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The Devil: A Biography Hardcover – October 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 315 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Co; First Edition edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805030824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805030822
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"Though this biography is definitely unauthorized," Peter Stanford writes in his preface, "and the subject has not cooperated -- as far as I am aware -- I did at least manage to track down not one but three exorcists." We're used to seeing entertaining biographies of the famous, but here's something new: a very readable biography of the most infamous of all, the Devil himself. Peter Stanford presents a great amount of historical and scholarly material, yet manages to do so in a witty and highly intelligent style that keeps the reader turning the pages. From early Mesopotamia through the long history of Christianity, from medieval witch hunts to today's heavy metal rockers and Satanic cults, Stanford manages to, as he puts it, present a "very personal exploration of the highs and lows of the Devil's influence."

From Publishers Weekly

Now that Jack Miles has written God's biography (God: A Biography, 1995), Peter Stanford must give the Devil his due and tell the life story of Old Scratch. The personification of evil in a figure who co-exists with the goodness of God entered Western religious thinking through the demonology of Zoroastrianism. Thus, late Judaism and early Christianity divided up the world into good powers and evil powers. As Stanford narrates the story, the living character of an Evil One persisted through Puritan America but began to lose its grip amid the cultural and scientific optimism of the 19th century. Yet, he argues, since evil has persisted in our century, as evidenced by the Holocaust and other horrors, perhaps we shouldn't do away with the idea of Satan just yet. In spite of the fact that contemporary culture seems to have the left behind a personified figure who wreaks havoc and evil in the world, Stanford points to a number of cultural currents like film and Satanic cults to show that Satan is alive and well in our society, even if the contours of his figure are visible only in the shadows, which, as Stanford argues, may be just the way Satan wants it. Stanford offers a workmanlike treatment of ideas and themes that have already been explored in fuller and more interesting ways by Gerald Messadie (The History of the Devil, 1996) and Andrew Delbanco (The Death of Satan, 1995).
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was really impressed, especially after reading the review of the other amazon customer...
This book is no novel, but it is a fairly comprehensive history of how people see the devil, whether some kind of gargoyle looking monster or the con man or even a metaphor for the evils of mankind.
Stanford does a good job of showing one thing above all others - that people will see the devil they want, and the devil won't dispute them.
For a biography, the book actually talks about the devil less than the circumstances where he was a power, and how people react(ed) to him. Less a biography than a reoccuring theme, it is still worth reading if you like history books.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I try to keep a balanced view. It helps on a day to day basis when every issue is polarized along political ideology, media bias and regional values. At a fundamental level, this polarization is an effort to distinguish good from bad in a complex miasma of influences for even the most mundane circumstances. It's how we derive values, ethics and morals. With that as your premise, I read Azra Ashlan's "Zealot" on my last summer vacation. Having felt I had a good grasp on the historical figure of Jesus, I immediately sought to understand his prime no avail. There really is no one, either historical or allegorical that fits this role, so you have to suspend some of the criteria around an actual flesh and blood person and accept the closest mythical equivalent: Satan.

This book does a good job in portraying Satan's character development, the cultural need for and persistent antithetical duality of the many iterations of Satan from the pre-Christian era to the contextual present (mid 1990's in this case). My big take away is that while the original Christians were absolute geniuses in posthumously creating the single immortal and benevolent Jesus, those that assumed the powerful and lucrative roles of leaders in the ensuing Catholic See needed the scapegoat Satan as their own behaviors and ambitions strayed far from the original teachings.
I'd write more but feel that it would just fuel the comment section here on Amazon and it will load up with the usual vitriolic banter found on nearly every comment thread on the internet.
I liked this book. It's well written by one who clearly exhausted his patience with an overly prescriptive Christian youth. You may read it with a different perspective and feel otherwise. Oh one way to find out.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David Kirby on May 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkable survey, one that is succinct, good-humored, and detailed. It recounts the entire life story of the Lord of Pain, from pre-Christian beginnings through today, with many a telling and relevant glance at other cultures and thought systems. What matters in the end is less belief in the Devil than his enduring appeal; as Stanford says, we may not believe in vampires, but we love movies and books about them. After reading this book, you'll understand a lot more about the devil, especially when you realize how deeply human he is.
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