Book Review: Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

This was Huxley’s follow up to his much lauded The Doors of Perception. The volume I got actually contained both books, though I decided to review them separately. I hope you don’t think that’s cheating. The book carries on very much in the same vein as Doors, with its mix of visual experience, mysticism and mind-altering drugs. As with the earlier book, it’s difficult to write an ordered review as the book is not all ordered. It would be unfair to characterise as a stream of consciousness, though that would be at the end of the road which Heaven and Hell starts to walk down.

What it is, is fascinating and thought-provoking. The fact that it meanders around without making any points may frustrate many readers, myself included. It’s a bit like walking around a landscape without any paths with a guide who keeps pointing out random features. Some you will find interesting, some you won’t. So in spite of its brevity, the book is a rich source of material that one could take and write about. Because of this, I cannot write at any length for to do it justice would require taking every third paragraph and writing an essay dissecting it and exploring the avenues it points down.

Some of its most interesting points are, in my opinion, those relating to ‘religion’. Anyone who has read Charles Foster’s Wired For God may recall a few references he made back to Huxley’s work. Indeed, anyone who has read and enjoyed the more ‘religious’ aspects of this may well want to read Foster as a follow-up. One point to emphasise (perhaps unfairly) is that Huxley points out the shamanistic origins of liturgy, a point I have often made but which has fallen on the deaf ears, or otherwise aggressive defensiveness, of high church traditionalists. But I’ll let you discover that for yourself, along with a host of other well-articulated, thought-provoking insights. You might not agree with it all, but it’s well worth having a peek.

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