Living with the Gods

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

A wonderful book on different aspect of religion and how it shapes our life.
It's full of great illustrations and surely give you a lot of food for thought.
Highly recommended!
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC
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This is another excellent book from Neil MacGregor.  I have no expertise in this area, but as a lay reader I found it a thoughtful, erudite and immensely illuminating book.

MacGregor takes a similar approach to that in his previous outstanding books, A History Of The World in 100 Objects and Shakespeare’s Restless World, in that he uses artefacts fascinatingly to illustrate his subject, basing each brief chapter around a subject which has has religious significance like sacrifice, water and so on.  Thus, this isn’t a conventional history of religion at all, but a very insightful look at the way in which worship in its many diverse forms has played a part in human life from the earliest objects we know of to the present day.  As always, MacGregor makes shrewd, penetrating and very humane points, leaving us with much to think about.  It’s a great book to read a chapter or two at a time, I think, and then to come back to.  

The book is beautifully illustrated and MacGregor’s unfussy, readable style is a pleasure.  I can recommend this very warmly.
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Like MacGregor’s other books this is both immensely readable and a testament to his own wide curiosity, knowledge and sense of humanity in its broadest sense. I hesitated before reading this having no religious sensibility at all and while its focus did make it slightly less absorbing for me personally than either his History of the World in 100 Objects or Shakespeare’s Restless World, this approaches faith and religion not via dogma or creed but via objects, rituals and places. It is thus less tied to British Museum exhibits than the previous books, and overall concerned with how the appurtenances of religious faith function in terms of group identity and community. MacGregor acknowledges freely that this sense of identity can be the cause of violent conflict or operate as the basis of a more positive sense of a community of humanity. 

Each short chapter focuses on a specific topic such as sacrifice, water, the sun, religious festivals, icons and images, pilgrimage, polytheism, atheism and so on, and within the chapter MacGregor ranges freely geographically and in terms of thought, bringing in expert opinion where necessary. It’s this diffuse approach which makes this book such a pleasure: there is so much to learn, so many interesting connections made between disparate cultures and times – from Siberia to Plymouth, from human sacrifice in the Aztec empire to the creation of Christmas in puritan Massachusetts, from sun worship in prehistoric caves to seal worship in Iceland, from the iconic moment when Barack Obama started singing ‘Amazing Grace’ to crosses made from capsized refugee boats on the shores of Sicily. The text is lavishly illustrated with colour photos – definitely a book that is as pleasurable as a material object as as a text.
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