Daniel O'Keefe's massive survey of magic not only tells us 'how to do it' but gives us some policy recommendations too. His book reads like the transcript of a Royal Commission report on the occult. It is not easy reading, but the effort is worthwhile. His advice extends to such fields as politics, economics and war: this scope gives some clue both to the structure and to the theme of Stolen Lightning. This is not a book that describes magic - Paul Daniels and his friends in the Magic Circle can rest easy. Instead, it is a book that celebrates a kind of magic, the magical arcana of high social science. As the author frequently points out, modern sociology and anthropology have been dominated by the detailed study of primitive ritual, and specifically of magic and its relation with religion. Indeed, these social sciences may be said to have emerged from that study. The classics of modern social science, whether Durkheim, Mauss, Evans-Pritchard or Weber, have all been obsessed by these issues, which they connect more or less closely with the very origins of our own society. Here the origins of social science and the origins of modern society are traced to the same source. Stolen Lightning is much more an examination of these great traditions than of magic itself.
LRB 2 December 1982 | PDF Download