I used to own individual paperback copies of this cult trilogy as a teenager in the 70s, but they were lost along the way. I picked up this omnibus edition sometime in the late 80s but never got around to re-reading it. A glance at the first few pages makes me think I might not have the patience to revisit it.
Its themes of secret societies and conspiracies, and the absurd or evocative character names (Hagbard Celine, Fission Chips, Mama Sutra), and certain phrases (first line: "It was the year when they finally immanentized the eschaton") remind me of David Foster Wallace, Umberto Eco and Thomas Pynchon, though the prose is not nearly as good. (It is much better than the writing in its trashier descendant, "The Da Vinci Code.")
The authors, Robert Shea and the strange polymath Robert Anton Wilson, make the most of it, jumping around in time from the political assassinations of the 60s to Atlantis to John Dillinger and the final words of Dutch Shultz. There is a fair amount of right- and left-wing conspiracy theory about freemasons and the Illuminatti, riffs on Sixties radicalism, drugs and sex, numerology, Aleister Crowley, the Principia Discordia, the mystical properties of the number 23, and more. It's a wackadoodle ride on the dark side of the counterculture, mislabeled a work of science fiction, a perfect cultural artifact of the paranoid style of 1975.
This Old Book started as a Tumblr, which is also archived on Palafo.com. The Tumblr is probably more readable, until I get around to repairing the imported posts here. These are books that have survived many purges from my shelves over decades, with a few comments attempting to figure out why I have held onto them.