The best books about the Beast

Phil Baker Author Of City of the Beast: The London of Aleister Crowley
By Phil Baker

Who am I?

I used to love Dennis Wheatley’s Satanic pulp fiction when I was about twelve—like a gateway drugand graduated on to read my first Crowley biography a year or two later. I was gripped. As the years went by I developed what might seem like more serious interests in reading about psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and surrealism, but it’s really the same area. I used to think it was funny that the Dewey library system puts Freud and the occult next to each other, but now I see it makes perfect sense. It’s all about the mind, and inner experience, and Crowley remains one of its towering figures. 


I wrote...

City of the Beast: The London of Aleister Crowley

By Phil Baker,

Book cover of City of the Beast: The London of Aleister Crowley

What is my book about?

Aleister Crowley, the self-styled “Beast 666,” had a love-hate relationship with London but it was where he spent most of his life, and the capital of the late Victorian culture that created him. Exploring Crowley’s city through 93 places ending with 93 Jermyn Street, this book is a biography by sites, drawing on Crowley’s diaries to give an exceptionally intimate picture of the Beast and the women he knew. We follow Crowley searching for prostitutes in Hyde Park and Pimlico, drinking absinthe in Soho, and down on his luck in a Paddington slumbut never losing sight of the magical illumination that drove him: “the abiding rapture,” he wrote, “which makes a bus in the street sound like an angel choir!”

The books I picked & why

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The Great Beast

By John Symonds,

Book cover of The Great Beast

Why this book?

Symonds sometimes writes as if he has a grudge against Crowley, but despite his obvious moral disapproval it’s still the classic biography. When it first came out in 1951, Karl Germer (head of Crowley’s magical order, Ordo Templi Orientis) was appalled, and said it would set the cause back a thousand years. Instead it transformed Crowley into a cult figure, from being unfashionable and half-forgotten at his death in 1947 to being on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper twenty years later. Since then it's been through several expanding editions and versions, including King of the Shadow Realm in 1989 and finally The Beast 666 in 1997. Hugely readable, for years this book “was” Crowley, and it is also the only major biography written by someone who actually knew him.

The Great Beast

By John Symonds,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Beast as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is probably the best introduction to the life of Aleister Crowley. Welcome to http://www.facebook.com/equinoxofgods


Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley

By Lawrence Sutin,

Book cover of Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley

Why this book?

The most serious and culturally informed of the modern biographies, but still enthusiastic and enjoyable. Sutin is particularly good on Crowley’s religious and political aspects, and it reads unmistakably like a book by what a friend of mine would call “a real grown-up,” which isn’t always the case with books on occult subjects. Sutin makes a strong case for Crowley’s importance and larger significance, and the book’s wider perspective can be gauged by the spread of his solid, quality books on other subjects, including Buddhism and Philip K Dick.  

Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley

By Lawrence Sutin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Do What Thou Wilt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Do What Thou Wilt: An exploration into the life and works of a modern mystic, occultist, poet, mountaineer, and bisexual adventurer known to his contemporaries as "The Great Beast"

Aleister Crowley was a groundbreaking poet and an iconoclastic visionary whose literary and cultural legacy extends far beyond the limits of his notoriety as a practitioner of the occult arts.

Born in 1875 to devout Christian parents, young Aleister's devotion scarcely outlived his father, who died when the boy was twelve. He reached maturity in the boarding schools and brothels of Victorian England, trained to become a world-class mountain climber, and…


Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley

By Richard Kaczynski,

Book cover of Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley

Why this book?

Weighing in at somewhere over 300,00 words across over 700 pages, this is the most comprehensive Crowley biography. Stylistically is it no great treat for the reader, but it was obviously a staggering amount of work and demands respect: assembling this much material is an achievement. The effect—with generous backup detail on minor figuresis often like a gigantic Wikipedia entry. Kaczynski is one of the Crowley faithful, and he tends to look on the bright side. Consequently the book can be rather pious, as well as occasionally naive (Kaczynski quotes Freud’s supposed lauding of occult artist Austin Osman Spare, for exampleone of Spare’s tall talesas if he really said it, to which you can only say “As if…”). Still a very useful work of reference. 

Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley

By Richard Kaczynski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Perdurabo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A rigorously researched biography of the founder of modern magick, as well as a study of the occult, sexuality, Eastern religion, and more
 
The name “Aleister Crowley” instantly conjures visions of diabolic ceremonies and orgiastic indulgences—and while the sardonic Crowley would perhaps be the last to challenge such a view, he was also much more than “the Beast,” as this authoritative biography shows. 

Perdurabo—entitled after the magical name Crowley chose when inducted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn—traces Crowley’s remarkable journey from his birth as the only son of a wealthy lay preacher to his death in a…


A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley

By Martin Booth,

Book cover of A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley

Why this book?

A relaxed and urbane book by a man who could really write: Booth’s other work includes poetry and the acclaimed novel Hiroshima Joe, along with non-fiction on cannabis and opium, both very relevant to Crowley. It seems to speed up towards the end and has no source notes, which I thought might be because Booth was already racing against the cancer that killed him. Now I think it was just pressure of other workhe was prolific. I was at the launch when alcoholic Crowley disciple Gerald Suster, also a Crowley biographer and also now dead, staggered to his feet and began a rambling question with the Crowley greeting “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” to which Booth cordially replied “93!” The crowd had no idea what they were talking about.      

A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley

By Martin Booth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Magick Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Crowley advocated the practice of magick and encouraged his followers to create their own life styles and develop a keen self knowledge. He wrote many books on his subject and is still revered as the master of the dark arts with books and websites and followers all over the world. Martin Booth has used his skills as a biographer to encapsulate the man and his extraordinary life-style in a chilling tale of magic and intrigue.


The Magical World of Aleister Crowley

By Francis King,

Book cover of The Magical World of Aleister Crowley

Why this book?

An atmospheric biographya book you can curl up withby British occultist King (not to be confused with the more ‘literary establishment’ Francis King, a respected gay novelist; our man sometimes called himself Francis X King to distinguish between them). King was a quietly eccentric character who had been traumatized by his experiences in the Korean War, and at one stage sold ice cream on Bournemouth beach. Steeped in the Golden Dawn tradition, his other books include works on alchemy, Western esotericism, tantra, and more, and he was a friend of Crowley’s friend Gerald Yorke, who also wrote on those subjects. I’ve always had a soft spot for their charmingly old-school, gentlemanly style of bygone British occult scholarship.

The Magical World of Aleister Crowley

By Francis King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Magical World of Aleister Crowley as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by King, Francis


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in occult, World War 2, and London?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dread in the Beast, The Sign in the Moonlight, and Leytonstone if you like this list.