Book Review: That Other World

That Other World:  Personal Experiences Of Mystics And Their Mysticism, by Stuart C. Cumberland

This book sneaks up on you.  When the author begins talking about his self-professed amateurish investigations into the occult, one gets the sinking feeling that one is reading yet another justification of contemporary mysticism [1] in the Western world.  When one reads, though, that is not the case at all, and instead this book manages to be a thorough and total debunking of contemporary mysticism.  When you get to reading, this book is pretty savage, in fact, the sort of book that appears more like a roasting of fraudulent clairvoyants and mediums than a praise of them as might appear the case from the opening lines of the text.  The sheer delight the author takes in debunking fraudulent mystics by pointing to their greed and lust is almost enough to make the reader have sympathy for the people being ruthlessly and humorously skewered by the author.  Almost.  In fact, the main reason this book is probably obscure is because occult promoters do not want this book and its author to be remembered and because the work itself is somewhat chatty and too much a product of its times to be read with ease by those who lack the context of the early 20th century world in which it was written.

In terms of its contents, the 250 or so pages of this book are handled in a humorous memoir-like fashion, looking at different aspects of the paranormal that the author has debunked over the course of his life.  The chapters look at the fascination of many European dynasties with the occult, including a substantial analysis of how Rasputin helped lead to the fall of the Romanovs, the way that mediums fake “spirit forms,” the fascination of gullible people for physical manifestations of the spirit world, with table rapping and other such things, clairvoyant claims and chicanery, the fakes of spirit photography, trance and transcript mediums with their powers of observation, subjective visions and false sensory impressions and memories, thought transference, reflections on the unseen hand, as well as some unusual mystical claims that don’t fit into the previous categories.  After that the author concludes, and the reader is left to ponder on how different the book was than one may initially expect.  This is a work worth reading and worth remembering, especially those who are hostile to superstition.

Throughout the book, the author maintains an interesting pose, as someone interested in the spiritual world as well as the scientific one, someone who would like to believe if there was something trustworthy to believe, and someone who views with sympathy the superstitions of those around him in Europe and North America, as well as someone who views with considerable contempt the fakes of the spirit world.  Indeed, the author’s reputation as a debunker of the spiritualist claims made him somewhat of a target for the hostility of a few notable people, including some American charlatans who took advantage of his status as a British citizen to attack him, and the German government of Wilhelm II, who the author ruthlessly skewers.  Indeed, this book has value for reading pleasure simply because of the author’s pointed and savage wit.  One doesn’t even need to know the people the author is writing about to laugh at the author’s story of faked claims of hunted tigers among the aristocratic set he associated with, or the way he continually skewers Wilhelm II and makes pointed use of various Americisms in his writing. All in all, this book is an entertaining and ferocious read, perfect for someone who is as skeptical about paranormal claims as I am.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: That Other World

  1. Pingback: Audiobook Review: Great Courses: The Terror Of History: Part 1 | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: A Testament of Devotion | Edge Induced Cohesion

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