The Secret Teachers of the Western World

Gary Lachman. Penguin/Tarcher, $18.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-399-16680-8

Lachman (Revolutionaries of the Soul), a musician and occult historian, constructs a loose argument about humankind’s flow from a “right brain” (intuitive) consciousness to a “left brain” (rational) consciousness, in this elaborate history of esoteric theory and thought from antiquity to the present. It’s less a depiction of “secret teachers” than the title implies, though the text makes plenty of space for individual figures. Lachman makes the enthralling, complex work accessible by clearly connecting different concepts. He begins by laying out a brief description of what esoteric thinking entails and moves chronologically through an almost unwieldy number of disparate intellectual threads. Lachman brings the work full circle by reflecting on the state of esoteric knowledge today and returning to his right brain/left brain formulation. He suggests that mankind may be moving into another creative period like the Renaissance, in which both forms of consciousness coexist; though he says he seeks to “make no prophecy” beyond that he believes such a period is possible. Lachman’s book is most successful as a thoughtful history of “rejected knowledge” and its proponents, and on those terms it can be rich and rewarding. (Dec.)