Reading this book, however, was something completely different than I expected, and it stands as one of the top ten books of my life. It was the source of a paradigm shift in how I viewed history and the ascent of man (with a nod to Jacob Bronowski’s great work of the same title). It was with The Alphabet Versus the Goddess that I began to keep notes, with page notations on a separate piece of paper, which are still tucked into the book and which I use for reference even now. To quote Larry Dossey, MD and author, from the back cover of the book: “This is a bomb of a book – a highly original, titillating thesis that will delight, infuriate, challenge and enlighten.” I was not infuriated, but I could see how other readers might be.
Before his death in 2009 Dr. Leonard Shlain (comedian Albert Brooks’ father-in-law), was chief of laparoscopic surgery at California Medical Center and also the author of Art & Physics: Parallel Vision in Space, Time, and Light. His credentials as a respected traditional physician and a published author were established before this book. The table contents for The Alphabet Versus the Goddess gives a glimpse of the journey through the evolution of knowledge in store for the reader. From Image/Word, Hunters/Gathers, Right Brain/Left Brain, Males: Death/Females: Life, the writing forms associated with the pre-Biblical religions – cuneiform and hieroglyphs – and on to the Hebraic writing, Shulain describes the foundations of the development of knowledge and how it was transmitted to the people of these cultures. The book explores oral traditions, Asian pictographic based forms of writing, as well as the advent of Christianity and Islam with their accompanying forms of writing, and the author analyzes the collective influence and impact on their host cultures. The book’s scope spans all the way to the present where a new literacy is evolving that encompasses the Internet generation – screen based, not the written page, which is more search oriented, icon-driven and visual, less linear and verbal. It’s a fascinating exploration into how knowledge evolved, how it was conveyed, with both oral and written traditions, and how these forms of content conveyance impacted the very foundations of how people thought, and how those modes of thinking molded various stages and forms of society. I highly recommend this thought-provoking and enlightening work. I’m due to read it again soon.