BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A useful little book ...

Yes, I was a Comparative Religion major in college, and have read extensively in the area for the past 30 years, so one would think that a book like Laura S. Smith's The Illustrated Timeline of Religion: A Crash Course in Words & Pictures was a bit basic for me to be delving into. However, this was one of those semi- “pig in a poke” titles from one of those Barnes & Nobel clearance sales that I'd ordered pretty much sight-unseen due to it being available for a whopping $1.99 … as I've noted previously, these sales have an interesting side-effect of getting books in front of me that I would have been somewhat unlikely to have picked up were I actually “book shopping” rather than “trying to find 13 books to get over $25 for free shipping”!

As one might guess from the title, this is hardly an in-depth survey on any aspect of the subject matter, rather, in a bit over 100 pages, this looks at religious manifestations, figures, movements, etc., from prehistoric ages right on through its publication in 2005 (the current Pope's election is the penultimate entry here). The book is formatted in a horizontal alignment, and (keeping with the “timeline” theme) a line goes across most of the pages (there are some section-starting pages with more extensive essays on progressive “ages”), with small dated paragraphs pointing to their appropriate position within the flow of time. The pages are all at least half taken up by pictures, so the amount of text is at a minimum, however, due to the vastness of the subjects (and the lack of any particular narrative to move things along), this is not exactly a quick read … think of it more like a stack of many hundreds of index cards, and you'll get the feeling of what the reading experience is like. The text is also color-coded to reflect where the individual person, cult, construction, etc., was, with six colors representing the populated continents, and Australia.

Again, I have read extensively on Religion and there was very little in here which I hadn't at least heard of (with the exception of the remarkable temple of Borobudur in Java, which I have since Googled the heck out of), but I was amazed at how my perceptions of when various things happened in relation to others were off, sometimes by embarrassingly large spans of time. This comes, I suppose, from studying things within their own little bubble, and if there wasn't some major “time anchoring” event (like the Spaniards destroying the Aztec and Incan cultures) to put them into context, they were free to float off to whatever corner of my temporal grid that they seemed to fit.

It is fascinating to realize how old the Vedas or the great Chinese sages are, especially when compared to Buddhism, and more especially Vajrayana (the Gelugpa sect being scarcely 600 years old, at least on the physical plane), how far into the “A.D.” zone the Mishna and Talmud appeared, and the fact that Mormonism is slightly older than Shinto! Perhaps it is from my getting older, but at this point in my life, I carry around fifty years worth of memories, and (when I'm not asking the opinion of my knees) I generally feel like a young man, so it is amazing to me that the Spanish conquest of the great American cultures in Mexico and Peru are only ten or so “sets” of memories ago (which, if I hold to the illusion of youth, would imply that it's simply a flash within pan-historical time).

While this might not be a “light read”, I suspect that I will make frequent use of it as a reference for a quick check of when what happened in relationship to when other things happened, and so find it highly valuable, and a delightful surprise. It certainly is an interesting read, even for those not so into the subject matter, as the level of illustration is quite remarkable, and a bit like taking a nice little tour through the ages!

Staying on the theme of “one would think”, given that I bought this on a clearance sale, one would think that one would be safe in the assumption that The Illustrated Timeline of Religion was out of print or otherwise unavailable, but both Amazon and have it, the latter at a discount, and the former having new/used vendors with “very good” copies going for as little as three bucks and change. Cover price on this is only $12.95, so it's pretty reasonable even if you ended up picking a copy up at your local book retailer. Again, I wasn't expecting to learn much from this, and was quite pleasantly surprised to have come to have many things either clarified or added to my data banks! If you have any interest in the history of religion, this should prove to be a quite enlightening little book to have around for reference.

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Tags: book review
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