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Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World Paperback – February 22, 1990

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This volume completes Russell's history of the concept of the Devil from antiquity to the present. (The series includes The Devil, Cornell, 1977; Satan, LJ 10/15/81; and Lucifer , LJ 11/15/84.) The concept, fragmented somewhat by the Reformation and even more by the rise of rationalism, became in the 19th century a powerful symbol of rebellion against aristocracy and "an ironic metaphor of the corruption and foolishness of humanity." In the 20th century genocide has made the Devil theologically and philosophically an issue. Russell largely succeeds in being the objective historian who carefully pursues the persistence of this concept in popular culture, art, literature, philosophy, and theology. An excellent and important intellectual history. Carolyn M. Craft, English, Philosophy, & Modern Language Dept., Longwood Coll., Farmville, Va.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Jeffrey Burton Russell is not only a conscientious historian, he is also an introspective essayist who acknowledges his own continuing struggle to understand the nature and the source of evil."―Robert Coles, New York Times Book Review

"It is more than the history of demonological imagination as it has been displayed for half a millennium in theological controversies, in poetry, novels, paintings, and witch trials: it is the history of European man trying to cope with the terrifying riddle of radical evil. . . . Both an extremely rich scholarly work and an exiquisite exercise in a topic that is unlikely ever to die off in our civilization."―Leslek Kolakowski, Journal of Modern History

"This book moves with sustained seriousness and brilliance across five centuries, from Luther's time to our own . . . and, although it has all the virtues of great intellectual history, it is explicitly rooted in a profound moral analysis of our own era."―M. D. Aeschliman, National Review

"No few sentences can adequately convey the book's richness of content and seriousness of purpose. Russell has without doubt bequeathed us a magnificent synthesis of Western culture's modern, tortuous grappling with the ideas of radical evil and the devil."―Brian Easlea, American Historical Review

"An excellent and important intellectual history."―Library Journal


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (February 22, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801497183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801497186
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #507,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A very thorough, well-written examination of how Satan and evil have been

viewed since the Reformation. Russell takes a historian's stance to examine

a subject both controversial and mystifying at best. No stone is left unturned

as he looks at how the devil is viewed by church officials, commonfolk,

and intelligentsia,and how these views are reflected in the artwork and pop-culture

of those times. This work manages at once to be intellectual and an easy read,

thorough and engrossing. A must for anyone fascinated by the forces that have shaped Christian thought.
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Format: Paperback
"Mephistopheles" is the fourth and final volume in Jeffery Russell's excellent series on the history and myth of the Devil. Here Russell examines the contemporary beliefs and myths of the Dark Lord in detail, from the Renaissance to the present day. Russell explorers not only traditional Christian views on the Devil, but also his incarnations in Islam, Judaism, and others.

The idea of the Devil, the very personification of evil, has changed much since the early days of Judaism and Christianity. By the dawn of the Renaissance, the Devil had undergone a kind of "rebirth" himself. Though the onset of the early modern era had seen the beginnings of science and reason, superstition and religious persecution was at an all time high. Russell examines the role of the Devil in the Reformation and during the height of the Witch Craze. Though they differed on many points of theology, Catholics and Protestants definately agreed that Satan continued to be a very real and very dangerous foe. Russell continues his story into the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, which saw the Devil lose his teeth, followed by his romanticization in the 19th century as a rebellious anti-hero.

Though still feared by the credulous and railed against in the pulpits by evangelicals, Satan has largely been reduced to a shadow of his former self, an advertising ploy whose imagery is used to sell everything from deviled ham to movie tickets. Russell's books are generally considered the standard modern work on the history and myth of the Devil, and this volume examplifies why this is so. Well worth checking out.
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Format: Paperback
To be frank, I haven’t read any of the previous three of Jeffery Burton Russell’s books which together comprise a “history of the Devil” from antiquity through the twentieth century. I started at the end, because the only other volume I own, the third in the series, is packed away in a box somewhere and it didn’t have the chance to catch my eye. The reason why series like these attract me so much is beyond me – maybe I’m just drawn to big, unwieldy reading projects. However, judging from the last volume alone, this seems to be at a superficial treatment, with little to offer someone already interested in the history of religious ideas.

This volume picks up with the beginning of the Reformation, whose emphasis on sola fide revitalized older medieval ideas of diabology. Some interesting, and scary, fragments of Martin Luther’s life are retold, including the tidbit that one of his most important biographers, Heiko Oberman, described Luther’s whole existence as a “war with Satan.” He also uses this section of the book to look at the diabology of John Calvin and sixteenth-century mystic-contemplatives St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.

With the appearance of the Enlightenment, increasing popularity of empiricism, rationalism, and use of the scientific method, people started to take diabology – or at least the possible existence of the Devil – much less seriously (which is hardly a surprise). In this section of the book, Chapter III, the reader gets a plodding, thirty page-long piece of exegesis on Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” which while it is a poem largely about the Devil, seems to consist of too much summary and too much ham-handed literary analysis.
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