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Ariadne's Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind Hardcover – February 8, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

One need not be a Jungian to appreciate this fine book as both a reference and a contemporary introduction to symbolism. Psychiatrist Stevens (Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming, LJ 3/15/96) treats the specialist or lay reader to a brilliant integration of psychological archetypes with Darwinian theory. Symbols, a "natural Esperanto," transcend ethnic and linguistic boundaries while absorbing and reflecting cultural (as well as biological) influences. Stevens draws heavily on Jung but goes beyond him, making effective use of philosophy, semiotics, biology, and dream research. His "Thesaurus" (over 300 pages) is divided into four parts: Physical Environment; Culture and Psyche; People, Animals, and Plants; and The Body. Stevens presents vast learning easily and precisely in prose that is at once calm and exciting. A bibliography rich with recent references, a glossary, and a separate symbol index combine to make this a standardAif not the standardAin the field; essential for most libraries.AE. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"This is a fascinating book, packed with ideas and out-of-the-way information. . . . a thesaurus of symbols. [Stevens] aim[s] to provide clues to the origin, meaning, and development of some of the most common symbols and, like Ariadne's thread, to trace connections between different parts of what seems like an impenetrable maze."--John Habgood, The Times Higher Education Supplement



"What sets this book apart from many others . . . is Stevens's viewpoint. He approaches symbols as an evolutionary psychologist . . . one who seeks to understand the biological reasons underlying our symbols. . . . [This] would be of interest to anyone who tries to understand themselves, whether they do it by biology, psychology, astrology, or tarot. The symbols are always there."--David Smillie, Discovery Channel



"One need not be a Jungian to appreciate this fine book both as a reference and a contemporary introduction to symbolism. A brilliant integration of psychological archetypes with Darwinian theory. . . . Stevens presents vast learning easily and precisely in prose that is at once calm and exciting. . . . [A] standard--if not the standard--in the field; essential for most libraries."--Library Journal (starred review)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; F First Edition Used edition (February 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691004595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691004594
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,476,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is one of the most important, scholarly yet immmensely readable and accessible books on the subject of symbols, dreams and man's search and need for meaning written in recent years. The author's style is direct and lucid. He bridges the mystical and scientific in a way that few can do. In so doing brings the reader to a level of understanding which reflects the author's own evolutionary biological perspective, yet all the while paying homage to the miraculous function of the numinous in the human psyche. Anyone interested in dreams and symbols, their biological, psychological and spiritual significance should read this beautifully written book. Any person pursuing their own analysis or training in analytical psychology, dynamic psychotherapy or psychology will be edified and much enriched by it. It is a gem to be bought, treasured, read and re-read many times.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was seduced by the cool title and a positive review, but now I find myself questioning the wisdom of this purchase. The entries and content seem to be little more than a distillation of the more thorough Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. The bibliography has a smattering of Jungian and evolutionary psychology and other assorted pop science books, but only a few relevant sources on symbols (notably the aforementioned Penguin). Now, I'm not opposed to the idea of a more interdisciplinary approach or a sort unique spin on things, but I just found that it wasn't adding much value in this case. It is trying to be both a dictionary and an overarching discussion of symbols, but falls short on both counts. This is simply inferior as a dictionary and the discussion is too fluffy to leave any lasting impression (if you're into Jungian psychology and dream interpretation, your mileage may vary).

If you want an accessible book on symbols that reads like a pop science book, this may a good choice (I do sort of like the way it categorizes entries rather than just listing everything alphabetically). However, this book is too fluffy, subjective, and oversimplified for my taste.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was interesting. It was about myths and everything. The only thing is the author assumes you know everything he's talking about. So, you'll have to constantly look things up to understand fully what he is talking about. I recommend this book if you don't mind doing that.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have worked with over a dozen symbol dictionaries. This one holds promise. If I am reading through the pages with no particular goal in mind it is intriguing, fun and sometimes has a unique perspective compared to my other texts. It is fairly rich in content for many of the symbols. Unfortunately when intentionally searching for a specific symbol through the index, the page numbers listed were often frankly wrong -- by more than a page or two. Very frustrating. Unfortunate. Now I find myself reaching less and less often to even try this resource. I would suspect that this is more a publisher/editor technical problem, than it is the the fault of the author. If the indexing is fixed in future editions, my rating would likely improve substantially.

Perhaps I should keep my book for pleasure and they should (thoughtfully not haphazardly) turn it into a Kindle product to solve the indexing problem.
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Format: Hardcover
The introductory chapters are quite useful to understand man's relationship with symbols, but as I see it, the major goal of the book is to provide an inventory of the most frequently occuring and most obvious symbols. They are grouped around given topics and are briefly described. I liked the general introduction better than the symbol descriptions, which I found too short and general.
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Format: Paperback
A book rich in many ways. It shows how man is tightly bound to his/her archetypes and evolutionary history. Almost everything humans feel, think, do, or fantasize has roots in evolution. Symbols are representing the archaic longings and perceptions that were incorporated into our brain/mind.

The only problem I had was that the language of the writing, although very rich in content, was unnecessarily tangled and complex. Such complexity did not add to the value of the writing. It just made it less enjoyable to read.

Overalll, however, a very good book that gives one insights to the depths of human evolutionary nature. I recommend it.
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