think in new ways about every aspect of the known world. Du Sautoy reminds us that major breakthroughs were often ridiculed at the time of their discovery and invites us to consider big questions--about who we are and the nature of God--that even the most creative scientists have yet to answer definitively.

16.4.17

From Eastern England to New England

Richard S. Ross. Before Salem: Witch Hunting in the Connecticut River Valley, 1647-1663. McFarland. (30 Apr 2017)

From 1647-1663 eleven people were hanged as witches on the New England frontier, in the Connecticut River Valley. The outbreak of witch hunting in New England was directly influenced by the English Civil War and the witchcraft trials begun in 1644 led by the witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins in East Anglia, England. The authorities in New England were armed with a legal manual influenced by recent English demonological writings for identifying a witch and new techniques pioneered by Hopkins for examining witches. This book examines why the witch hysteria first erupted in the Connecticut River Valley. The accounts from this first outbreak of witch hunting included information on the devil's role, demonic possession, bewitchment, apotropaic magic, witch accusations, legal issues, and the role of the clergy in these trials. These early witch hunting accounts later influenced contemporary writers on the Salem witch trials in 1692.

Michael Howard. East Anglian Witches and Wizards (Witchcraft of the British Isles) Three Hands Press (April 2017)

In his fourth book in the Witchcraft of the British Isles series, Michael Howard examines the Craft of East Anglia, one of the richest areas of historical witchcraft and folk magic in England. From the private witch of William the Conqueror to the cunning men and women of the marshes and fens, to the Toad-witches and the appalling deeds of the witch-finders, the book is a trove of historical information on the actual folk magical practices of East Anglia. Also examined are the spirits of locality, such as Old Shuck, the spectral black dog known to haunt country lanes, and a special chapter on Imps and Familiars.

13.4.17

Northern Myths

Pernille Hermann (Editor). Old Norse Mythology: Comparative Perspectives. Harvard University Press (3 April 2017)

Old Norse mythology is elusive: it is the label used to describe the religious stories of the pre-Christian North, featuring such well-known gods as Odin and Thor, yet most of the narratives have come down to us in manuscripts from the Middle Ages mainly written by Christians. Our view of the stories as they were transmitted in oral form in the pre-Christian era is obscured. To overcome these limitations, this book assembles comparisons from a range of theoretical and analytical perspectives across media, cultures, and disciplines. Fifteen scholars from a wide range of fields examine the similarities of and differences of the Old Norse mythologies with the myths of other cultures. The differences and similarities within the Old Norse corpus itself are examined to tease out the hidden clues to the original stories.

10.4.17

Antique Abductions

John N Raphael, Up Above: The Story of the Sky Folk: The 1912 Novel of Alien Abduction and Experimentation. Edited by Strand Pearson. Strand Pearson. (April 2017.)

Up Above: The Story of the Sky Folk by John N Raphael is an exciting example of early science fiction, first published in 1912 and never since reprinted. The novel tells of attacks on Edwardian Londoners and the rustic inhabitants of a Surrey village by invisible beings perched high above the Earth. As well as people, the mysterious ‘Sky Folk’ snatch up livestock, trees, inanimate objects and, most bizarrely, a gorilla from a travelling menagerie. Even the British Prime Minister falls victim to their collecting mania. Only the keen intellect and intuition of the Doctor Who-like Professor Tellurin seems to offer any hope of salvation from the Sky Folk’s predations. The book is probably the first in the English language to explore the themes of alien abduction and experimentation by extraterrestrials on humans. It is full of dramatic incidents and throughout maintains an eerie atmosphere in which sudden drops in temperature and weird creaking sounds warn of an impending attack by the mysterious 'Sky Folk'. Up Above is long overdue a return to print.

7.4.17

Eclipsed

John Dvorak. Mask of the Sun: The Science, History and Forgotten Lore of Eclipses W. W. Norton & Company (4 April 2017)

Eclipses have stunned, frightened, emboldened and mesmerised people for thousands of years. They were recorded on ancient turtle shells discovered in the Wastes of Yin in China, on clay tablets from Mesopotamia and on the Mayan Dresden Codex. They are mentioned in Homer s Iliad and Odyssey and at least eight times in the Bible. Columbus used them to trick people, while Renaissance painter Taddeo Gaddi was blinded by one. Sorcery was banished within the Catholic Church after astrologers used an eclipse to predict a pope's death. 

In Mask of the Sun, acclaimed writer John Dvorak explains the importance of the number 177 and why the ancient Romans thought it was bad to have sexual intercourse during an eclipse (whereas other cultures thought it would be good luck). Even today, pregnant women in Mexico wear safety pins on their underwear during an eclipse. Eclipses are an amazing phenomena unique to Earth that have provided the key to much of what we now know and understand about the sun, our moon, gravity, and the workings of the universe. Both entertaining and authoritative, Mask of the Sun reveals the humanism behind the science of both lunar and solar eclipses. With insightful detail and vividly accessible prose, Dvorak provides explanations as to how and why eclipses occur as well as insight into the forthcoming eclipse of 2017 that will be visible across North America.