When reviewing a biography there’s always a temptation to review its subject. I’ll get that out of the way by saying that I think of Aleister Crowley, the most famous occultist of the last century, a complex and obnoxious man with too much money. One source Booth cites, whose name I cannot remember, described him as “genius gone wrong”. Well, if you’re running around referring to yourself as The Great Beast 666, I’ll warrant that something has gone wrong with your life. Despite all that, I have a soft spot for occultists because nobody expects me to take them seriously.
My main difficulty in reading biographies is the lack of dialogue. All we ever get are summaries of complex events drawn from primary sources like interviews. Somehow this makes reading more of an endurance feat than it normally is. Booth’s loquacious and sometimes tangential prose makes the biography readable, but even then I was averaging fifty pages a day.
There was particularly chilling moment that I know plan to rip off for a story. Crowley grew up in a very Christian family, and as his mother lost her wits after her husband died she called her son a beast. Familiar with Revelations, he internalised that title which in turn set the course of his life. Such a cruel thing to call a child.
Booth’s thorough research means that this biography is vital reading for anyone interested in Crowley’s life, either for reasons of personal gratification or if they need to know about the man for some project. As biography is a genre I take little pleasure in, I cannot recommend this book to be read for fun.