PZ Myers is a breath of fresh, godless air. As much as I enjoy reading the works of the "new" atheists (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, e...morePZ Myers is a breath of fresh, godless air. As much as I enjoy reading the works of the "new" atheists (Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc), the tone of their efforts is generally of a much more serious, often times combative nature, an urgent call to action against primitive beliefs that hold back the progress of humanity. While Myers does address many serious topics, his humor pervades within The Happy Atheist, offering an alternative, light-hearted perspective on why the belief in god(s) is silly and antiquated.
The Happy Atheist is broken up into short, easily digestible chapters, each focusing on different issues that arise in the "to believe or not to believe" debate. Myers uses his sharp scientific mind to great effect, poking copious holes in the arguments and defenses laid out by believers, many of whom respond to Myers with nothing less than death threats. Some of the various topics covered in this short book are abortion, evolution, morality, and perhaps my favorite chapter, the desecration of a communion wafer.
My only real grievance with the book (pamphlet?) is the overall lack of cohesiveness. There does not seem to be an overarching point or message, other than the belief in god(s) is no longer relevant in our modern, scientifically-learned world.
An enjoyable read offering wisdom and compelling arguments on every page, The Happy Atheist is sure to polarize its readers, but will ultimately satisfy those on the godless side of the argument. I'll end with my favorite passage from the book:
(P. 28) [Referring to the desecration of "sacred" items] "Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your lives by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generation and finding a deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance. You can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind.(less)
Having read the likes of Sam Harris, David Mills, Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens, I anticipated God's Problem would follow form: A manifest...moreHaving read the likes of Sam Harris, David Mills, Bertrand Russell and Christopher Hitchens, I anticipated God's Problem would follow form: A manifesto extolling the virtues of rational, secular thinking, while promulgating the dangers and necessary evils of religion -- in a more or less dogmatic fashion. To be told, I have thoroughly enjoyed those books. But this is far different.
Bart D. Ehrman is a theological scholar, having devoted his entire academic, and personal, life to the study of Early Christianity and the New Testament -- even having gone as far as learning Greek, so as to immerse himself in the surviving early Biblical manuscripts. He is a distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, having chaired the department as well as served as director of graduate studies. And he is considered one of the foremost authorities on Biblical studies and interpretations, continually being invited to lecture around the world and on television programs on the topic of Scripture.
The punchline? Dr. Ehrman is agnostic.
(This is to be distinguished from being an atheist, which he does not declare. Dr. Ehrman does not believe in the Biblical God, but cannot say definitively that there is or is not a supernatural puppet master.)
And the subject of God's Problem -- that of suffering -- is precisely the reason for Dr. Ehrman's falling away from faith.
Suffering is a problem that has been cogitated since hominids first dropped from the trees and began walking upright. And as humans gained increasingly larger frontal lobes and shed their body hair (well, most of it, anyway), we began to seriously ponder the reasons for crop failure, death, destruction and inhumanity.
As such, the reasons for suffering plagued (literally?) the Biblical authors, as they struggled to grasp why it existed -- believing it to be, for example, a symptom of man's sinful nature, or perhaps God's "mysterious ways." And so the tales were written down and passed along, declaring themselves as holding the true reasons for suffering, as given by God himself. This, as Ehrman points out, is problematic -- as well as erroneous.
What Ehrman does incredibly well (more so than the other atheist writers) is provide numerous references from the Bible on suffering, and applying brilliant insight as to the intentions and meanings of each of the different Biblical authors. He covers the likes of Amos, Daniel, and Solomon, all the way through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul, illustrating how each author had different views of suffering, and the role of God in each account.
Ehrman also makes note that most modern-day believers indicate suffering exists because of free-will. The response to that becomes: What about tsunamis? Earthquakes? Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Drought? AIDS? Malaria? Famine? Infant fatality? Cancer? And on and on and on.
The point is: not all suffering is the direct result of free-will. In fact, the vast majority of suffering is due to forces beyond human control. So the believer changes his/her answer: God is testing you. Huh. If a father cuts off his son's arm, just to test the son's courage and resolve, the father is considered wicked, cruel, inhumane and malicious, and will likely be vilified and imprisoned. But when a baby is born without arms, or without eyesight, should God be revered, rather than given the same treatment as the evil father, simply because God is testing the baby? Me thinks not -- nor does Ehrman.
Ehrman's goal is not to convert believers into non-believers, and he says as much from the onset of the book. His goal is merely to challenge the thought process of individuals, urging them to do more to eradicate suffering (the suffering that is controllable, at least), rather than dismissing it as "God's whim." If one has the means to donate to charity, then do it! Children across the globe are needlessly starving and dying every minute of every day, despite the fact that there is more than enough food to go around. Malaria can be stopped. Clean drinking water for everyone is possible. We just need to make a paradigm shift to realize that there is no invisible deity in control (or relinquishing control) of the suffering that exists, and empower ourselves to make a difference.(less)
I'll admit, I had my reservations when deciding on this -- a book about trees. Much to my delighted surprise, my fears were laid to rest as the vivid,...moreI'll admit, I had my reservations when deciding on this -- a book about trees. Much to my delighted surprise, my fears were laid to rest as the vivid, delicate writing of Richard Preston weaved a compelling story, for why trees should be much heralded.
The book follows a series of amateur and professional arborists/botanists on their journey of discovering the world's largest trees. Along the way, many of the stories become intertwined as the protagonists meet one another and cross paths, sharing stories and, together, uncovering the lush bio-systems of the tree canopies. Add to the mix harrowing accounts of death and near-death, romance, and the author's own introduction to tree climbing, the book becomes more than just a story about trees; it's a story of the precarious balance of life on Earth.
By the end, the book both piqued my interest in visiting the Redwood trees of the Pacific Northwest, and imbued in me a strong sense of wanting to protect these ancient living organisms.(less)
Without exploring the depths and meanings of Nietzsche's philosophy, I will keep this review succinct. This was my introduction to the writings of Nie...moreWithout exploring the depths and meanings of Nietzsche's philosophy, I will keep this review succinct. This was my introduction to the writings of Nietzsche, and I found it to be profoundly insightful, witty, clever, eloquent; and at times obtuse, long-winded, and cynical; but undeniably brilliant. Nietzsche explores a vast array of topics, from war and friendship to Christianity and his seeming infatuation with dance.
Editor and translator Walter Kaufmann also provides an excellent preface and introduction, providing background information about who Nietzsche was, as well as ample analyses of most of the included writings. I am looking forward to re-reading this and exploring the essays and full works in more detail.(less)
Far more clinical than I anticipated, but extremely insightful and thorough presentation of psychopathy. Not recommended as a fun read, probably more...moreFar more clinical than I anticipated, but extremely insightful and thorough presentation of psychopathy. Not recommended as a fun read, probably more geared towards psych students and professionals.(less)
A provocative, no-holds-barred, slap in the face to the traditional methods of acting, noted playwright, director and screenwriter David Mamet minces...moreA provocative, no-holds-barred, slap in the face to the traditional methods of acting, noted playwright, director and screenwriter David Mamet minces no words when it comes to the art of acting. Mamet's fierce opinions regarding various schools of acting are a breath of fresh air, and True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor is likely to polarize the current sentiments on how actors should prepare.
Terse and short, Mamet gets right to the point, but tends to repeat himself ... well, repeatedly ... which makes me wonder if he was really trying to hammer home his ideas, or if he was merely trying to fill pages -- the latter of which would be more surprising, considering his accomplishments as a writer.
This book obviously has a very specific audience in mind, so it is not recommended for everyone, but if you are interested in acting or are currently studying acting, pick this up. You won't regret it.(less)
When presenting a difficult, dense topic -- that of time, entropy, quantum mechanics, mathematics, physics, relativity, etc. -- the challenge of effec...moreWhen presenting a difficult, dense topic -- that of time, entropy, quantum mechanics, mathematics, physics, relativity, etc. -- the challenge of effectively communicating with the average reader becomes the author's ultimate hurdle. Early in chapter one, it was quite evident Sean Carroll was not going to live up to the challenge.
Dr. Carroll, though clearly brilliant in his field of physics and full of elegant, probing ideas, is not a writer (I will concede he is an academic writer, at best). Writing about scientific subjects in an entertaining way -- without dumb-ing down the material -- can be done, as evidenced by the likes of Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Brian Greene and Carl Sagan, just to name a few. That being said, this book was more of a burden to read than it needed to be.
From Eternity to Here is certainly not without its merits. Dr. Carroll does offer deeply insightful ideas and speculations on the subject of time and its dependence upon entropy; and those with more than a lay interest in the sciences (meaning, those who pursued science as a career) may find the book intriguing. But be prepared to wade through repetitive, overly long, scattered writing, that ultimately leads to ... well, nowhere -- which seems a somewhat fitting ending for a book about the arrow of time. (less)
Don't let the fact that it took me 10 months to finish this book impact your decision to read it; Out of Control was a well-worthy, remarkable effort,...moreDon't let the fact that it took me 10 months to finish this book impact your decision to read it; Out of Control was a well-worthy, remarkable effort, which should be given a careful and thorough read.
So, why 10 months? Kevin Kelly is very wordy. Yes, Kelly provides fascinating insights and revelations about machine biology, "hive mind" theory, co-evolution, the evolution of computers, and the future of planet Earth. But he does all of this with about 200 pages more than are actually necessary to make his point. Kelly is a great writer, no doubt, but he tends to wander aimlessly, which makes these difficult topics challenging to understand. A good editor would have helped immensely.
Out of control also suffers from a lack of cohesion, and would be better served as a collection of separate essays about each topic, rather than a book that strives to espouse one overarching theme. As I was reading, I kept wondering where Kelly was going with all of his ideas, as a lack of drive seemed evident.
Lest you think I have nothing but ill contempt for this book, there is a payoff: Kelly is a brilliant soothsayer, of sorts. This book was written 16 years ago, so hindsight can readily be applied, and Kelly's predictions about where science would be with relation to computers, nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals, this crazy thing called the "Internet" he kept mentioning, have nearly all come to fruition. Does this mean machines and computers develop their own biology, and begin truly thinking for themselves, as Kelly suggests? Time will only tell.(less)
Truth be told, I did not finish reading this book, but I read enough to get a sense of its limited capabilities.
The book is far more anecdotal than in...moreTruth be told, I did not finish reading this book, but I read enough to get a sense of its limited capabilities.
The book is far more anecdotal than insightful. "Stuck" relies heavily upon personal stories of the author and her friends/family, and superfluous film references, illustrating the notion of what it is to be stuck -- and it fails. Miserably.
This book could have benefited greatly from including such things as: stories from those who made successful strides after becoming unstuck in their lives; studies or analyses from renowned psychologists as to why many of us become stuck in the first place; sociological studies as to the overall trends of various generations and the tendencies to ease into complacency; and advice on how to remedy our current situations.