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A Review of The Benham Book of Palmistry

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The Classic Palmistry How To Book - Barbara Bamberger Scott

The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading/The Benham Book of Palmistry
William G Benham
Newcastle Publishing (Reprint 1988)
ISBN: 0-87877-137-9
635 Pages

Review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

I first read William Benham’s book when I was searching for a way out of a world that was, so it seemed, crashing under the weight of materialism. Astrology, palmistry, and psychic exploration seemed far more valid than any of the coursework forced on me at college. At that time The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading, as it was then known, was one of only a few books on palmistry and was considered definitive, so a volume was passed from friend to friend.

Now of course, there are many books on arcane subjects bursting into the mainstream. On a recent vacation in Colorado I stopped at a hotel for lunch and noted on the bulletin board that visitors could access spa treatments, wholistic massage, and “karmic palm consultations.”

Benham’s tome, even in reprint, now looks dated, and to read it requires patience, a virtue many people in the sound-byte generation lack. However, one still feels the power of Benham’s scholarly approach to the study of the palm, which in his day (the original printing was in 1900) was considered an intellectual embarrassment. As he put it, “During this time the word Palmistry was so buried under a mass of public disapproval that a self-respecting person dared not say that he was even interested in it.” But, he goes on, “Fully persuaded that it had a scientific foundation, I set about to discover it.”

Benham studied the palms of murderers, suicides and musicians. He painstakingly (pre-digital camera) photographed anomalies of the hand such as stiff fingers, flexible fingers, spatulate thumbs, and fingernails denoting everything from heart disease to tuberculosis. He exhaustively catalogued the markings of the palm and made decisive pronouncements without hesitation, clearly demonstrating that he believed he was a scientist, not a parlor entertainer: “A cross at the end of a short Head line must be read as stopping the Current, ending the mentality, but not so surely by apoplexy or in a sudden manner as if indicated by well-formed stars”; “Conic tips will add conic qualities, square tips with this second phalanx strong are the best business indications, spatulate tips will show an active, ambitious original subject who is sure to force his way in the world, especially on practical lines.” The illustrations of “pose and carriage of the hands” are dated but charming and informative. They predate the psychological theories of “body language,” covering much of the same territory authoritatively.

Benham even quotes Aristotle with an appendix devoted solely to the philosopher’s discourse, “Of Palmistry,” which is undoubtedly the basis of Western palm reading.

The only flaw in Benham’s work is the lack of an index. He accounts for this by saying that “no index which would be of value could be compiled.” An index would make it a lot easier to make cross-references in what is a thick book with dense print. Maybe some admiring patron of palmistry will undertake to produce a more reader-friendly indexed version using state-of-the-art publishing technology. But even in its present paperback format, it’s a book worth owning.

I tried without success to find out more about Benham. He is sparing of details about himself, except to reveal that his fascination with the possibilities of palmistry began with a meeting with an old gypsy woman. Being such a competent writer he surely authored other works and must have had an academic background of some respectable weight. Copies of his book, according to my brief researches on the web, are often found for sale on Indian book sites, even Indian e-Bay, confirming that his ideas have cachet in a culture where palmistry is still considered a science. It is also perhaps a tribute to his articulate writing style, which people raised in an Anglophonic educational system would respect.

I suppose that modern students of palmistry find Benham’s book an invaluable textbook but have many other, more user-friendly references to consult, written to modern tastes. I would recommend they start with Benham.

About the Author

Written by Barbara Bamberger Scott. For aspiring women writers, go to our website - quarterly writing competition, thoughtful critique for every entrant and a cash prize! NOTE: WE will review your new book or edit your work in progress, for a reasonable fee and a thoughtful women's perspective.

Article added: February 28, 2007

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