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Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley Hardcover – September 14, 2000

3.9 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The legendary Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is a tantalizing and bizarre subject. As an occult leader, heroin addict, sexual adventurer, misogynist, and visionary, he is the inspiration for many vile Gothic protagonists. Author W. Somerset Maugham even devoted a novel, The Magician, to this chilling figure of indulgence and religious mockery. Like any good biographer, Lawrence Sutin set out to discover the man behind the myth. After considerable research, Sutin admits that Crowley was "a shameless scoffer at Christian virtue" and "a spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family," but he also sees him as a 20th century figure as "protean, brilliant, courageous, and flabbergasting as ever you could imagine."

Consider these facts about the man who named himself "The Great Beast": He was one of the first Westerners to seriously study Buddhism and Yoga. He radically redesigned the traditional Tarot deck (thus the "Crowley deck"). Contrary to common belief, he was never known to participate in satanic ritual--to do so would acknowledge the Christian church, which he was loathe to do (although he nicknamed his son "The Christ Child"). These are but a few of the surprising morsels one can glean from this excellent biography. Don't expect to find Crowley a likable figure. Do, however, expect to meet a flamboyant man who challenged all forms of religious, sexual, and social oppression and hence became a revered visionary and a reviled demon. --Tara West

From Library Journal

The name Aleister Crowley has generally been associated with hedonistic, self-absorbed, occult-infatuated Victorian English intellectuals. Sutin (creative writing, Hamlin Coll.; A Postcard Memoir) does much to expand upon this simplistic perception, showing that while Crowley was indeed all these things, he was also much more. Crowley was an arrogant misogynist, yet he was also a very gifted poet and visionary who painfully drove himself to seek deeper visions through drug-induced vision quests and rampant sexual experimentation. He was prominent in the movement to bring Eastern philosophies into Christian England and America and sought enlightenment in the rawness of nature. Sutin wonderfully details the eccentricities of this puzzling man while being careful not to overburden his narrative with academic psychological theories or personal observations and conclusions. The result is a fascinating, easily readable narrative about one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of the late Victorian period. Recommended for all libraries.DGlenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ., Honolulu, HI
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (September 14, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312252439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312252434
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,643,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Graham D. Lincoln VINE VOICE on May 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is an Enthralling Perspective of the life of Aleister Crowley.... "the rest of the story."
"Do What Thou Wilt" fills-in numerous gaps in Crowley's own writings and maintains an open perspective until the last few chapters. This is good balancing material to add to a Crowley research library.
Throughout most of the book, the author seems to have an (almost) non-judgmental perspective--giving us a "here's the facts" biography. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It was very nice to read-about all the things Crowley sort-of Glossed-over in his own works. Also, I found it interesting that the author began the book with a list of Crowley's accomplishments that would have been well-recognized, if not for his "Beastly" reputation and eccentric (self-destructive / self-defeating) behavior. The author had access to a wealth of information, including access to individuals in the O.T.O.
I felt that the author maintained his mostly non-judgmental view until the last few chapters--when it becomes evident that the author had pretty-much written Crowley off as a "Dirty Old Man"--a sad case of Self-deception and a delusory drug addict.
However, unlike most of the biographical material I have read about Crowley, this book tries very hard to show the positive achievements of "The Beast" as well as the more scandalous aspects of the man. Yet, it is very difficult to perceive Crowley in a positive light, when the Misogynistic (wife-beating) scenarios are brought to light--which, if true, obviously makes Crowley a criminal worthy of little respect.
Over-all, the book is quite impressive and it seems to give a more-or-less positive outlook on Crowley's life, although it does tend to dispel illusions of Crowley's grandeur and "Prophet" status.
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Format: Paperback
This book is certainly not for those who are merely curious or casually interested in Crowley. Let's be frank, Sutin's biography is not light reading by any means. He gives us nearly 500 pages of details; no fluff, no sensationalism, and very little speculation beyond that which is evident by actual facts. Because of this, Do What Thou Wilt will surely disappoint those who prefer to think that Crowley was a Satan-worshipping black magician, those who place him on a pedestal as a perfected spiritual master and those who are looking for juicy tales of sex, drugs, and blasphemy. But anyone who has read Crowley's autobiographical Confessions of Aleister Crowley should read Do What Thou Wilt to balance out Crowley's own one-sided version of his life. Also, those who are already familiar with Crowley's contributions to the study and practice of the occult and who are hungry for a thorough, detail-oriented study of his life would appreciate this book. At any rate, I would not recommend this as a Crowley bio for beginners.

Sutin gives us a carefully researched book. He makes no claims without verifiable sources. Unlike any other bio (or auto-bio) I have encountered concerning Crowley, Sutin seems to have no agenda beyond telling us the story of his subjects life as well as can be gathered from the source material available (which he seems to have studied well). He also does a fine job of carefully and fairly pointing out inconsistencies and differing accounts from different sources (or sometimes from different works by Crowley himself). This is refreshing, as most writers on Crowley seem to want to condemn, apologize or praise Crowley.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a book to reinforce your beliefs about Crowley as a Beast or as a Saint, don't read this book. This is the first apparently unbiased biography of Crowley. Yet the author has done extensive and exhaustive research, examining Crowley as a man who had an enormous impact on modern culture, like it or not. It shows the heroic and superhuman side of Crowley as well as the depraved and self-hating side, even-handedly, without exaggeration or sensationalism. The book is beautifully written in general.
This is a mainstream biography, and I feel it will open the gate to further discovery and analysis by mainstream culture. It is remarkable that such a man as Crowley until now had no biography which was ever filed in the biography section.
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Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with little knowledge of the occult or of Aleister Crowley. I had previously read The Book of the Law, and was intrigued enough by its poetry, radical ideas, and mysterious conception that I wished to know more of the author.

Lawrence Sutin does a splendid job at delving beyond the myths and legends of Crowley's life to reveal his humanity, with all accompanying flaws and strengths. He also presents Crowley's various beliefs and philosophies in an astute and evenhanded manner. Mr. Sutin is neither an apologist nor an ardent opponent of the Beast, but a thorough and incisive biographer who balances the varied aspects of Crowley's life.

Sutin's writing style is fluid and articulate, and his subject is so fascinating that the reader can't help but be propelled through the book. I was continually compelled to discover what happened next, and left wanting to read more when the story was over.

This isn't simply a book for occultists or Crowley devotees, but for anyone interested in cultural history. Love him or hate him, Crowley's continued influence and impact on Western society is undeniable.
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