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The secret history of the world


Description: The secret history of the world
File name: The secret history of the world

The Secret History of the World

As Laid Down by the Secret Societies

By Mark Booth

OVERLOOK; 512 PAGES; .95

Writing about John F. Kennedy conspiracy theorists in the New Yorker in 1967, Calvin Trillin noted, "Although few of the buffs would deny harboring a desire to be the hero who solves the crime of the century, most of them would probably not still be interested in the case if the government had not claimed to have solved it already." Most conspiracy theorists, Trillin discovers, prosecute their quests more to show up the Man than to engage in actual investigation or history; the conspiracy, that is, looms far larger in the theorist's mind than does the theory.

Unsurprisingly, then, "The Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies" - another Warren Report that no one asked for - is dreadful. When the book was released in Britain last fall, some reviewers felt it best to hedge their bets against classic British prankishness by insisting that they were still not completely convinced that Mark Booth's effort (published under the pseudonym "Jonathan Black" in England) wasn't an elaborate hoax.

How, after all, could some 500 pages of such junk have found their way into print without the help of an enormous plot between author and editor, publisher and investors? Perhaps, in some enigmatic way, the book itself was written as an explanation for its own existence - a conspiracy theory within a conspiracy theory. Indeed, peppered as it is with pronouncements such as "Everything here is upside down and inside out. In the pages that follow you will be invited to think the last things that the people who guard and maintain the consensus want you to think," "Secret History" is a hard sell as a legitimate - that is, not a joke - piece of writing.

Booth seeks nothing short of a universal explanation of everything that has ever happened - or has ever been thought to happen - at any time and any place in the universe, a reconciliation of every myth, ethos and code for all the billions and billions of creatures who've ever lived (both on the planet and off it). This reconciliation, along with the fabulous tales of those who promulgated it (Zarathustra and Zeus, Saul Bellow and Saturn, and an East Sussex man called the Pigtail Badger, to name a handful), makes up Booth's secret history. Concocting a sort of literary Long Island Iced Tea, Booth throws every liquor he can find into his cocktail. The predictable result is overwrought, overflavored and overblown. A Long Island Iced Tea can be an entire night's worth of drinking in one glass; Booth's history is an attempt to cram an entire library's worth of scholarship into a single volume.

Adam and Eve, we are told, were vegetables. Cain, Abel and an early race of Egyptians, too. There were two Jesuses - not twins, but close - and two Crucifixions (although the second took place in Mexico and didn't involve either of the aforementioned Jesuses). And the reason for peculiar similarities in the works of Bacon, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Donne is simply that the Prophet Elijah simultaneously imbued the authors with his spirit so that humanity could learn how to be introspective.

Individually, perhaps, these are fine myths worthy of responsible study; clunkily combined, though, and tied together with the flimsiest threads of substantiation, they muddle thought instead of enlightening it. Moreover, through all this inanity, Booth manages to keep his tone arrogant and condescending, at one point warning, "Conventionally minded Christians may wish to stop reading now," and, with some nine-tenths of the book remaining to be read at that point, it's not bad advice (though the reader need not be conventionally minded or Christian to follow it).

Booth contends that the boundaries between dream and reality, between art and science, are artificial constructions created by the jealous enemies of an ancient tradition who seek to keep the masses dutiful and submissive. But while it probably isn't a Tenderloin junkie - or even you or me, for that matter - who decides for everyone what's real and what's not, it seems a bit precipitous to leap to Booth's conclusion that secret societies "are representatives of an ancient and universal philosophy, that this is a coherent, consistent philosophy that explains the universe more adequately than any other, and that many if not most of the great men and women of history are guided by it."

"Secret History," constructed as it is with no barriers, no banishment of fiction from the realm of fact, no separation between what is reasoned and what is revealed, removes accountability from human knowledge, allowing fables and facts to be homogenized into pasty, unrecognizable oblivion. Booth bleaches the meaning out of each myth he details, reducing entire philosophies, religions and literatures to hollow aphorism - a fallacy especially troubling as we watch today's candidates (and tomorrow's president) do the exact same thing.

Though Booth's contention that our contemporary religions have steered (brutally, at times) their flocks down arbitrary authoritarian channels rings especially true today, his insistence that his one book is the real Truth is equally unpalatable. These are real times; we'd be better off with real history.

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