One of the things I adore about living in London is it grants me unfettered access to the most dizzying collections of ancient and sacred artifacts -an occultist’s dream come true.
Entry is free (like all the major museums in London) so I just tend to duck in and kill some time between client meetings. Conveniently for me, London’s medialand sprung up in the exact same part of town.
So instead of loitering for an hour in a Starbucks I can go and check out the Rosetta Stone. The original Rosetta Stone. That unlocked the secrets of Ancient Egypt for the modern world. We wouldn’t have contemporary magic today without it.
Gaah! But I get sidetracked. Come and visit me in London and I’ll take you on my ‘magical nerd’s tour of the British Museum’. (Patent pending.)
What I like about the reading room in particular is just being in the space that gave birth to some really world-changing books. Karl Marx, Lenin, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mahatma Gandhi. They all sat right here and did their work.
And I think this might have been one of the secrets of their success. You see, at the time, the reading room offered them the best access to the sum total of human thought found anywhere in the world. They could find information outside their field. It made them well rounded… Which made their thinking better.
And that brings me back to modern magic. Because this is something we truly suck at. Have a look at your Amazon purchase history. Exactly how many books on Sub-Saharan language groups and applied software engineering are there?
By and large, we have a tendency to ghettoize ourselves. And it makes the brain lazy. I don’t think exclusively reading magic books makes for very good magic…
Instead, I’m offering a list of books I have read that aren’t about magic but will absolutely make your universe much more magical. By the way, I’m not an Amazon affiliate. I get no money from these recommendations. They are on this list because they simultaneously rocked and changed my world.
1. The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
No book in the last decade has changed my life more than this one. Half the time, I think the author is the unwitting successor to Peter J Carroll.
If you want the absolute best explanation of how and why our glorious universe is chaotic -and the implications of this for your day to day life then look no further. Again… Changed. My. Life.
Here’s a review from The Guardian. If you buy one book on this list it is this one.
Don’t make me beg.
2. 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense
Another jaw-dropping work that paints a picture of our universe that you simply haven’t seen before. What I like about this book is that it investigates the very fringes of modern scientific research and finds that out there on the edges…. Well, it doesn’t make much sense. The chapter on “The Missing Universe” is alone worth the cover price.
Perhaps what dismays me the most about modern magic is that our models of reality and the human mind are based on the cutting edge science of the late 1800s at best. (Unless you’re PJC playing around in theoretical physics that I just can’t follow. )
Split the difference and read this book. It makes the universe taste better. Here’s a review.
Reading Graham Hancock as a teenager convinced me it was a good idea to go to a remote island in the middle of the Pacific to shoot an underwater documentary about a sunken city that -legend has it- is protected by two large sharks. The water was murky. It was scary.
Reading his ‘armchair astro-archaeology’ books over the last fifteen years, I have seen his ideas move in from the absolute fringe (Fingerprints of The Gods) to something far more rational -but no less astounding in its implications. Even in Supernatural, he tends to speculate beyond the data just a touch. I find this annoying because simply presenting the data in the most boring way possible will still rock your world.
Summing up, He has stumbled upon the absolute best suspect for the origin of civilisation and it’s basically an hallucinogen produced by the brain that unlocks higher realms. You know how Crowley wrote in Magick Without Tears that the one thing he wanted people to take away from the practice of Magick was that there are non-human intelligences in contact with mankind just as there have been throughout history?
Well, this book explores the science behind that. I’m a convert. It has certainly made my magic better. Now I just need to find some friends to travel up the amazon with me to take ayahuasca with the local shamans. Email me if you’re in.
4. DMT: The Spirit Molecule
This one is a bit old now and it is one of the books that started Graham Hancock on the above adventure. So if the idea that there is a chemical that your brain produces that lets you talk to the gods and is probably the key to enlightenment really rocks your boat, then this book goes on the ol’ wishlist.
There’s a documentary about it, as well… But I haven’t seen it.
If you are going to practice magic then you need to develop some way of recognising what is extraordinary and what isn’t. In this gripping little book (I read it in a night), the ever-wise Malcolm Gladwell shows you the grim reality behind ‘natural talent’ and ‘genius’. An amazing book that also makes you feel slightly better about your inherent crapness.
Read it after The Drunkard’s Walk because they cover similar territories from different angles. You somehow end up knowing more than if you read them in isolation. Trust me. It’s weird. But awesome. And here’s a review.
If you’re amazon shopping, then buy this in conjunction with the original, Freakonomics. This book makes the list because -in my humble opinion- practicing magic means you really need a finely honed bullshit detector. Sadly, I rarely see these two things in combination.
Now this fantastic book looks for the normal explanation behind abnormal things. The picture it paints of our day to day life is refreshing and helpful… Especially when it comes to separating out what is merely abnormal from what is truly weird. Watch the video on the product page.
The Guardian didn’t like it because the author presents a cheap and instant solution to climate change… Rather than a long, drawn out and expensive solution that will bankrupt the entire first world.
7. The Dip
The maverick Seth Godin’s tiny little masterpiece. It’s worth subscribing to his blog, actually, because he’s brilliant. The Dip makes it onto the list because it the book you should read before you decide to
- Become a professional energy healer
- Open a mind-body-spirit store
- Become an occult author
I don’t know why these are the three professions everyone involved in magic seems to think is their destiny but none of them pay above minimum wage.
Seth’s book helps you decide what you’re good at, what you can succeed at… And, most importantly, when to quit. It is chaos magic philosophy of the highest order masquerading as a book about marketing.
Now It’s Your Turn
So what are your recommendations for the best non-magical magic books that you have read? Leave a comment or email me or something. I have gift certificates I need to use up.