25.5.15

Good Things Come in Threes

Three titles of great interest to Magonians from McFarland, published on the same day. All examine the literary, historical and cultural background to paranormal and Fortean topics.

Brenda S. Gardenour Walter. Our Old Monsters. Witches, Werewolves and Vampires from Medieval Theology to Horror Cinema. McFarland. (31st May 2015)

The witch, the vampire and the werewolf endure as popular characters in modern horror. These “old monsters” have their origins in the writings of Aristotle as studied in the universities of medieval Europe, where 13th-century Christian scholars reconciled works of natural philosophy and medicine with theological precepts. They codified divine perfection as warm, light, male and associated with the ethereal world beyond the moon, while evil imperfection was cold, dark, female and bound to the corrupt world below the moon.

All who did not conform to divine goodness—including un-holy women and Jews—were considered evil and ascribed a melancholic, blood hungry and demonic physiology. This construct was the basis for anti-woman and anti-Jewish discourse through the early modern period and would persist through modern Western culture. Nowhere is this more evident than in horror films, where the transgressive bodies of the witch, the vampire and the werewolf represent our fear of the inverted other.

 E.L. Risden. Tolkien’s Intellectual Landscape. McFarland. (31st May 2015)

The work of J.R.R. Tolkien has had a profound effect on contemporary fiction and filmmaking. Often disparaged by critics, Tolkien’s fiction created a market for the “fantasy trilogy” and his academic work represents an innovative contribution to the field of philology. In the 20th century, his fiction bridged the gap between “learned” and “popular” readerships. Today the fantasy genre continues to grow—even as publishers cut back on creative fiction—moving energetically into film, gaming and online fan fiction. This book describes how Tolkien’s imaginative landscape continues to entertain and inspire, drawing new generations to Middle-earth.

Jason Colavito (Editor) Foundations of Atlantis, Ancient Astronauts and Other Alternative Pasts. 148 Documents Cited by Writers of Fringe History, Translated with Annotations. McFarland. (31 May 2015)

The public enjoys considering questions like, did aliens visit ancient civilizations? Could Jesus have fathered a dynasty? Did people of the ancient world visit the Americas centuries before Columbus? Such wonderings have spawned countless books, movies and television series, but very often missing is any actual evidence behind the claims. According to many writers and TV hosts, evidence for ancient astronauts or early transatlantic voyages can be found in ancient texts.

But too often sources remain obscure and some writers have altered or fabricated texts to make their case for extra-terrestrials and lost civilizations. This book examines more than 130 primary sources texts used to make the case for Atlantis, aliens, fallen angels, the Great Flood, giants, transatlantic voyagers, ancient high technology and many other mysteries. The texts covered reach as far back as ancient Egypt and come from cultures as diverse as Greece, Mexico and China. English translations are presented with explanatory notes showing how these texts have been used and abused to make entertaining claims about prehistory.


5.5.15

Daughters of Alchemy

Meredith K. Ray. Daughters of Alchemy (I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History) Harvard University Press (4 May 2015)

From the publisher's website: The era of the Scientific Revolution has long been epitomized by Galileo. Yet many women were at its vanguard, deeply invested in empirical culture. They experimented with medicine and practical alchemy at home, at court, and through collaborative networks of practitioners. In academies, salons, and correspondence, they debated cosmological discoveries; in their literary production, they used their knowledge of natural philosophy to argue for their intellectual equality to men.

Meredith Ray restores the work of these women to our understanding of early modern scientific culture. Her study begins with Caterina Sforza's alchemical recipes; examines the sixteenth-century vogue for books of secrets; and looks at narratives of science in works by Moderata Fonte and Lucrezia Marinella. It concludes with Camilla Erculiani's letters on natural philosophy and, finally, Margherita Sarrocchi's defence of Galileos 'Medicean' stars.

Combining literary and cultural analysis, Daughters of Alchemy contributes to the emerging scholarship on the variegated nature of scientific practice in the early modern era. Drawing on a range of under-studied material including new analyses of the Sarrocchi-Galileo correspondence and a previously unavailable manuscript of Sforza's Experimenti, Ray s book rethinks early modern science, properly reintroducing the integral and essential work of women.


3.5.15

Tales from the Ould Country

Jo Kerrigan. Old Ways, Old Secrets: Pagan Ireland: Myth, Landscape, Tradition. The O'Brien Press. (May)

From the Publisher's website: Exploring the legends, special places and treasured practices of old, Jo Kerrigan reveals a rich world beneath Ireland’s modern layers.

So many of today’s Irish traditions reach back to our ancient past, to the natural world: climbing to the summit of a mountain at harvest time; circling a revered site three, seven or nine times in a sun-wise direction; hanging offerings on a thorn tree; bringing the ailing and infirm to a sacred well. Old Ways, Old Secrets shows us how to uncover the wisdom of the past, as fresh as it is ancient.


26.4.15

History of a Black Hole

Marcia Bartusiak. Black Hole. How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved. Yale. (April 2015).

From the publisher's website: The contentious history of the idea of the black hole—the most fascinating and bizarre celestial object in the heavens. For more than half a century, physicists and astrono-mers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes—not even light—seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the ?erce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.

Renowned science writer Marcia Bartusiak shows how the black hole helped revive Einstein’s greatest achieve-ment, the general theory of relativity, after decades during which it had been pushed into the shadows. Not until astronomers discovered such surprising new phenomena as neutron stars and black holes did the once-sedate universe transform into an Einsteinian cosmos, filled with sources of titanic energy that can be understood only in the light of relativity. This book celebrates the hundredth anniversary of general relativity, uncovers how the black hole really got its name, and recounts the scientists’ frustrating, exhilarating, and at times humorous battles over the acceptance of one of history’s most dazzling ideas.


Inside the UFOs

A personal account of the UFO world from one of Magonia's long-time contributors.

David Clarke, How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth. Aurum Press. (7 May 2015)

The UFO was born in America during the summer of 1947. A lone pilot saw nine mysterious objects that flew ‘like a saucer would if you skipped it across water’ and the media did the rest. Today, almost half the population of the Western world believe we are not alone. Millions of people claim to have seen a UFO. An alarming number reported being ‘abducted’ by aliens. And some are convinced there is a conspiracy by governments to hide ‘the truth’.

As a child during the 1970s, David Clarke wanted to believe. He joined a UFO society, went ‘skywatching’, and later, as a journalist, spent decades investigating sighting reports, unearthing Top Secret government files, and interviewing those who claim they have seen interplanetary craft and had met their occupants. He never found a crashed flying saucer, or received a visit from the sinister Men In Black. Instead he discovered something no less astonishing.

This book describes David’s strange journey to the heart of the UFO phenomenon. He has close encounters with abductees, hoaxers and conspiracy theorists. He meets people who think aliens are angels (or demons). And he tracks down the boffins who ran the British government’s now defunct ‘UFO desk’ to find out what their investigations really uncovered. Along the way he reveals how the human will to believe turned the stuff of science fiction into the most enduring myth of modern times.


20.4.15

Grail Kings

Margarita Torres Sevilla and Jose Miguel Ortega del Rio. The Kings of the Grail: Tracing the Historic Journey of the Holy Grail from Jerusalem to Spain. Michael O'Mara Books Ltd (2 April 2015)

Recently discovered parchments in the Egyptian University of Al-Azhar have finally made it possible to retrace the spot where the Holy Grail has been kept for the last 1,000 years. The authors, a medieval history lecturer and an art historian, came across the clues leading to the Grail's discovery by chance when carrying out research in Cairo. The evidence in the ancient Egyptian parchments led them on a three-year investigation as they traced the Grail's journey across the globe and discovered its final resting place in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, Spain.

This is the definitive guide to one of history's most sought-after treasures, the origin and object of both Arthurian myth and Christian legend, offering objective information to support an extraordinary discovery, and looks back at the origins of Judaism and Catholicism, the significance of the Last Supper, and relics previously associated with the Grail. The Kings of the Grail presents the new, definitive historical and scientific facts that have come to light, unravelling the mystery that has surrounded the Holy Grail and taking the reader on a compelling and thought-provoking journey.


15.4.15

Chicago: My Kind of Town!

A number of forthcoming titles from the University of Chicago Press will be of interest to Magonia readers. The relationship between science and religion has been dealt with in a number of recent books, and Peter Harrison's book looks an interesting contribution to the topic.

The manner in which science became a part of the intellectual debate in society through the development of a popular scientific literature is the topic of James Secord's title, and the intriguing topic of invisibility makes Philip Ball's book seem particular interesting to Magonians and Forteans.

Peter Harrison. The Territories of Science and Religion. University of Chicago Press. (28 April 2015)

From the publisher's website: The conflict between science and religion seems indelible, even eternal. Surely two such opposing views of the universe have always been in fierce opposition? Actually, that's not the case, says Peter Harrison: our very concepts of science and religion are relatively recent, emerging only in the past three hundred years, and it is those very categories, rather than their underlying concepts, that constrain our understanding of how the formal study of nature relates to the religious life.

In The Territories of Science and Religion Harrison dismantles what we think we know about the two categories, then puts it all back together again in a provocative, productive new way. By tracing the history of these concepts for the first time in parallel, he illuminates alternative boundaries and little-known relations between them - thereby making it possible for us to learn from their true history, and see other possible ways that scientific study and the religious life might relate to, influence, and mutually enrich each other.

A tour de force by a distinguished scholar working at the height of his powers, The Territories of Science and Religion promises to forever alter the way we think about these fundamental pillars of human life and experience.

James A. Secord. Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age. University of Chicago Press. (April 2015)

The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary transformation in British political, literary, and intellectual life. There was widespread social unrest, and debates raged regarding education, the lives of the working class, and the new industrial, machine-governed world. At the same time, modern science emerged in Europe in more or less its current form, as new disciplines and revolutionary concepts, including evolution and the vastness of geologic time, began to take shape.

Visions of Science opens our eyes to how genteel ladies, working men, and the literary elite responded to these remarkable works. It reveals the importance of understanding the physical qualities of books and the key role of printers and publishers, from factories pouring out cheap compendia to fashionable publishing houses in London’s West End. Secord’s vivid account takes us to the heart of an information revolution that was to have profound consequences for the making of the modern world.

Philip Ball. Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen. Chicago University Press. (April 2015)

If offered the chance—by cloak, spell, or superpower—to be invisible, who wouldn’t want to give it a try? We are drawn to the idea of stealthy voyeurism and the ability to conceal our own acts, but as desirable as it may seem, invisibility is also dangerous. It is not just an optical phenomenon, but a condition full of ethical questions. As esteemed science writer Philip Ball reveals in this book, the story of invisibility is not so much a matter of how it might be achieved but of why we want it and what we would do with it. In this unusual and clever book, Ball shows that our fantasies about being unseen—and seeing the unseen—reveal surprising truths about who we are.