Book Review - The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are


Although I'd first heard of Alan Watts' The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are several years ago, it wasn't until I watched Dakota Wint's YouTube video Top 5 Books Every New Spiritual Seeker Needs that I was motivated enough to actually check it out. First things first—I know that I will benefit a lot from re-reading this book several times. It's extremely dense and packed with a lot of valuable information, a lot of which I likely didn't absorb during my first reading of the book.

The basic premise of the book is that we have been told that we are isolated beings, "unconnected to the rest of the universe", which has led to our viewing the "outside" world with hostility and "has fueled our misuse of technology and our violent and hostile subjugation of the natural world". However, Watts asserts that this belief is mistaken and that we are in fact directly connected to everything else there is. In the beginning of the book, Watts discusses the concept of cultural taboos—things like making direct eye contact with another person or performing an act that is against one's religion. This leads him to make the following point:

"The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are behind the mask of your apparently separate, independent, and isolated ego."

The concept of "I" is extremely powerful and commonplace in most societies on Earth, and it is so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, as well as our laws and social institutions. Watts spends many words of this book arguing against the concept of personal selfhood in favor of a more universal concept of identity—one that includes the rest of reality in addition to the components that we would normally judge as "ourselves".

One of the other things I found interesting was Watts' definition of "attention" as "narrowed perception"—because when we attend to one thing, we ignore everything else. In Watts' own words: "conscious attention is at the same time ignore-ance (i.e., ignorance) despite the fact that it gives us a vividly clear picture of whatever we choose to notice."

These are just some of the concepts that Watts describes in The Book. If either of these ideas sound interesting to you, I would definitely give this a read. I wish that this review was able to more fully show how wonderful this book is, but since this is only my first read-through, I feel like I was only able to skim the surface of its ideas and therefore will likely have more to say about it upon successive readings. I definitely give this one two thumbs up though!

5/5 stars. 178 pages.