Book Review: The Secret History of the World; also: The world will not end 12/21/12

Let's start with this: The world will not end on Friday.

The Mayan calendar ends then. Or maybe it's an Aztec calendar someone found in Mayan territory (because they were kind of in the same area anyway).

But you know what could happen? The sun could come under the influence of Aquarius.

Yep, I can hear you. "Josh, you've gone over the edge, man."

Nope.

I don't know what role the stars and the moon and the planets play in life. Maybe they don't actually play a role – maybe it's more of a reflective or predictive thing, if you know where to look.

But I'm certain, after reading Mark Booth's The Secret History of the World, that there's something there.

I was a fan of the Hardy Boys mysteries growing up. This evolved into a love for "Unsolved Mysteries" and later "The X-Files." It makes sense, then, that secret societies and their beliefs would appeal to me.

Booth's history stems from hobbyism. He's interested in esoteric thought, and he's sought it throughout his adult life, and he's declined initiation into secret societies because he wanted to write about what he's found. He didn't want to take an oath that disallowed that.

Say what you want about conspiracies, some of the great minds in history – Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, and many more – were parts of groups like the Freemasons, Knights Templar and Rosicrucians, among others.

Roughly every 2150 years, the sun moves into a new zodiacal constellation, and Aquarius is next. I think it's easy to understand this as true. The only real premise you have to accept is that based on Earth's orbital path and rotation, we get different views of the sky. If you need observational proof of that, go to a location with a view of identifiable buildings or landscape (trees, etc.). Take a photo of the sunset, just as the bottom of the sun hits the horizon (or disappears behind the buildings or landscape). Go back in three months and duplicate the photo, then in six months and then in nine months. You'll see the sun is in a different spot in relation to the markings. [Or you had to take the photo from a different point to get the sun in the same relation.]

Some scholars have narrowed the time frame of this astrological transition to sometime between 1980 and 2016. So why not the upcoming solstice? It's as good a date as any.

What does that mean for us and the next few generations? Who the heck knows? Life may not feel any different. But if it does, don't be awfully surprised.

Anyway, that's not the crux of this nearly 600-page book. It's really a look into spirituality (including a large section on Christian spirituality), Sun God myths (Jesus was only the latest in a long line of figures who was born of a virgin Dec. 25, visited by magicians upon birth, called things like "lamb," had 12 disciples, was sold into slavery or imprisonment by one of those disciples, and resurrected after three days), prophets, art, magic and influence.

Booth writes of the beginning of thought, the beginning of language, the beginning of love, and the beginning of romance, as understood in secret histories.

It's not light reading. It took me about four months to absorb it, and I certainly read other books and essays, sometimes putting Booth's tome away for four or five days at a time to let the information sink in.

The book is a wonderful look at a perspective that, in all likelihood, is different from the one of you've been wandering around with, and it's written by a man with a genuine curiosity for both the subject matter and for writing. While the subject matter isn't easily absorbed, the writing style is; you won't need a translator for it.

Highly recommended reading.

What I’m reading

As part of the important stuff, I'm doing more reading. I'm going to keep a lot of books going for a little while, I think. All four books listed here are books I'm currently reading; not what I've recently read.

Days After the Crash by Joshua Fields Millburn. Millburn says that in the Internet age, while genre fiction certainly enjoys a large readership, literary fiction is in decline. I know I'm reading less of it (though I still do have my favorites). He's written this novella to challenge himself, and he's made it challenging for readers (as in, you actually have to focus and pay attention if you want to understand what's going on). The introduction was worth the time; I'm just getting to the meat.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I'm hoping this book gives me a little insight into myself – and not in a Steven Covey sort of way. I'm just through the first chapter, and it's fascinating. In the late 19th century, we were a country that prized character; in the 20th century we became a country that prized charisma. The "extrovert ideal," as Cain labels it (I'm sure she didn't invent the term), says that if we're quiet and reserved and like to think and hang out by ourselves, there's probably something wrong with us. That probably explains the high percentage of people who are on anti-anxiety meds in the U.S.

The Secret History of the World by Mark Booth. It turns out that there are a lot of books with similar titles. Booth has always been fascinated by secret societies (Freemasons, Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, etc.), and he's written a book about some of their beliefs and where we see them in everyday life. Also, he's an editor at a major British publishing house, so he's not some crackpot on the street corner with a pen and a conspiracy theory.

The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson. If I'm going to do more writing, clearly I need to be reading stuff by people whose writing I really enjoy. So, back to Dr. Gonzo I ran.

Also on tap this summer: Darwin, Plato, Guevara, and more.