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The Presence of the Past - Rupert Sheldrake

When I first read this book many years ago, I really didn’t get it, but I knew that there was a very interesting theory here.

Over the ensuing years I have read several of Sheldrake’s other books, and listened to his lectures countless times. I now understand the theory, but I don’t think this book is as clear as it could be.

This book is from much earlier in his career (1988), and he has definitely gotten better at delivering his theory more clearly and concisely. This book spends a lot of time laying groundwork by outlining existing scientific theories of evolution and memory and so on, and really doesn’t even get started on Sheldrake’s theory until about 100 pages in.

In the 1980s it was normal to take such time and go over all the current wisdom before telling something new, but a modern reader might have some trouble with it - we seem to have the inability to deal with boredom these days, though in complicated theories like this, some boring material must also be covered to provide context (or else I’d be criticizing it for lack of context).

I have a hard time reading Sheldrake without rose tinted glasses. He’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers and I believe his theory. But this probably isn’t the book to start with. If you start with The Sense of Being Stared At, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, or A New Science of Life, then this book will make more sense.

This book is a key component of his overall theory and his other books always reference it as the most complete outline of it. But it is the most dense and difficult part of his work, in my opinion.

I recommend all of Sheldrake’s books, just know that this one isn’t as swift as the others.