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Madame Blavatsky; the mother of modern spirituality.


Madame Blavatsky; the mother of modern spirituality.

Lachman, Gary.

Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin


331 pages



As an experienced writer on esoterica, a biographer of Jung, Swedenborg, and Rudolph Steiner, and a founding member of seminal New Wave band Blondie, author Gary Lachman is well qualified to describe a life of polymathic interests and abundant self-invention. Here, he has crafted a biography of Madame Blavatsky. As founder of the Theosophical Society, she was a major player in the development of everything from Victorian spiritualism to modern art to Buddhist studies in the West. Lachman dedicates his book "To the Masters, whoever they are." He keeps his prose balanced at a point between respect and skepticism for Blavatsky's occult tales, occupied by a historian's detachment and a dry wit. Unfortunately, writing a biography of Blavatsky is like mapping the afterlife. Somewhere between nothing and everything actually happened, and means somewhere between everything and nothing she said it did. As the author shows, any version is remarkable. She was a Russian expatriate as Russia lurched violently from feudalism to the Soviet Future, a world traveler, a keeper of famous and infamous company, and a self-made woman intellectual in the late 19th century; her life depended on grand leaps of fate, coincidence, and chutzpah. Lachman aptly calls her a modern Caligostro. Whether her true identity was enlightened spiritual master, con artist, anthropologist, self-help coach, performer, survivor, or all of the above, documentary evidence is lacking. To write an accurate biography would take a genius and a create-your-own-adventure format. Instead, Lachman aims to make Helena Petrova Blavatsky better known to readers. He calmly argues that she is one of the more influential figures of the 20th century. By focusing on the history of her ideas, he shows that much in modern life is the result of people and influences historians rarely take seriously. Though Lachman's prose occasionally shows his lack of formal training, the book is very smart, enjoyable, and worthy of serious attention. It is suitable for both popular and scholarly readers, and has endnotes and an index.

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Publication:Reference & Research Book News
Article Type:Book review
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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