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In this survey of Atlantis theories, Ellis (Monsters of the Sea, 1994, etc.) explains and then pokes holes in previous conjectures—from the scientifically grounded to the plain crazy—before tendering a few of his own It is all Plato’s fault, suggests Ellis—the mare’s nest of literature, philosophy, geology, archaeology, oceanography, ancient history, mythology, art history, mysticism, cryptology, and fantasy that can be summed up in the word “Atlantology.” A few mentions of that fabulous island in his Critias and Timaeus, and 2,500 years later we still haven’t heard the end of it. Ellis covers here the whole gamut of Atlantis explanations, compares them to a strict reading of Plato’s story, and proceeds to dismember them all. The more outlandish, like paranormal Edgar Cayce and occultist Madame Blavatsky, are easy to dismiss as they have no truck with Plato (not to mention their general lunacy); same goes for notions locating Atlantis in the Crimea, the Sahara, and central France. Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle were in it for the entertainment value; even reputable (or not so reputable) investigators and cognoscenti like Francis Bacon, Ignatius Donnelly, Charles Pellegrino, Spyridon Marinatos, and Angelos Galanopoulos display instances of “rash assumption, hasty conclusions, circular reasoning, and argument based purely on rhetoric.” And his points are all well taken: Hold true to Plato’s tale—no fiddling around with the numbers, no monkeying with the geography—and all their speculations smell like three-day-old fish. As for Ellis’s thoughts on Atlantis: “I think it was entirely Plato’s creation,” that the story is likely a parable for the demise of Periclean Athens, its magical detailing plucked from contemporaneous regional sources: the architecture perhaps from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the geologic catastrophe from the Helice earthquake of 373 b.c. Just so: another corrupt civilization flooded into oblivion, a story as old as time. Of course, Atlantis is still lost, Ellis wags his head, perhaps a tad smugly. And it always will be. So stop looking, except in your imagination. (For another interpretation of Atlantis, see Rodney Castleden, Atlantis Destroyed, p. 627.) (52 photos and maps, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-44602-8
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998


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