This book underscores why Peter Singer is the most influential philosopher living today. He takes his utilitarianism very seriously, and the implicatiThis book underscores why Peter Singer is the most influential philosopher living today. He takes his utilitarianism very seriously, and the implications of this philosophy, if followed, would radically change our world for the better. In this book, Singer lays out the case for why those of us in affluent nations should be giving to charity to help the poor worldwide. What is actually most surprising to me is the final section in which he lays out the numbers: if the richest 10% of those in the US (and the equally wealthy worldwide) would give at higher levels than they do now but at levels that do not adversely affect their lifestyles, we could effectively end world poverty. Still, the burden should not fall on the richest 10% alone: most of us not in the top 10% of America's wealthiest (those of us earning less than $102,000 annually) could still easily give far more than we do by simply giving up some of our more frivolous spending. This book provides an excellent case for being more generous and eschewing the oft touted American individualism (what I would actually call selfishness: for a literary example of this selfishness-as-a-virtue, see Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged); rather than looking out only for ourselves, we should be looking to help those less fortunate than us, and Singer's arguments here provide the basic moral and practical reasons for such altruism....more
great debut novel from Josh Bazell; best new work of the 2009 crop of fiction that I've read this year; synopsis: a former mob hit-man goes into the wgreat debut novel from Josh Bazell; best new work of the 2009 crop of fiction that I've read this year; synopsis: a former mob hit-man goes into the witness protection program, becomes a physician, and then runs back into trouble when one of his new patients turns out to be an old mafia associate; the novel jumps back and forth between the narrator's (the story is a 1st-person narrative from the protagonist's perspective) present conundrum and his former life; this is not a novel whose ending you will be able to see coming, and the denouement is fabulous (not to mention one of the most cringe-inducing passages I've ever read); Bazell himself is an MD, and you will pick up a lot of interesting trivia about the medical profession as well as the witness protection program; there really is never a dull moment in this novel; no, it's nothing terribly deep or serious, but it is just a great read from beginning to end; highly, highly recommended...more
This is a great synopsis of biblical studies scholarship. Ehrman presents nothing new nor controversial in this book but rather summarizes the views oThis is a great synopsis of biblical studies scholarship. Ehrman presents nothing new nor controversial in this book but rather summarizes the views of the Bible held by the vast majority of biblical scholars: Ehrman addresses the authorship of various books of the Bible, the contradictions within the Bible (especially the Gospels and the Pauline epistles and Acts), the formation of the canon, the development of the orthodox doctrines, what can be known about the historical Jesus, and issues related to various textual deviations among the oldest manuscripts. Most of the book focuses on the New Testament as Ehrman is a New Testament scholar. To anyone at all familiar with critical studies of the Bible, there will be nothing in this book that is at all new; however, for those who know the Bible only from what their pastors have taught them in church, this book will contain many surprising and possibly disturbing revelations (unless they are members of a more liberal denomination)....more
I heard really good review for this book on NPR, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Overall, it wasn't a bad book, but I was still a bit dI heard really good review for this book on NPR, so I was really looking forward to reading it. Overall, it wasn't a bad book, but I was still a bit disappointed: it was basically another book attacking various pet causes of the political and religious right. While I agree with Pierce's perspective on these issues, there really wasn't much new here: Pierce just rehashes the idiocy (thus the title) of global warming skeptics, of creationists, of torture advocates, of Iraq War proponents, etc., and he excoriates the American public and even the media for being so insipid as to accept the claims advanced by those on the right without critically examining and challenging those claims. Idiot America is not a bad book, but it does not present anything really novel....more
I was very much anticipating reading this novel after immensely enjoying Bolton's debut novel, Sacrifice; Awakening, while a solid work of crime/suspeI was very much anticipating reading this novel after immensely enjoying Bolton's debut novel, Sacrifice; Awakening, while a solid work of crime/suspense fiction, failed to live up to brilliance of Sacrifice. The plot of Awakening revolves around a series of murders and disappearances, and the murders are carried out via venomous snakes: adders and taipans. Bolton does an excellent job of building the suspense leading up to the resolution and detailing the trials and turmoils of the protagonist, Clara, a veterinarian who works in rural England. Bolton also keeps the reader, for most of the novel, in the dark with regards to an important factor in Clara's life: very early in the novel, we learn that Clara has some unusual physical feature, and only very slowly is the nature of this feature revealed.
The denouement, however, is where this novel fails where the previous one did not. It is not so much the characters' motives as the manner in which everything unfolds that is the problem; without giving too much away, I shall just say that it seems as if Bolton wrote the climactic scenes as if she had in mind developing a screenplay for moving this novel to the big screen, and the ending winds up seeming too Hollywoodish and even far-fetched. Nevertheless, it was still, overall, a very good novel, and besides providing the chance to enjoy a generally good story, the reader will also receive a nice little education about snakes and religious snake-handling sects....more
intertwined plots set in two different time periods: 1991: Harvard University and the small Massachusetts town of Marblehead; mid-1600s to mid-1700s:intertwined plots set in two different time periods: 1991: Harvard University and the small Massachusetts town of Marblehead; mid-1600s to mid-1700s: 3 generations of Salem cunning women/healers (witches) in Salem, Massachusetts
1991: a grad student, Connie, just completes her oral exams (anyone who has been in grad school will be able to appreciate her situation, and the author, Katherine Howe, is currently pursuing a Ph.D.) and is searching for a dissertation topic when, during the summer of 1991, she stumbles across, while cleaning her grandmother's old house, a slip of paper inside a key that is inside a Bible bearing the name of Deliverance Dane; intrigued, Connie begins to research this mysterious woman to find out exactly who she was; her research leads her in search of the titular physick book, which is actually a book of healing tinctures and even spells
as the novel proceeds, we see the trials (literally) and tribulations of Deliverance and her daughter and granddaughter; we eventually learn that Deliverance was tried in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692
Howe interweaves the stories of the two times with Connie's story being the dominant narrative and the story of Deliverance and her family being told in a series of inserted interludes
the antagonist in this story is Connie's grad school advisor, Manning Chilton, who has veered from the normally respectable areas of academic research into studies of alchemy; Chilton has become obsessed with obtaining the mythical philosopher's stone and is convinced that the physick book that Connie is seeking may hold the key to his discovery of the philosopher's stone
the novel veers from the genre of pure historical fiction into the realm of fantasy, and in so doing, I think the overall plot suffers, and Howe uses a type of deus ex machina to resolve the conflict between Connie and Chilton, which is, from an artistic point of view, a bit disappointing; however, the story of Deliverance and her family is extremely well told, and even Connie's story is absolutely engrossing though the turn toward magical realism seems rather awkward in this particular novel; the denouement could possibly have been more aesthetically satisfying (without the deus ex machina), but Howe has, nonetheless, still written a thoroughly enjoyable novel; it is one of my favorite novels this year; I highly recommend it...more
This is easily the best work of contemporary adult fiction that I have read in theOne-word review: amazing!
Three-word recommendation: read this book!
This is easily the best work of contemporary adult fiction that I have read in the past five years.
This is really 4 different stories wrapped into one: a journalist's pursuit of a story of financial and even criminal scandal at a Swedish corporate giant; a murder/missing person mystery; a look at the disturbing secrets and feuds in the history of one of Sweden's wealthiest families; and a young hacker/private investigator's battles with her own demons.
After you have read the first 20 pages, you will be hooked. Larsson takes this story in directions that the reader could never have guessed but that flow realistically from what has come before, and Larsson's genius is on display throughout the narrative as he shifts effortlessly from one story-line to the next leaving the reader hanging almost every time that he jumps to another plot-line but rewarding the reader by returning to an equally intriguing development.
The characters are also fully developed, especially the title character, Lisbeth Salander, and the other protagonist, Mikael Blomkquist. The reader will thrill with rage and anger and despair and joy as these two undergo their trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
If you enjoy good crime and suspense novels or just a good story in general, you simply must read this book....more
This book provided much, much more than just information about the many ways in which life on earth could be destroyed: it was also a great introductiThis book provided much, much more than just information about the many ways in which life on earth could be destroyed: it was also a great introduction to the entire field of astrophysics.
Plait writes in a very conversational tone and explains highly complex, technical scientific issues in ways that anyone with only a high school education can understand.
What I most enjoyed was learning how the entire universe will end in about 10 to the 92nd power years from now: all the protons in the universe will have decayed into sub-atomic particles; there will be nothing but a vast, vast expanse of extremely cold (just above absolute zero) dark space....more
My fellow vegans will love this book. Meat-eaters will, I hope, be convinced to switch to a vegan diet, but they are probably more likely to hate thisMy fellow vegans will love this book. Meat-eaters will, I hope, be convinced to switch to a vegan diet, but they are probably more likely to hate this book or to stop reading it because it makes them uncomfortable.
Initially, the book seems like just another diet/health/fitness book with the the authors pontificating on why sugar and food additives are bad and organic food is good. However, Skinny Bitch is atypical in that the authors write in a very, very conversational tone, and this is definitely not G-rated material. I laughed out loud when, on the very first page, they tell us, "You cannot keep eating the same shit and expect to get skinny." There is also a liberal scattering of "fucks" and "fucking" and other variations of "fuck." But, other than the language, the book does, at first, seem to be a very traditional health and nutrition book.
Then we come to the chapters on meat and dairy and the diatribes against factory farming and modern industrialized agriculture. For those of us in the vegan and animal rights community, there is nothing really new here, but it is ever and always depressing to read again about the vile, despicable manner in which animals are treated. If you've ever read Peter Singer's classic Animal Liberation, you will find that the Skinny Bitch authors give what can be described as a very condensed but highly informative summary of Singer's book, detailing many of the same cruel and abusive practices to which animals are subjected.
The book also provides many resources for vegans: websites, books, lists of non-vegan ingredients that are hiding in various foods.
This is a highly informative book written in a somewhat unusual style, and it is a quick and easy read. (I easily finished it in a day.) If you take the ideas of these authors seriously (and you should), you will not only find yourself living a much healthier lifestyle, but you will also be a better person because you will, hopefully, adopt a vegan diet and thus stop contributing to the vile, horrific treatment of animals....more
John Wray provides us with a dual-perspective story: (1) a day in the life of a schizophrenic, William Heller, whose nickname is Lowboy. Will has justJohn Wray provides us with a dual-perspective story: (1) a day in the life of a schizophrenic, William Heller, whose nickname is Lowboy. Will has just been released from a mental hospital and has been off his medications for some time, so he is his normal, paranoid self rather than his medicated, "flat" self. He is convinced that he must save the world from overheating. He will do this by having sex with Emily, a girl who, some years before, he had pushed onto the subway tracks, though she escaped unharmed; (2) the efforts of a police officer, Ali Lateef, and Will's mother, Yda (also known as Violet) to track down Will.
This is far more a character study of Will, Ali, and Violet than it is a plot driven story. It's almost a Joyce/Ulysses-type journey (though it's not a stream-of-consciousness novel) through the day these people pass: Will wondering the tunnels of the subway system and re-uniting with Emily and the odd relationship that develops between Ali and Violet as they try to find Will, moving from Ali's office, to the streets, to Violet's home, and back to the streets again.
I was most intrigued by Wray's presentation of the world from the viewpoint of a paranoid schizophrenic, and, reading the acknowledgments, he apparently did a good deal of research, so I am inclined to believe that we have a fairly good portrayal of how schizophrenics view the world.
Overall, I did like the book and was primarily sucked in and motivated to keep reading because the characters were all so very interesting. Wray certainly was not trying to tell some grand narrative here, so the plot really is nothing of great consequence. I only gave the novel three stars because, after finishing it, it's not something that I could go to someone and say: "Read this! You'll love it!" It's not great art or beautiful. It's just very interesting....more
I wanted to read this book after seeing a review that indicated that Sinnott-Armstrong attempts to establish an objective basis for morality in this bI wanted to read this book after seeing a review that indicated that Sinnott-Armstrong attempts to establish an objective basis for morality in this book, but I was rather disappointed in his efforts in this direction.
Now, I should say that Sinnott-Armstrong's main goals in the book are to show that it is possible for atheists, agnostics, and secularists to justify their moral beliefs apart from appeals to God and religious texts and to show the problems with religiously-based ethical systems (particularly the divine-command approach to ethics). In these two areas, Sinnott-Armstrong succeeds quite well; however, for those interested in ethics, he really does not present anything new or different, but he never claims to be attempting anything particularly novel. Basically, Sinnott-Armstrong is just trying to present these arguments in terms that those without any background in philosophy or ethics can appreciate, and, again, I think he does this very well.
Sinnott-Armstrong's attempt to ground his ethical views in objective moral standards begins with the harm principle: rational agents should not take any actions that cause unnecessary harm to others, and they should takes steps to prevent any unnecessary harms to others when they are able to do so. Now, this principle is one that the vast majority of rational, normal humans would accept; however, there is nothing whatsoever objective about it. It is an opinion, and nothing more than that.
Sinnott-Armstrong never tells us why or how his harm principle is objective, and I frankly have no idea what it would mean for any normative principle to be objective. (Yes, I am a nihilist.) In the realm of the objective we find empirical physical laws (e.g. Einstein's famous E = mc squared or Newton's laws of motion) and analytic truths (e.g. linguistic truths like all quadrapeds have, by definition, four limbs or mathematical truths like two parallel lines never meet). Moral principles, however, are not empirically true: while it may be necessary that if we all want to live a life of relative peace and security that we should not cause harm to others, there might be some who would reject that idea that we should all want to live lives of relative peace and security. (Granted, they might be sociopaths or extreme egoists, but such people do exist.) Nor is it an analytic truth that it is good not to harm others, for what is good for some may not be good for others: a sociopath, for example, may find that it is good for him to be able to harm others but not for others to harm him, and the same might be said for a megalomaniacal dictator like Caligula or Stalin. We could argue with such sociopaths that their actions are not good for the whole of society, but they may very well not care about such principles, and there is no objective standard to which we can appeal. And it will not do to state that part of the definition of good is not harming others unnecessarily, for this is simply begging the question of what is good (and thus moral) in the first place. Morality, then, is a matter of taste and opinion. Moral principles are not principles that are true or false; they are principles that we establish if we want to achieve certain ends, such as living what most people would consider to be "the good life." But there are those who would not desire to attain such an end and so would not accept our principles in the first place. Thus, morality is not something that can be objectively grounded in any way.
Although Sinnott-Armstrong claims that he has given an objective basis for morality in the book, what he has really done is to provide rational arguments showing that the non-religious can rationally and consistently live a moral life despite lacking any belief in God: God is not necessary for morality. (Of course, Plato fairly well established this about 2,500 years ago in Euthyphro.) What Sinnott-Armstrong fails to do (and what, it seems to me, no moral philosopher could ever do) is provide an objective basis for morality....more