19 December 2007

A decent book about an interesting man

There is a River: The Story of Edgar Cayce (Time-Life Collector's Library of the Unknown)
Thomas Sugrue
Time Life Education, 1992

I had heard of Edgar Cayce before, mainly because I shelved so many books by or about him in my years as a bookseller. It was only recently, though, as I was browsing through one of the Stranger than... books by the late Frank Edwards that I came across a brief biography of Edgar Cayce and learned more about his mysterious diagnoses given while unconscious. I remembered that I had this book, one of the Time-Life Collector's Library of the Unknown reprints, on my shelf and so I dug in.

For the most part, the prose was easy to read and written in a straightforward, familiar style, so that I felt like I was seeing the events of Cayce's life as they happened. The book begins like a normal biography, discussing early romances, jobs, family incidents, etc., with very little to indicate how strange Mr. Cayce's life would become. Around 1/3 of the way through the book, we discover, along with young Edgar, that he can memorize written materials just by sleeping on them. He also discovers that he has miraculous powers to diagnose illnesses and prescribe cures for people he has never met, all while unconscious. (In his waking life, Mr. Cayce was very modestly educated, and was as surprised as anyone at the ideas and language that came from his unconscious form.) The way that this section of the book reads, you would imagine that Cayce's cures were always successful and that skeptics were fools.

The book begins to drag after the second half, though, for a variety of reasons. First, Cayce could never actually put his powers to any real end. Every attempt to establish a multidisciplinary hospital to implement and research his unconscious revelations, as was his dream, came to an unsuccessful conclusion. This is fairly anticlimactic and does not make for a very "heroic" story. Second, one of his benefactors, a man quite interested in matters occult, began to ask Cayce more arcane questions, and so the revelations began to drift into, to me, less interesting areas-the typical new age stuff about Atlantis, reincarnation, soul mates, etc. Finally, it became more apparent to me, based on the later, more thoroughly documented cases, that Cayce's "miraculous" cures might not have been as amazing as they seemed in the earlier chapters; the earlier cures seemed more amazing simply because the way in which they were recorded and related was more "oh gosh" and less stringent. (In other words, as he gets older and more jaded, even his cures seem less special and miraculous. Maybe this was the writer's intention.)

The conclusion of the book was, for me, the worst part. It is divided into two appendix-like sections. In the first section, the author tries to systematically describe Cayce's philosophy. Boring. Too much like the Ascended Master stuff that I find hard to swallow. Maybe it is true. Maybe not. Whenever I read this stuff, I just get the feeling that I am listening to some pedantic, New England minister lecturing on matters that were expressed much more interestingly 2,000 years ago by Hindus and Buddhists. The second section in the conclusion recounts six case studies from the Cayce files, and these are interesting only for those who want to see how difficult to understand Cayce's medical diagnoses could be, due to the odd structure of his language and the outdated medical terminology.

It was a quick read, except for those two concluding sections, so if you are at all interested, I highly recommend reading it. As for what it means, though, I really have no clue. And I don't plan on re-reading it to find out, though the pretty Time-Life book will remain on my shelf as decoration.

(This review was originally written April 6, 2006.)

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