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Muses, Madmen, and Prophets    by Daniel B. Smith order for
Muses, Madmen, and Prophets
by Daniel B. Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Let's begin with Socrates, Muhammad, William Blake, and Teresa of Ávila, just to name a few significant people from a potential list of millions. They seem like an unlikely grouping of personalities. What do they have in common with each other?

They heard voices. These were not corporeal voices from friends, acquaintances, enemies, or others, but they were disembodied voices from - for lack of a better word - elsewhere.

The sources and characteristics of the voices as heard by the aforementioned eclectic quartet - and as heard by millions of others throughout history and in our times - is the fascinating subject of Daniel B. Smith's erudite and entertaining new study.

Based on considerable research and written with a conversational narrative flair, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets is Smith's persuasive and provocative explanation as to why so many people from so many different backgrounds have experienced - either sporadically or chronically - something that we call auditory hallucinations. Are people who experience auditory hallucinations insane? Are they singular intellects? Are they in touch with a higher power (God)? Or are they besieged by vividly spectral or demonic imaginations?

Read Smith's book and learn that:

1. 'It is possible to hear voices and lead a normal life. Thousands of people exist who hear voices but never enter psychiatric care - and do not need to.' This is reassuring.

2. 'A high percentage of the population will hear a voice at one time or another in their lives.' I can personally vouch for this assertion!

3. 'Some sane people who heard voices experience great distress merely from the fear of being called 'crazy.'' I would refer you to the previous annotation.

4. 'Hearing voices can be caused by vigorous prayer, by drugs, or even by profound silence.' Ditto!

5. 'There has always been a conflict between an individual's desire to interpret voices on a personal level and the dominant orthodoxy of the time. Throughout most of Western history, voices have been interpreted in religious terms. Today, it is considered the primary symptom of schizophrenia.' In a 21st century Western world dominated by secularism and science, this is an increasingly disturbing trend.

Whatever you may think you already know about auditory hallucinations, prepare yourself to be surprised and edified by Smith's wonderful book. Engaging and exemplary, Muses, Madmen, and Prophets is a powerfully important new book. Enjoy!

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