Books by Anthony Aveni

BURIED BENEATH US by Anthony Aveni
Released: Nov. 19, 2013

"A solid treatment of a fascinating subject, introducing young readers to cities that rose and fell long before our time. (source notes) (Nonfiction. 10-14)"
An intriguing introduction to ancient cities in the Americas and the cultures that supported them. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1996

For an anthropologist and astronomer, Aveni (Conversing with the Planets, 1992, etc.) displays an encouraging though sometimes excessive openness of mind about things magical in this dash through the history of Western mysticism and hokum, from the Gnostics to the alchemists to the New Age. While he recognizes the many benign uses of magic—as religion, as ritual, as epistemology—Aveni is also far too accepting of the innumerable abuses. Pulling the usual flea-bitten rhetorical rabbits out of his hat (science is limited, magic is nonempirical, etc.), he clumsily seeks to excuse all manner of mountebanks and charlatans: ``When we compare magic's by-laws to those of science, it becomes very clear why the two constitute ways of knowing that are totally at odds with one another concerning both what knowledge is valid and how that knowledge gets passed on.'' Yet as Aveni acknowledges, the two have sometimes become entwined. Further, he believes that as science supposedly becomes less rational (cf. quantum mechanics), it will once again meld with magic. Interestingly, while science changes constantly, magic has altered very little over the centuries, with old beliefs constantly ``being rediscovered and dressed up in brand-new clothing.'' Though Aveni's erudition is impressively vast, he doesn't know when to rein it in, as he hies off after even the most obscure flummeries. Yet he manages to slight both non-Western magic and the history of science. In short, this is one of those works that seem both too long and too incomplete. Certainly, it is far removed from the benchmark history of mysticism, Charles Mackay's entertaining 19th- century classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Still, saw this book in half, suspend some of Aveni's credulity, and presto chango, you just might conjure up a highly readable book. (illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 14, 1992

How ``the common sense of one era becomes the superstition of another,'' by Aveni, astronomer-anthropologist at Cornell and author of Empires of Time (1989). Aveni wants to understand how our ancestors made scientific discoveries, in order to know how we make them. The key is imagination, which ``makes visible that which before was invisible.'' In the minds of ancient Greece and Maya, he contends, nature was not compartmentalized, and humans and nature were intimately linked. Aveni traces this worldview through the history of naked-eye astronomy, focusing on the planets, especially Venus. He shows how ancient astronomers were first-rate observers, able to trace the strange motions of our sister planet through the skies. But unlike modern astronomers, who describe these motions in mechanical terms, the ancients saw them through the lenses of metaphor and analogy. The movements of Venus were those of a goddess, wanton or chaste according to the season, and intimately allied to cycles of human gestations, rainfall, the lives of bees, and so on. In time, this understanding gave rise to the queen of ancient sciences, astrology. Aveni acknowledges that such thinking seems antiquated today (he calls astrology a ``misfit''), but he does lend a sympathetic ear to the Gaia hypothesis, which perceives the earth as a single living being, analogous to an ancient Greek goddess. Aveni suggests that truth, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, and that modern science may well be yet another mythology. As this troubling conclusion indicates, his is a brilliant effort, bubbling with ideas and showing unusual sympathy for outmoded points of view. (Thirty b&w illustrations—not seen.) Read full book review >