For many years, I've had an old Playboy Press edition of The Book of the Breast, one that I picked up cheap somewhere, from a library sale or garage sale or something.
I never read it because I assumed it was written quickly an an excuse for Playboy to publish a book with a bunch of breast pictures; I couldn't think of it as an "official" Robert Anton Wilson book. More recently, I didn't read it because I was waiting for the Hilaritas Press edition of the book published under its later title, Ishtar Rising: Why the Goddess Went to Hell and What to Expect Now That She's Returning.
I finally read it this weekend, and I have something interesting to report: It IS a Robert Anton Wilson book. RAW took Playboy's money and wrote the book he wanted to write (as I mentioned the other day, the editor printed liked it and printed it just as RAW wrote it.)
The book cites or discusses many of RAW's preoccupations (Principia Discordia, Aleister Crowley, James Joyce, etc.) and has many of the Wilson-style passages that may or may not be "true," but are certainly stimulating and entertaining:
In ancient Egypt, evidently, woman and the moon were the original religious objects because their mutual 28-day periods were the earliest markers of time. When the cycles of solar time were discovered, the male sun god, Osiris, and the male phallus, became sacred, and woman and the moon were pushed into second place. Eventually, under Christianity, the female-lunar rites became identified with witchcraft and black magic, and their appearance provoked the horror and hatred of the great witch-hunts. It is within this context that the Christian feeling that the breast is "obscene" must be understood. (Similarly, the use of drugs in the lunar-female religions explains the Christian antipathy to drugs.)
The book's erotic theme allows RAW to talk about sexual alchemy.
A few points about the new Hilaritas Press edition: It includes not only the original 1973 introduction, but also RAW's 1989 introduction, which is one of the best parts of the book. In addition, Hilaritas adds a foreword by Grant Morrison, quite long, full of interesting observations, and obviously something Morrison didn't just quickly toss off.
Rasa was not able to get permission to use some of the original images (which were all in black and white) , but he worked hard to replace them and match them with RAW's original captions (and many of the illustrations in the new book are in color). In every instance in which Rasa has made a substitution, he has bettered the original; for example, an original black and white photo of Carole Lombard is replaced with a very nice color photo. Rasa even convened the Robert Anton Wilson Advisors so they could weigh in on which artistic color breast illustration to use early in the book.
So I am pretty sure that if you do plan to read the book, the new Hilaritas Press third edition is the one you want. And I also think the book is worth reading, if maybe not as important a part of the canon as Cosmic Trigger or Illuminatus!
-- Tom Jackson