STRANGE ANGEL: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons by George Pendle

by JF

This book gives an account of the life of John “Jack” Parsons, the 1930s Pasadena rocketry pioneer and Crowleyan Black Magick occultist. The author is a very competent writer, and that, combined with the extraordinarily peculiar life of Parsons as subject matter, makes this a most entertaining read. The story begins, and ends, with the enigmatic, explosive death of Parsons, and that occurence itself is mysterious and intriguing; but the stuff in between, what this man Parsons actually did during his life, balancing the pioneering of scientific rocket propellants for his vocation, and the pursuance of secret societal witchcraft for his avocation, is exquisitely strange and fascinating, albeit deeply disturbing. Pendle does an excellent job of delving into Parson’s childhood, important events of his family background, his boyhood surroundings in Pasadena and early 20th century Los Angeles—indeed, this book could be recommendable just for the mostly forgotten, and always unusual, L.A. history it discusses.

I am not sure that all of the information presented in this book, especially that of Parsons’ and Crowley’s OTO secret society, is all true and accurate. Many times the author emphasizes how feeble and poorly organized was the OTO. This reader is not so sure about that. However, that’s a whole other area of research that I’m not sure I want to partake in. I am also not sure if all the information presented about Parsons here is all true and accurate: This is the only book about Parsons I have ever read. And though I am aware of others out there, I don’t feel compelled to read anymore about this. Personality-wise, Parsons seemed to have been equal, competing parts sophistication and naivete, arrogance and insecurity–always with an overriding boyishness.

I can understand why someone would want to, though. This is really weird, arcane stuff this rocket scientist got himself into. He was one of the pioneers of American rocket science, and yet he is largely forgotten or ignored by mainstream historians. It’s a bizarre, compelling story. In his pursuit of hedonism, Parsons anticipated the later Hippy Movement of the 1960s. Also particularly noteworthy is the fateful history that occurred between Parsons and masterful con-artist L. Ron Hubbard.

Again, on the whole, this is quite an entertaining read. Could it stand as a very reliable reference source for a study of Parsons life? Probably, but this reader is not in a position to declare that with any certitude at this time.

Rating: Δ Δ Δ Δ
4/2012

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