This is a very slim book. It almost feels like a pamphlet. Regardless, I read it slowly over the course of a few months. A page here, a page there. I...moreThis is a very slim book. It almost feels like a pamphlet. Regardless, I read it slowly over the course of a few months. A page here, a page there. I kind of prefer reading philosophical books that way -- writing that requires deep thinking often requires that I spend a lot of time digesting it. I don't pretend to be a deep thinker, and I realize many of my friends probably plowed through this in 30 minutes.
I'm a bit conflicted. As I set out reading the first few chapters, Harris nearly had me convinced that we do *not* actually have free will. This is, as he points out, certainly a bummer to us humans, who pride ourselves on our ability to make choices and to choose to live (or not) moral lives where we make good (and difficult) choices.
While I was half way through the book, I read a write-up of a study which indicates that perhaps some of the research that Harris uses in his argument might not have been definitive, and that researchers believe they may have located a mechanism that indicates a conscious decision prior to the brain's signaling to decide (which had previously been shown to precede our being conscious of having made a decision) - got it?
So, yeah. Harris' argument is absolutely a powerful one. He writes, as usual, with great clarity, and he is quite convincing. Had I not read some of the research that came to light after the publishing of this book, I might be of the camp that we *don't* truly have free will. As of now, I'm not so sure.
I wish more people would read this, however. It has a lot to say about how neuroscience plays into our decisions, and how so many of our decisions should not be reflections of us as moral or immoral beings, but rather a product of our genetics and our neurophysiology. This type of thinking should absolutely be taken into consideration in criminal courts -- not that we should ever excuse horrible acts (but rather, we should stress the importance of understanding their origins and how we might curtail them.)
i think people in general spend so much time actively engaged WITHIN their religion that they never really develop an appreciation for the HOW's, WHY'...morei think people in general spend so much time actively engaged WITHIN their religion that they never really develop an appreciation for the HOW's, WHY's, and WHERE's of their religion, or for religion as a whole.
this is an incredibly fascinating look at the origins and evolution of religion from the religions of nomadic tribes to the three monotheisms of today's civilizations.
as reportage, it's stellar, and wade makes this stuff compelling through a variety of histories, anecdotes, and distillations of prior study of religion and evolution.
his thesis, that religion is an adaptive human trait, is certainly interesting. his argument, in many ways, is compelling and hard to refute. however, as the book progresses, one starts to feel as though he hasn't quite convinced himself of this, especially as it relates to modern secular societies, modern warfare, and the robust religiosity of america despite its lack of the characteristics that tend to necessitate it. i do appreciate wade's insistence that a trait need not be a benefit to the individual in order to survive -- certain traits that are not selfish/survival traits can benefit the cohesion of a group and therefore indirectly improve the survival of the group, and therefore the individual.
he does spend some time with competing theories of religion's survival, including the popular theory that religion is a by-product other mental adaptations that occurred in our evolution. and while reading this book, i wondered why religion couldn't have been shaped by both theories? part adaptive, part by-product. the evidence for both is compelling, whereas neither seems to fully explain.
wade's book works on many levels. as mentioned above, i thoroughly enjoyed reading a concise, but detailed, linear narrative of the history of religion that took into consideration the societal and personal benefits of religion that might allow certain populations to flourish.
i would recommend this book to anyone interested in religion and/or evolution, simply to view both topics in a way that you may not have viewed them before -- if you're a layperson like myself, at least.(less)
just fantastic. a unique blend of history, social justice, science, memoir, immersion journalism, biography, etc. i will be *extremely* surprised if t...morejust fantastic. a unique blend of history, social justice, science, memoir, immersion journalism, biography, etc. i will be *extremely* surprised if this does not end up as an oscar nominated film within the next two years.
if you've been living under a rock, this is the story of HeLa, one of the first successful cell lines, one responsible for more than you can imagine. these cells have been instrumental in countless medical breakthroughs, they have helped find cures to deadly and/or debilitating illnesses, they have flown into space, been blown up by atomic bombs, you name it.
and they were taken from an african american woman approximately 50 years ago, without her consent. they have been sold around the world, for profit. the family to this day is poor, and cannot afford health insurance. they suffer from the diseases that these very cells have helped to combat. they cannot afford the drugs that these cells helped to develop.
this is among the best nonfiction books i have read in years. it may not be the most profound or the most influential, but it tells a story that has not been told -- at least not fully, until now. it asks us to rethink the costs of medical and scientific progress.
but it also tells a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, story in the procress. one in which the author unwittingly became a central character.
i've read a lot about evolution, and i think it's arguable that this is the best book about evolution since 'the origin of species.' at least in...moreepic.
i've read a lot about evolution, and i think it's arguable that this is the best book about evolution since 'the origin of species.' at least in terms of those which are not scholarly works aimed at biologists.
i thought i had a pretty good grasp on evolution, but there were several points in this book where i felt completely floored, either by the shattering of some previously held assumption, or by dawkins' ability to crystallize so perfectly something that had previously seemed entirely fuzzy to me.
there are a gazillion of wonderful reviews out there on this book, so i don't feel it's necessary to tell people anything other than to read it if you have any interest in how we got to where we are. you will walk away with a renewed sense of connection to all living things, and a greater appreciation for the diversity of life on earth, for the haphazard, but beautiful messes that are our bodies, for our strange ecosystems, and for the nature of life, suffering, and survival.
this is a fun read. the book straddles quite nicely that line between bookish and entertaining. the narrative is a little lop-sided. i think grann's o...morethis is a fun read. the book straddles quite nicely that line between bookish and entertaining. the narrative is a little lop-sided. i think grann's own adventure pales in comparison, in terms of drama, but of course it's crucial to getting you the answers you are looking for -- namely, does z exist? and what happened to percy fawcett?
i think i most enjoyed the descriptions of the difficult nature of amazonian exploration. the bugs, the maggots, the disease, harsh nature of the terrain. grann brilliantly characterizes the amazon -- i certainly have no urge to visit, thank you. this book puts to rest any questions a reader might have about which is more powerful, man or nature.
anyone who has enjoyed krakauer's books, or enjoys a good travel yarn, mixed with a bit of indiana jones, and a dash of a mystery will find lots to enjoy here.(less)
this is the one. if there was one book that i would recommend about evolution that is at once easy to understand and incredibly comprehensive, it's a...morethis is the one. if there was one book that i would recommend about evolution that is at once easy to understand and incredibly comprehensive, it's a no-brainer. i thought i had a handle on the basics of evolution, yet every few pages i was presented with something so fascinating and illuminating that i couldn't help but share it (my poor wife).
i'm amazed that there are still folks who do not accept that evolution is a fact as true as any number of scientific theories that we also accept as fact (the germ theory of disease, atomic theory, etc.). but if anyone still felt that way after reading coyne's book, they are simply being dishonest. coyne masterfully presents the case here, and leaves little need for any deliberation. (less)