Peter Kingsley's ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY, MYSTERY, AND MAGIC should be read by all students of western philosophy, as well as by anyone interested in thought and scholarship. Here is a work that shines a light into ancient Greek thought, and calls into question the motives and standards of ancient - and unfortunately modern - scholarship.
By itself, this makes the book worthy of wide attention. But what is more is that Kingsley brings philosophy back to its roots, helping enormously in the unpopular effort to shake us out of our current philosophical stupor and fascination with pointless 'problems.'
The book is written in a formal, academic style, unlike Kinglsey's later work. Those unfamiliar with this kind of writing may be put off (as is evidenced by some of the reviews here) by such 'intrusions' as foot and endnotes, and by the careful effort Kingsley has given to covering all the bases in order to create the most sound argument possible. Nevertheless, the book is not difficult to read by any means, especially when compared to most western philosophy today. Far from being evidence of Kingsley's wish to be pompous, or to impress colleagues, this style of writing is simply demanded by serious scholars, who were certainly among the primary targets of this book. One will not even be read by one's colleagues without writing in this established way. Had he not used this style, Kingsley would not have been taken seriously, and would have disappeared into the ranks of unpublished writers. That he was taken seriously by the elite of academia is seen by some of the reviews ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY received from them:
"A masterpiece, gripping, urgent and important: a unique pioneering work."
EUROPEAN REVIEW OF HISTORY (Oxford/Paris)
"The thesis is argued with immense learning ... courageous, original."
THE TIMES (London)
"A remarkable achievement: challenging, learned and at the same time enthralling to read."
CLASSICAL REVIEW (Oxford)
"Bold and extremely significant ... Kingsley's book may well be the most important book about Presocratic philosophy in years, and it is certainly one of the most exciting, challenging, and stimulating."
AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW (Washington DC)
"Every scholar dreams of writing a truly original book, but in reality hardly anyone ever does. A truly original book, one that can transform a whole discipline, appears at the most once in a generation. In the field of ancient philosophy, Peter Kingsley's Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic is such a book."
PROF. A. A. LONG, University of California at Berkeley
My guess as to why Kinglsey wrote in the standard academic style before switching to an informal one is that he wanted to establish himself as someone who was not a crackpot, before delving into the territory that he has with his second and third books. No respected scholar with a job to keep would dare to say what Kingsley has said in these later works. The sad fact is that if he had held a distinguished position in one of the top ten universities of the world, he would have been out on the street in no time had he published IN THE DARK PLACES OF WISDOM or REALITY, and that just goes to show what a sad state academia - higher 'learning' - is in.
Read this book first, then read the others. If you have an open mind, and have the creative ability to try on a new set of mental clothing, you'll be rewarded.
I was led to this book by John Opsopaus' superb "Pythagorean Tarot," wherein he mentions that Kingsley demonstrated that Empedocles was a shaman ("iatromantis," that is). Everything said about this book so far is true: It *is* an interesting and valuable read; it *is* highly technical; and Kingsley definitely takes on every other classical scholar in clearing the air, removing historical debris and cultural bias, and establishing a new standard of personal involvement in classical scholarship. My take is that one can get the gist of his conclusions in chapters 15 & 19 (and perhaps 20 & 22), without wading through all the scholarly minutae. This groundwork was probably necessary to remove the blinders from our collective eyes imposed by an earlier generation of Greek scholars overly wowed by science and strangely detached from personal experience. In the end, I look forward to reading Kingsley's "Dark Places of Wisdom."