Book #13 of 2013

Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality is Gary Lachman’s latest bio in a series of books about important figures in the Western Esoteric Tradition. And like its subject the book is by turns fascinating and frustrating.

At times it seems Lachman, whose books are almost always clearly organized and engaging, has bit off more than he can chew. There’s a lot of speculating and justifying, though he’s careful to make sure the reader knows when the evidence is scanty, or open to interpretation, or simply absent. Though HPB was a major public figure and an interesting thinker, her life and work were controversial–she had enemies, she had detractors, and not all of them were honest. There are fakers (and fakirs), plots, calumnies, exposures, publicity stunts, investigations, splinter groups and factions, political intrigues, etc. Lachman tries to pilot a course through multiple accounts and contrary motivations by key players to sort out what’s true…this drags down his narrative a bit, and makes for some clunky writing now and again.

But Blavatsky herself is so damnably interesting, so vital, and so important that the book is definitely worth a read, even though it’s occasionally a slog. Lachman does the best he can to sort out the myriad complexities of this figure, and though he has some obvious sympathies for her, he is fair and reasonable in his conclusions.

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