Book List 2016 (Part Two)

If you haven’t already read it, part one of this post is here.

The Fire From Within – Carlos Castaneda (10/10)
This is one of the books I enjoyed most in 2016, even though some of the content was repeated from Castaneda’s previous works. It follows some of the later parts of his shamanic training, in which he learns some complex ideas about heightened awareness and the state of being he is aiming towards. You can read my full review here.

Echo Volume 1: Approaching Shatter – Kent Wayne (6/10)
This is the first part of a dystopian science fiction novel written by fellow WordPress blogger Kent Wayne. It has a promising storyline and is engaging and well written. My only issue with it is that this part is too short to really form a clear opinion. I am aware that part two (and maybe three) is already available, so I will be sure to read more of this in 2017.

Hideous Gnosis – Nicola Masciandro et al. (2/10)
Hideous Gnosis is a collection of essays analysing the Black Metal music genre. I found it a very hard going, despite having both a strong background in philosophy and appreciation of the genre. There were some interesting ideas hidden in there, but on the whole it was unnecessarily dense and poorly written. My full review is here.

The Cat Inside – William Burroughs (5/10)
This is a very short read. It is a collection of brief pieces of prose about cats, and the author’s relationship with them throughout his life. It is heart-warming, and shows a different facet to Burroughs than we are used to seeing, but I consider it to be a curiosity rather than an engaging read.

Continue reading “Book List 2016 (Part Two)”

Book List 2016 (Part One)

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I wanted to do a round-up of all the books I read during 2016, because I haven’t reviewed them all. I try to review as many as I can, but I have to admit that it only feels worthwhile if I have something useful to say without giving spoilers. On the whole I have read some fantastic books lately, both fiction and non-fiction, with many of my list scoring 8 or above.

Quantum Confessions – Stephen Oram (8/10)
A well-written debut novel about a future in which objective reality, including both science and religion, is outlawed by a libertarian government with disastrous consequences. This book made quite an impact on me, and has since inspired some of my own work. See my full review here.

Raja Yoga – Swami Vivekananda (9/10)
I have been actively experimenting with Raja Yoga over the last couple of years. It is a method of observing and controlling the body and mind with the aim of tuning our own spiritual experience. It requires a lot of discipline and focus. This book is just 48 pages, but outlines very clearly the method and purpose of the practice. I’m sure I will read it again and again.

The Outsider – Albert Camus (6/10)
This is the first of four existential novels I read this year, and my least favorite though it is generally well loved. It is a short and straight forward read, and it poses some philosophical questions about the way man behaves and how he places his values. But it just didn’t make a huge impact on me. I have seen criticism of the particular translation I read, so I wonder whether that had anything to do with my experience with the book, as I had expected something greater.

The Secret Book of the Golden Flower – Richard Wilhelm/C G Jung (10/10)
This is an old text about esoteric physiology, Taoism and methods for unlocking inner spirituality through yoga and meditation. It is a treasure trove of hints, made even more poignant by the inclusion of C G Jung’s interpretation from a psychological perspective. It showed me where eastern and western philosophies meet, and gave deep insights into the Raja Yoga work I have been doing. Another book I will return to without a doubt.

Continue reading “Book List 2016 (Part One)”

Them: Adventures with Extremists – Jon Ronson

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Jon Ronson is an adventurous journalist with a particular interest in fringe politics and science. Although he has a very light-hearted and gentle tone, he has through his career gained access to some hard to reach individuals and groups, and uncovered some remarkable truths. I first became aware of him fairly recently, when his book The Psychopath Test was recommended to me. Then I managed to see him giving a live talk last month which was outstanding, and bought a couple of his older books while I was there. ‘Them: Adventures with Extremists’ was first published in 2001, but is still very (if not more) relevant now 15 years later.

The book is a compilation of anecdotal interviews with conspiracy theorists and members of extreme political groups, which Ronson was able to conduct during his search for ‘the secret room’ where the leaders of the world supposedly congregated to plot our future. Everyone he meets seems to have a different idea of who ‘they’ – the enemies and oppressors – actually are, and how they go about their ‘evil’ business. For a topic taken in utter seriousness by most, it is delivered in such an entertaining and clear cut way that it really makes a pleasurable, but nonetheless thought-provoking, read.

Ronson spends time with Islamic extremist Omar Bakri, members of the radically different factions of the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, and conspiracy theorists such as David Icke, giving a humanistic view and interpretation throughout. He doesn’t allow their ideas to define them; he is open and curious enough to get to know each as an individual, and to try his best to understand the assumptions their world views are based upon.

The reader is faced with some difficult scenarios along the way, which pose us inevitable questions about personal values. For example at one point Ronson (Jewish by upbringing and descent) is sitting in an unattended, unlocked car with thousands of pounds raised by Omar Bakri to fund the war against Israel. Put yourself in that situation: you have opportunity to prevent the money from reaching a cause you believe is fundamentally wrong. But is the potential immediate threat to your person a more pressing factor in deciding what to do? What is the stronger instinct, morality or self preservation?

There is a telling of the events of Ruby Ridge and Waco in the US, from the perspective of the Weaver family torn apart by the disproportionate actions of armed Marshals. Ronson cleverly leaves us to make our own decision as to whether the fault lies with a ‘new world order’ throwing its weight around, or a clashing of egos that got out of hand. It also leads nicely into a piece exploring the consequences of being labelled a ‘white supremacist’ or ‘anti-semite’, and the way in which the media uses such information to exaggerate and exploit.

Two of the most poignant adventures in the book are centred around Ronson trying to catch The Bilderberg Group ‘in the act’. In one of these, he accompanies Spotlight journalist Jim Tucker to a 5 star hotel in Portugal where ‘the group that rule the world’ were supposedly due to meet. An amusing sequence of events ensues, including them being followed by men in dark glasses and being given sinister messages by strangers at the poolside, yet they still come out with some leads that prove fruitful later on. The second is a visit to Bohemian Grove with radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, to witness the reportedly satanic owl burning ritual carried out annually by some of the most powerful people in the world. Once again, this adventure is written up with a lot of humour and had me laughing out loud, but it also does arguably contain some definitive information on what the gathering is all about.

Here is one of my personal favourite quotes from the book by one of the people interviewed:

‘Let’s face it, nobody rules the world anymore. The markets rule the world. Maybe that’s why your conspiracy theorists make up all those crazy things. Because the truth is so much more frightening. Nobody rules the world. Nobody controls anything.’

In summary, this is an excellent and entertaining read for anyone with an interest in the role of extreme political and religious views on modern society. It is balanced and non committal in terms of the conclusions drawn, but still provides some very unique insights. I have no real criticism to give on this book: it is scored as 8 purely on the level of its impact. I am looking forward to reading more from Jon Ronson in the near future.

Hideous Gnosis – Nicola Masciandro et al.


On December 12th 2009, a symposium took place in Brooklyn NY to discuss the philosophy behind the music genre Black Metal. This book is a collection of essays and other documents from the event.

Unlike some who have criticised this book, I do think analysis of Black Metal is worthwhile from a psychological standpoint. Black Metal is dark, atmospheric, extreme, visceral and controversial. It provokes reaction. And that, to me, is an interesting phenomenon to explore in terms of what it says about us as cognitive beings who create and enjoy (or repel) such a sound.

The first problem I had with the book however, is that it’s a struggle to understand who it is for. I am an avid listener of the genre in question, and am fairly well read in philosophy. And yet, I could not grasp the point of most of these essays. There is no introduction to explain what the symposium was about, or who the speakers/essay writers are. There is little in the way of building up ideas and making clear cut arguments, and the writing mostly comes across as incoherent and bombastic. It is very heavy on quotes, from both black metal lyrics and philosophical works, but often without explanation as to the relevance, or else used out of context. One or two of the essays are also excessive with footnotes, to the point that the addenda take up more of the page than the article itself, which makes for unnecessarily difficult reading. Continue reading “Hideous Gnosis – Nicola Masciandro et al.”

Fluence – Stephen Oram

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This has been on my ‘to read’ list ever since I finished Stephen Oram’s first book Quantum Confessions, which has stuck with me ever since like a vivid dream. I’m glad I got round to it because this is another illuminating and imaginative glimpse into a potential future for humanity.

This time we are introduced to a world in which social media influence is treated as currency (called fluence) and directly decides which class (strata) you belong to and therefore which privileges you have access to. The stratum are give the names of rainbow colours; red being highest, violet lowest, and white reserved for the disabled. The reds are the ruling strata, seemingly taking the place of government. There is also a group of people who have dropped out of the system altogether known as outliers. We get a taste of the way each strata lives, and the various struggles they face.

The central plot follows main characters Amber, Martin and Max in an intertwined way. All three are struggling with the system that contains them, and seeking the gold at the end of the rainbow. Every character is realistic and believable, which means they are not always likeable, but definitely relatable. Continue reading “Fluence – Stephen Oram”

Toxic Nursery – Carlie Martece

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Toxic Nursery is a semi-autobiographical coming of age story from the point of view of a girl with Dissociative Identity Disorder, more commonly known under its previous appellation Multiple Personality Disorder.

People with an already unstable sense of identity could possibly do without the name of their affliction being changed, but the previous name had been somewhat misleading, as none of the patients actually had more than one personality. They merely had a single personality that had been dismantled into component parts, with each fraction thinking that it was a separate person on account of a dissociative barrier between itself and the other aspects’

This is an illness I knew relatively little about at the beginning, though my recent reading of The Divided Self by R D Laing meant that I did have a good grounding in the ways our sense of identity can warp and split. This perhaps made me more sympathetic to hearing about such an experience from the inside as opposed to from the perspective of a psychiatrist, or maybe that was because I empathised with the particular concerns expressed. The sub-cultures and locations featured in this book are familiar to me, as are the benefits of art as therapy, and the feelings of being misunderstood by peers and professionals alike due to the stigma that is sadly still attached to mental illness. Continue reading “Toxic Nursery – Carlie Martece”

The Twenty-Four Hour Mind – Rosalind D. Cartwright

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Rosalind Cartwright is a leading sleep researcher, with expertise in behaviour and neuroscience. Her work has led to her becoming known as the ‘queen of dreams’ in her field. In this book she shares some of her theories and findings from laboratory tests and experiments with sleep patients.

Dreaming is a big area of interest for me, and although I largely subscribe to Jungian analysis I am always interested to keep up to date with new research on the subject. It is an area which, according to Cartwright, it is fairly difficult to obtain funding for, due to the application of knowledge about dreams in general being unproven, and being costly in terms of time and resources. The Twenty-Four Hour Mind describes why it is so important, and how furthering our understanding could be beneficial in the treatment of mental illness, behavioural problems, and even in law.

One of the most interesting sections of the book for me was the write up of some work the author did in exploring the link between depression and dreams. Cartwright follows the theory that dreams are part of our information processing function. While we sleep, our unconscious mind takes the new impressions received during the day and tries to match them to similar experiences in our memories. It is in effect filing things away for future use to keep the conscious mind current and clean. But when we become preoccupied with something, for example when a strong emotional impression is left by an event that is new to us, we can’t match it to anything and don’t immediately know what to do with the information. Continue reading “The Twenty-Four Hour Mind – Rosalind D. Cartwright”

The Fire from Within – Carlos Castaneda

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It’s about 10 years since I last read anything by Carlos Castaneda. I always found his books entertaining and insightful, and couldn’t put them down once started. But I moved on to other things and never got back to the series until now. This has been a virtue actually: I don’t think I’d have gotten quite so much out of The Fire from Within had I not reached the point of spiritual development I am at today.

All of Castaneda’s books tell the stories of his apprenticeship with Yacqui Indian Sorcerer Don Juan Matus. I use the word sorcerer here, but it might be more appropriate to say he is a shaman, a spiritual teacher or a master of awareness. He teaches Castaneda to see that everything he considers to be real is based upon just one possible configuration of human perception. There are many, many other possibilities out there, and by accessing other ways of seeing we can reach new understandings and make some incredible achievements. Continue reading “The Fire from Within – Carlos Castaneda”

Ulysses – James Joyce

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Ulysses is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for years but I’d never quite gotten round to reading it. It’s not so much the huge page count (930 pages in my edition) that was off-putting, but the fact it is well known to be a difficult read that needs perseverance. Yet I knew I wanted to read it, having seen it cited in the works of so many other writers and thinkers, in particular CG Jung and Robert Anton Wilson.

There are literally hundreds of reviews of Ulysses, and even full study papers on the style and in-depth analysis of particular references made in the book. Yet it was difficult to actually get a grasp on what the book was about before starting it. Few reviewers make comment on the overall content and refer instead solely to the style and literary significance. Even the cover (of my edition at least) simply boasts its importance as a classic. So what is it about? The story follows main character Leopold Bloom through a single day – 16th June 1904 – in Dublin. It is about his relationships with colleagues, family and friends, the places he goes, his thoughts, and his attitude to fundamental life issues such as birth, marriage and death. It is about the complexity of ordinary human experience, and just how much is involved in a seemingly ordinary and perhaps boring day for a civilised human. It is organised in chapters that correspond to The Odyssey, an epic ancient greek poem attributed to Homer. Continue reading “Ulysses – James Joyce”

Nausea – Jean-Paul Sartre

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This is the third of the great existential novels I have read so far this year, and is easily my favourite. It is beautifully written, with real characters the reader can identify with, and contains in a simple story the outline and mood of the existentialist attitude.

The story follows writer Antoine Roquentin through a period of his life in which he questions the validity and authenticity of all he comes across. It is a comment on love, art, ageing, friendship and society as distinct from the individual. It highlights the absurdities of social custom that face us in our everyday lives, and it lets us right into the perspective of a man alone but for his thoughts and his work.

I found the scene in which the protagonist debates (in his mind at least) over dinner with a devout humanist particularly compelling. The conversation highlights the key differences between the two stances, and forces the reader to consider his own thoughts on some specific aspects of the argument. Is a misanthrope actually a form of humanist? Must you know the particular instance of a thing, not just the general qualities of its being, in order to love it? Why would a writer write if not for other people to read? Continue reading “Nausea – Jean-Paul Sartre”

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