Read Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis Online


1917 France, Lamar Jimmerson finds a little book of Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles, alchemical metaphors, and the Codex Pappus said to be the sacred Gnomonic text. He expands the noble brotherhood, survives scandalous schism, bids for governor of Indiana, and sees Gnomons gather in East Texas mobile home. This is an America of misfits and con men, oddballs and innocen1917 France, Lamar Jimmerson finds a little book of Atlantean puzzles, Egyptian riddles, alchemical metaphors, and the Codex Pappus said to be the sacred Gnomonic text. He expands the noble brotherhood, survives scandalous schism, bids for governor of Indiana, and sees Gnomons gather in East Texas mobile home. This is an America of misfits and con men, oddballs and innocents....

Title : Masters of Atlantis
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781585670215
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 248 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Masters of Atlantis Reviews

  • Sam Quixote
    2019-06-10 00:42

    A couple of gullible fools are conned into believing a book of gibberish contains the mysteries of the universe. They establish a secret society based around the text and spend the rest of their lives being idiots.Charles Portis’ Masters of Atlantis is a light comedy/satire on cults and secret societies that should never have been a full length novel given what little substance there is here. There’s no plot or story, just a revolving door of dipshits pretending to each other that they’re wise, trying their hands at bizarre get-rich-quick schemes like alchemy, and attempting to grow their cult across America by obtaining a measure of influence in the US government (which they of course fail at). Watching the two deluded self-appointed “masters” convince themselves of their brilliance was amusing at first but, once you realise early on that it’s not going anywhere and is basically repeating itself with one moron after another believing they’re onto some major secret that doesn’t exist, it becomes oh so tiresome. One character towards the end sums up the reading experience well with “You get hardly any sense of movement or destination”, so I think Portis was at least aware of what he had with this turkey. It’s not a successful comedy – I never laughed once because there’s nothing really funny here – nor does it say anything especially worthwhile about secret societies or the psychology behind its members. Portis does keep most of what the Gnomon society is about enshrouded in mystery for the reader throughout, which is cleverly appropriate given the subject matter, until we get a passage from their Bible towards the end which reveals that it’s full of unreadable meaningless drivel. But we didn’t really need to underline how stupid these people are given that there isn’t a single scene that shows them otherwise. I guess it was a joke. Ho… ho… I got the strong impression that this would make a really good Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers movie (the Coens directed the latest version of Portis’ best known novel, True Grit – great movie but I wasn’t as impressed with the book. Guess I’m just not a Portis fan!) as it has the same kind of eccentric characters and absurd tone of movies like Rushmore and Burn After Reading. In their hands this material might well turn into gold but in Portis’, Masters of Atlantis remains a very dull and unremarkable novel about nothing.

  • Krok Zero
    2019-05-31 22:48

    My favorite Portis, I think. Such perfect command of tone: stone-face deadpan treatment of screwball-nutty material, like the prose equivalent of a Buster Keaton film. The nominal subject is cults and secret societies, but that's just Portis' entry point into the same kind of earnest eccentrics that all his novels are about. These kooks' behavior is presented totally matter-of-factly. This book is so hilarious. Was there a 20th century fiction writer funnier than Portis? I'm failing at writing an interesting review, so I'll just reproduce one of the many LOL-worthy passages. The context of this is that a hack writer has been hired to write the biography of protag Lammar Jimmerson, leader of the Gnomon Society, and Jimmerson (isn't that a hilarious name?) is none too happy with the liberties taken by the biographer:‘Corpulent genius’ was fair enough. ‘Viselike grip’ was good. It was pleasing to see his oyster eyes described as ‘two live coals.’ The fellow had a touch, all right, but how had he come up with such things as ‘the absolute powers of a Sultan’ and ‘the sacred macaws of Tamputocco’ and ‘Peruvian metals unknown to science’ and ‘the Master awash in his oversize bathtub’ and ‘likes to work with young people’ and ‘a spray of spittle’? Why was he, Lamar Jimmerson, who never raised his voice, shown to be expressing opinions he had never held in such an exclamatory way that droplets of saliva flew from his lips?Peruvian metals unknown to science.Found a good review here from which I will also quote:In his earlier books, specifically the first two, Portis's main characters are guided by what strikes me as a distinctly American brand of optimism and up-by-your-bootstraps tenacity. Masters of Atlantis, then, is about what happens when those same qualities are misguided, or manipulated by delusional hucksters, or both. At any rate, our story is under way, and it is told in a cool, unwavering deadpan that establishes vast chasms of irony as events become more preposterous, beginning with the arrival of Austin Popper, Mr. Jimmerson's on-again off-again spokesman and, without question, one of American literature's most hilarious creations.Truth. Read this thing.

  • Lars Guthrie
    2019-06-15 06:35

    I rank ‘Masters of Atlantis’ fourth best in my listing of Charles Portis novels. It’s also his fourth chronologically. Number one, of course, is ‘True Grit,’ then ‘Norwood,’ then ‘Gringos,’ and last, ‘The Dog of the South.’ If you are a fan of the quirky, of common-man American culture in quaintly bizarre representation, you can’t go wrong with any of them. In ‘Masters of Atlantis,’ Portis takes on an odd American institution that worms its way into all his work—the society with secret knowledge. Aliens are responsible for the advances of human history, or alchemists, or lost tribes. Anyway, certain unacknowledged prophets are aware of much more that the supposed experts. The truth. And they will let you in on what’s really happening, usually for a nominal fee and a special greeting for members only.This kind of thing is still around, perhaps attaining its most virulent form in the brotherhood of Beck, but more genteel fraternal organizations do survive. The heyday of Shriners and Moose, Freemasons and Rosicrucians, though, seems to have passed. That’s a movement in our history that Charles Portis undoubtedly regrets, and he joyfully pays tribute to gnostic knowing with this comic homage. It’s Portis’s most ambitious work in the number of major characters and historical context. The Gnomon society achieves intermittent fame and fortune not only through the initial efforts of Lamar Jimmerson, who returns to the States after World War I with the ‘Codex Papas’ and establishes a temple in Burnette, Indiana. There’s also Sidney Hen, fellow Master and leader of Gnomonism in England, then Canada, then Mexico, before finally being reunited with Jimmerson in the La Coma trailer park just outside of Brownsville, Texas.And there are lower ranking figures who play significant roles in this story. One of the chief disciples of the Gnomon way as it approaches the end of the twentieth century is Maurice Babcock, who Portis describes in great, and marvelous detail: ‘not fat but with the soft look of a middle-aged bachelor who has a good job, money in the bank,’ who takes ‘pills and time-released capsules throughout the day,’ avoids ‘all foods prepared in aluminum cookware,’ and eats ‘a bowl of bran at bedtime to scour the pipes.’It’s Babcock who gets to go on the inevitable Portis road trip, which has to be squeezed into the overstuffed story. Too bad, with this kind of observation: ‘The farmers of America, Babcock noticed, had stopped wearing straw hats, overalls and high-top shoes, and had gone over to the trucker’s uniform of baseball caps, tight jeans and cowboy boots, this outfit having the raffish air of the pool hall.’Women cannot be privy to the myteries of the Cone of Fate, but Portis still manages to include some strong ones who play prominent parts. Indeed, ‘Masters of Atlantis’ suffers from an embarrassment of riches. A Portis story by nature meanders, but this one especially seems to wander, nevertheless keeping the reader chuckling as it does so. The extensive cast and the extended time frame are heavy burdens for Portis's intimate and colloquial style.Would that Portis had centered the tale on the novel’s most impressive creation, Austin Popper, the quintessential glad-handler, an irrepressible promoter who is ‘sometimes facetious in a most unbecoming way,’ with ‘a vulgar inclination to make everything clear,’ and ‘a ready fund of information gleaned from newspapers and popular magazines.’ When momentum flags, you can depend on Austin Popper for a jump start. When ‘the wisdom of Atlantis’ fails to gain attention, or funding, it’s Popper who offers the chance ‘to harness secret powers, tap hidden reserves, plug in to the Telluric Currents.’ An unforgettable character with a talking blue jay, he gives new meaning to the expression seize the moment. Popper throttles it.Popper’s appearance before the Churton Committee of the Texas Senate, investigating ‘the recent infestation of the state by various cults, sects, communes, cells, covens, nature tribes and secret societies,’ is absolutely priceless. It is his personality that makes wading through the digressions, amusing as they are, of ‘Masters of Atlantis,’ worth it.

  • James
    2019-06-08 00:26

    There's underrated, there's severely underrated, . . . and then, there's Charles Portis, one of the truly all-time greatest writers you've never heard of. Oh, sure, you may be smart enough to know that he wrote the novel _True Grit_, which of course was transformed into that Great American John Wayne film, but did you have any inkling that that novel was, oh, roughly 43,879 times better than the film? (I am in no way putting down the film, which I actually like.)And this novel, Masters of Atlantis, is . . . indescribably hilarious. It's pitch perfect, it keeps throwing curve balls right up to the very last page, and you will never again look at Rosicrucians, or Masons, or any of those types, in quite the same way ever again. Which is also a good thing.Re-reading it just a week or two ago, after having left it off for ages, I'm struck by just how much Portis can cram onto a single page. And even while his satirical blade is as sharp as ever, his wit is still tempered by a great love of people, no matter how eccentric. Or perhaps, especially the eccentrics.Portis belongs in the same conversation as Pynchon, DeLillo, and (to a surprising degree) Dostoevsky.

  • Sherrie
    2019-06-21 02:44

    I'm now 4/5 on the Portis-spree I've been on since December now - this Portis novel is definitely the funniest - something in his delivery of sly little jokes will certainly remind you of the Coen Brothers, Conan O'Brien AND the Simpsons all at once. I am pretty sure the guys who wrote the great Stonecutters Simpsons episode must have loved the heck out of this book about a Atlantean secret society called the Gnomons...that seems completely fradulent & imagined - and yet, completely real in terms of fraudulent, imagined socities. Masters of Atlantis is full of shysters, scholars, scholarly-shysters and extremely talkative dreamers all drawn to one Lamar Jimmerson, the first person to translate the "Codux Pappus," the Gnomons' secret book of knowledge - which to everyone else, looks like a bewildering assortment of theorems and triangles. I didn't think you could get so much comedy mileage out of laughing at triangles, but here we are. I have one Portis book left to read and I am sad about it.

  • David Peterson
    2019-06-27 01:38

    The novel doesn't have a lot of action, and it isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's consistenly amusing the whole way, though, and Portis shows in a very entertaining way how absurd secret societies like this one are. At the same time, though, he's not unkind, and the ending is so sweet, absurd, tragic, and, at the same time, uplifting, that I didn't know exactly what to feel, but I felt it a lot. It's an ending I'll never forget, and certainly one of my favorites of all time. Link to Full Review

  • Tim
    2019-06-25 03:52

    About 70 pages into his fourth novel, Charles Portis seems to decide to turn up the heat on his simmering cauldron of fun and set the whole mess to bubbling and popping, cleanup be damned. "Masters of Atlantis" (4.5 stars) thereafter goes from a quite enjoyable, fairly amusing tale to just about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.The problems (albeit minor) the novel has in getting untracked are due mostly to the setup and history-building in this story of a secret (and often not secret at all) society dedicated to the arcane wisdom of the lost city of Atlantis. Once that's out of the way and the author spreads the focus from Gnomon Society leader Lamar Jimmerson to his minions and those odd souls forming splinter groups, it's Katy bar the door. Portis never really tells us about the Gnomon Society in any detail, but that's sort of the point. His characters believe deeply in this malarky and obfuscation, and that's enough. Clueless sincerity is a cornerstone of good humor.I tend to be prickly about humorous novels achieving the right tone — that world can wobble off its axis pretty easily for me — but "Masters of Atlantis," with a gentle/rollicking twist of accessible weirdness, had me all the way.The tale opens with World War I vet Jimmerson, in France, coming into possession of an arcane book, the Codex Pappus, a tome packed with gobbledygook and just maybe secret rites and knowledge of Atlantis and whatnot. Lamar hits the ground running, sharing his find with Sydney Hen, an Englishman who eventually is to go a little rogue with his own Temple. Lamar, meanwhile, now stateside, conical Poma hat ever-present, sees his Gnomon Society — headquartered in Burnette, Ind., but with Gnomon Pillars in Florida and Texas destined to survive as well — wax and wane as the 1920s turn into the '30s and well beyond. Lamar's right-hand man, Austin Popper, finds himself pursued by an FBI man sore as hell about being brusquely denied entry into the society and determined to nail Popper for avoiding service in WWI.Later, Lamar makes an ill-fated bid for the governorship of Indiana, a trip to Rainbow Falls State Park definitely not his campaign's proudest moment, but one of the hilarious highlights for readers. I won't soon forget the image of the journey in a seldom-driven, bald-tired heap crawling along backing up traffic, belching white smoke, of Popper's nemesis on his trail again at the falls. Things start to go to hell at the Burnette Temple. Around Lamar's increasingly seedy enclave, kids burn tires, and tramps gain access to upper rooms and won't leave, writing curses and poems on walls and leaving foul droppings. It's a neighborhood of bums and juvenile bullies where "on every block you can see a twelve-year-old boy holding a six-year-old boy in a headlock." The Temple's confines are deafening with encroaching highway construction and the vicinity rife with construction workers. When Lamar finally is persuaded to flee Indiana for the Texas Pillar, the fun meter hits the red: bums, boys, rats and roaches in an unholy convergence as our heroes skidaddle. Texas isn't all roses for our boys (well, now old men) when a senate hearing probes this odd society. The exchanges between Popper and the senators is priceless. After he's decided to unleash the hounds, so to speak, Portis doesn't necessarily care where things are going and doesn't seem to know how to jump off this coaster, but sandwiched between the start and the finish is sustained hilarity that, though sometimes wild, is perpetrated by characters aswim in such misguided earnestness that it never feels out of hand even when it probably is. The fact that the decades-long machinations of these deadpan Atlantis cultists doesn't really go anywhere is beside the point. I'm not sure I'll ever look at the world in quite the same way after "Masters of Atlantis."

  • Timothy Hallinan
    2019-05-27 06:50

    Charles Portis is an American treasure, a teller of amazingly inventive shaggy dog stories, an absolute master of tone and character. His best known book, and the only one with a female protagonist, is "True Grit," but his funniest (and that's saying something) is "Masters of Atlantis."If you don't like deadpan humor, skip this book. If you do, read it someplace where you can laugh loudly without getting killed; this is NOT a subway book. Portis writes with apparent deadly seriousness about the world's stupidest religion (which is saying something). The Gnomon Society finds answers to life's questions in an impenetrable farrago of geometry, Atlantis, Egyptian riddles, and, um, more geometry, all contained in a little book sold by a con man to an American G.I. in France during the first world war.Over the years after the war, this former soldier, Lamar Jimmerson, abetted by an energetic, sociopathic con man named Austin Popper, take this badly constructed lean-to of spirituality and silliness to a very, very modest success with a handful of believers. In the end, though, they have to leave the Chicago building in which they've sheltered as they blew on this tiny flame and emerge blinking into the real world which, fortunately, proves to be Texas. This book contains a monologue by one of the people in the car on the long road to Texas that made me laugh my way into a sore throat.Nothing much happens, but it happens sublimely. If you haven't read Portis before and you like this, get "Dog of the South," "Norwood," and "True Grit" ASAP. There's also one called "Gringos," but I'm saving it for later.

  • Aaron Arnold
    2019-06-07 23:37

    What makes an American novel? What makes a great novel? And what makes the Great American Novel? Masters of Atlantis isn't the Great American Novel, that elusive white whale of navel-gazing twentieth century writers, but it is great, and, to judge by the jacket copy on every single one of his books, extremely American. I agree with that sentiment, although I really can't say why. Obviously the fact that it's set in America makes it American in some way, but I think what those reviewers are trying to get at is that there's something about the way Portis presents the events in his book that a foreigner just couldn't replicate. Since plenty of non-natives from have written great books both set in and about the US, it's worth thinking about why Portis' works get grouped in with Mark Twain's and not Vladimir Nabokov's. I think it's mostly due to the brilliantly intimate way that Portis sketches his characters, who usually fall into two main archetypes: credulous yokels and self-confident hustlers.Right from the very first page of this book, when WW1 soldier Lamar Jimmerson is convinced to pay $200 for the secret magisteria of the legendary Gnomon Society by a man who is variously called Nick from Turkey or Mike from Egypt or Jack from Syria or Robert from Malta, Portis sets up a great story with fascinating characters. The actual con that begins the story is over in a matter of pages, but the childlike faith with which Lamar pursues his dreams of being a Gnomon - whose Pythagorean rituals and lore, involving cones and spirals and triangles, are never described completely but alluded to constantly - sustains not only him but at one point thousands of others who flock to his banner. Early on he meets the Englishman Sydney Hen who convinces him to share in his secrets, and with the eventual arrival of diabolically inventive henchman Austin Popper the rest of the book unfolds in hilarious overlapping layers of bullshit, as the Society rises, splinters, and falls, and Popper strikes out on his own all over the map as a demented bibulous überfraud. This is on one level a classic satire of American society, which has always been made up of joiners and mystics and truth-seekers. There is no club or fraternal organization so ridiculous that it can't find a membership of willing dupes; partly this reflects our sheer size, and partly it also reflects the perennial tendency for such a materialistic society to find Higher Meaning in all sorts of things. I think there's a fairly clear continuum from the Great Awakenings through Sixties spiritualism and up to the Jesus Camps of the present day.But what could have been a bitter polemic about American stupidity is a genial, affectionate comedy about lost souls, and though there's some scenes of decay and humiliation that darken the tone of the book, overall Portis knows that America needs its P. T. Barnums, and that a world without them would be much grayer. Popper's drunken wanderings comprise most of the action in the second part of the book, and if you don't laugh out loud when he tries to convince the War Department to use compressed air as a weapon, or when he tries to conjure gold up out of the earth with Golescu the Romanian's bagweed plants, or at any of the other scenes that rank right up there with Huck Finn's encounter with the Duke and the Dauphin, then you simply have no sense of humor whatsoever. Where Portis falls short of someone like Twain is that he doesn't really tackle serious issues like racism, but no book can be all things to all people so it wasn't a problem for me. I hope he stops not writing books, we could use more from him.

  • Sully Tarnish
    2019-06-10 04:43

    Utterly hilarious. Charles Portis packs more wit into a single page than most authors can muster in a lifetime of work.

  • Jim Leckband
    2019-05-31 02:23

    When I was an undergraduate searching for belief systems (or for denunciations of belief systems - they are essentially the same thing) I came across a curious book in the Main Library. The book was called Lawsonomy and it was a wacky introduction to a early 20th century "philosophy" of Alfred Lawson. "Lawsonomy" was self-published and must have been donated to the library at some point. In any case, the all-encompassing claims, magical thinking and off-the-wall screwiness (the "zig-zag" theory of the universe for example) quickly cured me of any momentary lapse of falling into any belief system.And that is one of the points of Masters of Atlantis - that any system of thought or beliefs usually just comes out of the noggin of some screwy bastard. The novel concentrates on Gnomony - but if you look closely, just about every kind of belief or organization is satirized by Portis. Religion and cults (of course), government, law, academics, business, get-rich-quick schemes, get-healthy-quick schemes, self-improvement, self-abasement - they all get their brief shot of sanitizing satirical sunlight in Portis' gentle comic novel. At the end, though, all that matters is human company and how we deal with each other - and the Masters of Atlantis finally get a moment of grace in their new giant, yellow mobile home with "cathedral roof and shingles of incorruptible polysterene"

  • Art Marroquin
    2019-06-04 04:34

    This is one of those books you don't want to end. Portis tells a story of some really ordinary people who think they have become privy to obscure secrets of the universe. What follows, as the author would say, are "displays of robust ignorance" that leave you chuckling, or laughing out loud. These guys (they're all men), for instance, have a plan to win WW II according to the principles of "gnomonism" that features "compressed air" and they mean to tell FDR about it. Why won't he listen? Put Voltaire in a laundromat and this is the kind of story he would tell.

  • Rita
    2019-06-04 22:43

    After reading and enjoying "Dog of South," this was disappointing. I appreciate the effort to satirize those goofy men's societies like the Masons--good job on that--but it was just too pathetic a group of characters.

  • Dan
    2019-06-24 00:48

    A Texas state senator, grilling one of the Gnomons–a secret sect, promising hidden knowledge of the ancients to its initiates–says of their books: “You get hardly any sense of movement or destination.” You could guess that this line is one of Portis’ many little jokes, his summary of his own book. Portis’ portrayal of the slippery thought and inadequate personalities that go for such societies is a delight. He recognizes that those caught up in the un-real thinking delude others, their victims, but often also delude themselves. You might even read the book as satirizing some aspects of religious thinking and expression; but don’t worry, that’s not a required interpretation. In any case, the book doesn’t have a very firm point; it’s “about” the journey of the book itself, the endless opportunities for Portis’ wit as much as it is about the minds of those involved in the secret wisdom of the ancients. The journey often take the form of a kind of extended aside that satirizes others besides the secret-society people with their odd secret handshakes. Portis pokes fun at journalists, maybe because he himself was a newspaper man. He pokes fun at lawyers, maybe because as a journalist he knew some. He pokes fun at legislators engaged in their “hearings,” maybe for the same reason, although maybe not well; all the humor has a gentle touch.The wit is often sly and layered. In one scene, a group of lawyer begin talking all at once. It was, Portis says, a “talking frenzy,” a phrase than makes you think of sharks, which reminds you of the hoary comparison of lawyers to sharks–“Why didn’t the shark eat the lawyer? Professional courtesy.” So Portis gives you a two-level laugh without ever mentioning sharks or the putative comparison to lawyers at all.It is certainly possible to write long comic novels that meander a good bit. Many years ago, I enjoyed the lengthy Tristam Shandy, reading in spurts as my son and I bummed around in Europe by foot and train. I thought the witty and entertaining Masters of Atlantis, though, could have been a tad or two shorter, and my true rating is 3.5 stars, not four. That’s as close as I’ll come to complaining.

  • Paul
    2019-06-09 00:45

    Masters of Atlantis tells the life story of curiously passive Lamar Jimmerson, Master of the Gnomon Society, and the various acolytes and ne'er-do-wells who tag along with him for the ride. Of these the most interesting by far is Austin Popper, a sort of low-budget Elmer Gantry. There are one or two female characters in supporting roles, but the main characters are all men. The book reminded me of Michael Chabon's Kavalier & Clay, with the exception that the events in Kavalier & Clay were closely related to events that actually occurred in the middle of the 20th century; not so the events in Masters of Atlantis, which occurred nowhere at any time. Nevertheless, Masters of Atlantis has something important to say about man's belief in secret knowledge and the true sources of power. I'm not doing a very good job of justifying a four-star rating; you'll just have to trust me.Portis is such a good writer. I wish he'd write more novels like True Grit, so I could fully enjoy the pleasure of reading Portis. With novels like Norwood and Masters of Atlantis, though, pleasure is accompanied by a measure of guilt. Portis, at least in Masters of Atlantis, is having too much fun, and I had fun reading it. I feel a bit like I used to feel listening to Firesign Theater while stoned.I have two more Portis novels on the shelf: Gringos and Dog of the South. I will certainly read them, but not until I'm once again in a self-indulgent mood.

  • Ann
    2019-05-30 22:43

    From the other reviews I read, I expected a funnier, but not necessarily a happier book. I didn't find much to care about in this well written story about men who are on the fringe, looking for some secret truth and/or some meaning in this life. I found it bittersweet and almost too understated. I didn't care enough about the characters to laugh or cry. While you could argue that they finally find community and even happiness, it is really only a half-measure because that is all these characters could muster. The female characters are like shallow ghosts in this 'man's world.' They all disappear when they are no longer needed.

  • Kate Woods Walker
    2019-06-26 04:24

    After learning that Conan O'Brien recommended this book, I knew I had to read it. And, indeed, Charles Portis's Masters of Atlantis was laugh-out-loud funny just as promised. It's a fine and lighthearted palate cleanser of a book. Portis, maybe unwittingly, shows just how far men in funny hats will go to prove they are set somewhere above women, children and commoners.But it's choppy and disjointed, not much in the plot department. More a gathering-in of various comic scenes, with absurdity its only aim.

  • M.J. Johnson
    2019-06-23 03:40

    Excellent - pure pleasure from start to finish. I love Portis, so am desperately trying to eke out the small number of books he has written - currently permitting myself only one a year! The cast of characters is spectacularly hopeless in the way that only Portis really knows how. If you're a fan of his writing this will be a treat - if not, then you're a hopelessly lost soul!Seriously, this is very amusing. Enjoy.

  • Erik
    2019-05-29 06:37

    Billed as a humorous look at secret societies, this book never really captured my interest. There were times when I found some of the statements funny, but because I didn't find any of the characters terribly appealing and/or interesting, I found myself finishing the disjointed story not because I wanted to see how the story ended, but rather just to get to the next book in my to-read stack.

  • Dani
    2019-05-27 22:24

    Conical hats play a big role in this hilarious book. Should be much more well known. Recommended for people who like "Confederacy of Dunces" and not just because that calls to mind a conical hat too. Recommended for people who like comedy, atheism.

  • Larry
    2019-06-24 01:41

    What a wonderful find this book was. Funny, strange, and utterly unlike anything I can think of. Must read more Portis...

  • Bud Smith
    2019-06-18 03:42

    An absurd look at cults, secret societies and ridiculous stupid humans. Great book.

  • Vireak
    2019-05-29 05:38


  • Richard
    2019-05-29 22:47

    Not quite as good as Dog of the South but well worth reading. Incredible humor.

  • Mary Lou
    2019-05-31 01:38

    Humorous premise, became repetitive and obnoxious about halfway through (or maybe I just don't have the right sense of humor for such things). I never made it through "Confederacy of Dunces."

  • Vel Veeter
    2019-05-29 00:33

    This book is about perfect. It’s a lot like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (thought predating it by 30 years) but it’s so much more tempered. Or maybe it’s more like a retelling of L Ron Hubbard, but more grounded. Or maybe it’s a kind of Flannery O’Connor novel, without the play on religion. Well anyway. It’s a kind of thing where the philosophy sounds like complete nonsense, but not insane, but also he avoids ever really telling you almost anything about it. So you get shadows of glimpses, lest you ever try to convince yourself that any of it is real.The novel starts in the wake of WWI when Mr. Jimmerson stumbles upon a nonsensical ancient philosophy called Gnomonism, founded on the teaching of Atlantis. He is sold a kind of bill of good about this philosophy by its most prominent British adherent, who dispatched Jimmerson to teach the philosophy in America. He meets with moderate success, but like in many budding movements….political, philosophical, ideological, religious,…..there are immediate fractures that lead to competing factions, the watering down of the teaching, and plenty of other setbacks.If you can’t tell, this book is pretty hilarious. If you haven’t read any Charles Portis, you should go out tomorrow and at least get Norwood and True Grit from your library. I have almost never read one of his books without going straight through. His books are so incisive about American bullshit, but equally as pithy and laconic. He’s one of those writers (still alive) that I lament closing in on finishing his body of works because he just didn’t write enough books when it comes down to it.

  • Jay
    2019-06-22 03:39

    If you’ve ever wondered about secret societies, Charles Portis’ satirical and fictional story of the history of one such organization, the Gnomon Society, gives you a view into the inner workings. Portis describes how the society gets its start through an apparent con of a home-ward bound American soldier at the end of WWI. The simple soldier ends up with an odd little book with non-sensical writing and geometric figures and a wild story. And a furry hat. Over the years the society is built up, gathers new acolytes, splits, grows, creates new titles, and then descends into memories, their temple destroyed under the Indiana Tollway after years of neglect and after being partially rented to vagrants. Along the way, you understand the Gnomon Society leaders are worried about those other secret societies like the Masons to the point of being paranoid. Throughout the novel, the characters are portrayed as “straight shooters” even though the entire environment is laughably bizarre. My favorite bit from the book was the Texas legislature grilling of Gnomon second banana Austin Popper, who answers a stream of questions from the politicians in such an earnest manner but saying exactly nothing negative about the Gnomons, at least the ones based in the US. On audio, the deadpan performance of this grilling I found quite funny. The character of Austin Popper was the highlight of this book.I enjoyed the story, but I find a little satire goes a long way, and this was a lot of satire. I’d have been a bit happier with the story trimmed up. I can see how some readers will greatly dislike this book, and some will feel the exact opposite about it. It’s a definite YMMV kind of book.

  • Chris
    2019-06-23 05:38

    This is the third Charles Portis book I've read in a row. (The previous two were "The Dog of the South" and "True Grit.") I've loved them all for different reasons, but I am going to take a break now before I read the others. For one thing, there's only five novels (and an odds-and-ends anthology) in total, so I might just as well conserve my thrills. Also, with really distinctive writers like this and Kurt Vonnegut and Samuel Beckett, long immersion in that voice leads to one becoming inured to what are really very interesting approaches and tricks. Sure, you get a sense of the through-lines of their work by steep immersion, but you also get kind of burned out. I came to "Masters of Atlantis" expecting (based on reviews from friends who have read it) for it to be my favorite of three. It wasn't, but it's definitely second-favorite with some upward momentum. I still give "The Dog of the South" the nod, because of the personal tone of the narrative, the distinctive first-person voice of Ray Midge, which, like Mattie Ross, was one of the best-drawn characters I've met in a book. "Masters of Atlantis" is intentionally written in a somewhat formal third-person, as if it's an "official" narrative about the history of the organization, and I think it pushes us away from the characters just a little. Not a lot, but it's a significant break in tone from the others, the omniscient narrator rather than the flummoxed Midge or steel-eyed Ross.But that's a minor quibble. What "Masters of Atlantis" does better than either is create a span of history, and a unique corner of the world that pops with strange details. It's simultaneously pitched for both pathos and slapstick (which is a form of pathos, especially if someone acts the way you'd actually act if you slipped on a banana peel or were slapped by someone you knew). I don't want to spoil the joy of revealing the plot, which is pretty winding and goes from 1917 until the present day (mid-'80s when the book was written). However, the stuff I want to talk about is more of a structural spoiler (i.e. I talk about underlying motivations), so maybe stop reading this if you haven't read the book yet. Or jump to the last paragraph. Or ruin it for yourself, what do I give a shit?What I loved about the book was its submission to inertia. The book starts at a low-energy place, builds up just enough speed to pull out of the station, and then spends the rest of its time pretty much coasting downhill. It's a story about an invented religion (or secret society, or cult, or whatever you want to call it), but it doesn't hit a lot of the common touchstones that religious parodies hit. First of all, the Gnomon teachings. We never really find out what they are. The opening pages suggest that the man that gave Jimmerson the book was a confidence trickster (given the weeks of free meals and $200 for "official rainments"), but we never really find out where the text came from. I expected that we might find out that it was just a poorly translated Greek travel book or something -- the standard touchstone of "isn't crazy the way religious people worship a blah that actually stands for blah blah," but Portis isn't interested in any of that. To him, the "Codex Pappas" is just the "Codex Pappas." We know all we need to know. Pletho Pappas comes for a visit a few times, and is brusquely turned away each time. Would he have explained more? Was he real? Is any of this "Real"? Doesn't matter to Portis. He just wants to watch his characters trudge through their entropic lives.After a brief burst of activity in Europe (and even less in the States), membership in the Gnomon faith dwindles to nearly nothing. The Temple stands between two highways, and the old men sleep in the comfy chairs of the Red Room, as the rest of the house becomes dilapidated. There's a "charismatic frontman" in Austin Popper, but he spends most of his time drunk and fucking up. The failed Gnomon who becomes an investigator is always almost about to catch Popper, but never quite does. The Congressmen of Texas are deeply concerned about the Gnomon influence on "The elderly, college students, and other people with impaired thinking," and launch an investigation, not realizing that the church has not picked up a new disciple in decades, and may never. (The Congressional hearing on Gnomonism genuinely made me laugh out loud.)There's quiet nihilism to the whole story, kind of like Robert Downey's film "Greaser's Palace." It takes all the pieces of religious allegory and just rubs them together, suggesting something worse than "there is no god," that "the slow, boring process of religious may prevent us for looking for god." But maybe that's not even it. If ever there was a book that has more fastidiously avoided telegraphing its point, I don't know what it could be. "Masters of Atlantis" lays itself out for us without rhyme or reason. "The Dog of the South" spent every page longing for sense in a nonsensical world. "Masters of Atlantis" seems to be fine with no answers, and even dwindling questions. It's less Mark Twain and more Samuel Beckett in that sense. We don't come away with "religion is stupid" or "they hung their faith on trifles even they didn't understand." It was something closer to "my obsession looks completely ridiculous to others." That said, the world created by Portis in this book was better and more detailed than any I've seen so far. It was the world I most hated leaving of the three, the one I wished would continue for a few hundred more pages, the one I felt most "in." I might dock it a half a star (4.5) for some moments where the characters get unrealistically buffoonish. "I've got a meeting for you with this booster group. They will help restore our standing in the community." "What time is the meeting?" "2:00." "We can't...that's my nap time." Also, the booster group were these over-the-top caricatures who had meetings with names like "Plundering In Broad Daylight" and "Exploiting Others Without Remorse." For such a deft satirist, there were some surprisingly on-the-nose moments. These are quibbles, sure, but when you have three books each of which you'd award the five-star rating to, it's only the tiny details that keep you from putting all three uncomfortably on the gold-medal pedestal.Like everything I've read from Portis, this is unquestionably recommended. But don't forget to read "The Dog of the South," too.

  • Ashley Lambert-Maberly
    2019-06-11 03:30

    Another very high 4 stars--it's hard for me to give 5s unless I have an emotional reaction, otherwise the book has to be absolutely perfect at what it sets out to do.This is a Very Strange Book (which is a good thing--not remotely formulaic). It's the only Portis I've read, so not sure how it relates to his oeuvre, or if this is his normal style or not. It reads, to a large extent, as if one were reading a religious or mythological book (e.g. the Simarillion, the Ramayana, the Bible, etc.), rather than a novel--the plot sweeps along, there's not a lot of psychological introspection, and every so often the plot halts for the sake of a list, or a scene becomes excruciatingly minutely rendered, in huge contrast to the normal goings-on. I thought it was nifty, and suited the subject matter (the history of a weird made-up (or is it?) religion/belief-system and the people who discovered/invented it). In that sense, it's barely a novel--it reads more like the romances (in the old sense of the word) which preceded the invention of the novel in the 18th century.I was also reminded a bit of The Hearing Trumpet or The Towers of Trebizond ... it's just a wonderfully off-kilter book, like its characters. Worth checking out--you'll know right away if you appreciate the style or if it will not be for you.(Note: 5 stars = amazing, wonderful, 4 = very good book, 3 = decent read, 2 = disappointing, 1 = awful, just awful. I'm fairly good at picking for myself so end up with a lot of 4s).

  • Chrystal
    2019-06-06 04:38

    Follow the rise, decline, and rebirth of the Gnomon Society in this rollicking tale; from a mouldering mansion filled with rats and bums in Burnette, IL to a shotgun shack overgrown with bagweed in Hogandale, CO to a trailer park in La Coma, TX. There seems no end to the buffoonery and high jinks gotten up by the Gnomons and their fiendish enemies in this side-splitting frolic by the one and only Charles Portis. Oh that he would write another for us. We live in hope.