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This volume arrives with high praise. The book ‘[d]eserves to become another classic’, opines Peter Burke at the top of the front cover. It ‘[c]ompletely overhauls our view’, observes Ronald Hutton somewhat further down. The work itself is not shy of ambition either. Both the title—The Decline of Magic—and the subtitle—Britain in the Enlightenment—promise sweeping panoramas.
Historically, wars have always witnessed reports of ghostly sightings and visions. However, the First World War is of particular interest as such phenomena occurred in a more modern, secular environment, at a time when science and secularisation had emerged as predominant ways of thinking about the world. In addition, the number of lives being lost due to conflict was unprecedented.
This is a deeply flawed book, although it is not completely without merit. Mayer, who died (in January 2014) as this book went to press, may have been an accomplished scholar of ecclesiastical history (1), but was a relative novice in Galilean scholarship.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) claims an exceptional place in history as a famous scientist, theosopher and visionary.
David Wootton discloses to the reader on page 182 that his aim is to provide an intellectual biography of Galileo Galilei. But this book does not. Wootton's aim is rather to re-enter, re-open or even unhinge the structures of all arguments about the so-called Galileo affair that have been written until now.
In spite of the time period implied in her subtitle, Ann Thomson’s book covers debates about the materiality of the soul from 1650 to the early 19th century. She deals with a vast range of thinkers – primarily in England and France, but also in the Netherlands.