Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: The Real History of the End of the World: Apocalyptic Predictions from Revelation and Nostradamus to Y2K and 2012

By Sharan Newman The Real History of the End of the World is a light-hearted look at a heavy subject. Historian and author Sharan Newman chooses examples from different cultures, religions, and time-periods to show that messiahs, millenarians and other doom-criers are a universal fixture of human societies. The approach is journalistic rather than academic, emphasizing breadth rather than depth. Each of the 43 very short chapters discusses one particular example of apocalyptic madness. A skeptical eye is turned on ancient Mesopotamian predictions, the Maya calendar, Nostradamus, fundamentalisms within Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions, Chinese revolutions, the “Bible code,” and more. The most developed section of the book discusses doomsday…

BOOK REVIEW: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

By Sam Harris Having enjoyed The End of Faith (2004) and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), I eagerly awaited the 2010 publication of Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. I’ve finally been able to give this book the time and attention it deserves, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in secular ethics, even though I find it somewhat incomplete. In The Moral Landscape, Harris attacks the willingness of the scientific establishment to accept the notion that science has little or nothing to say about morality and values, a position perhaps best summarized in Stephen Jay Gould’s proposal that science and religion occupy “non-overlapping…

BOOK REVIEW: Are We Living in the End Times?

by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins Are We Living in the End Times? by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins is a comparatively light and readable introduction to “typical” End Times exegesis, if by “typical” one understands the Protestant, fundamentalist, and pre-millennial approach. At 370 pages it might appear lengthy, but the material is not at all dense, and is vastly more condensed than the thousands of pages these same authors have produced in their fictionalized version of the same theme, the (in)famous Left Behind series of novels and movies. While differing in emphasis and detail from other writers on this topic, the general content runs along similar lines….

BOOK REVIEW: The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth

by Henry M. Morris Henry M. Morris (d. 2006) is well known to creationists and creationist-debaters as a founding member of the Institute for Creation Research and as an author and co-author of books that are still heavily cited by creationists, most notably The Genesis Flood (1961) and the Troubled Waters of Evolution (1982). I was recently prompted to read one of his more obscure books, The Remarkable Birth of Planet Earth (1972), which Morris styled as “a brief summary of both Biblical and scientific reasons for believing in creation instead of evolution” (p. 4). In about 100 pages of light reading, Morris outlines much of the biblical-creationist platform as…

BOOK REVIEW: Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

by Barbara Ehrenreich “Optimism is the opium of the people.” Milan Kundera, “The Joke” These words, written in an atmosphere of repression in Kundera’s 1960s Yugoslavia, illustrate the central point of Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2010 book Bright Sided: that positivity can be just as, if not more dangerous, than negativity. Specifically, she takes the reader on a journey into the positive thinking movement, from its beginnings in the 19th century in response to the dour “you’re evil and gonna burn” stance of Calvinism to its role in U.S. political and economic affairs. Ehrenreich’s inspiration for the book was her experience as a breast cancer patient, in which informational literature, support groups,…

BOOK REVIEW: The Quotable Atheist: Ammunition for Non-Believers, Political Junkies, Gadflies, and Those Generally Hell-Bound

by Jack Huberman This book is awesome, and you will be highly enlightened by what thinkers of today and in the past have said regarding religion/God/science, etc. WARNING: This book is only for the open-minded! Here is one of many of the gems I found in this book of 333 pages and over 1,200 quotes! You don’t think religion is dangerous? Consider this: “Every fatih has its share of literalists … But only within Islam is literalism fast becoming mainstream. We Muslims, even here in the West, are routinely raised to believe that the Koran is the final and therefore perfect manifesto of God’s will … This is dangerous, because…

BOOK REVIEW: Why Evolution is True

by Jerry A. Coyne Well, I am not science-inclined, but I have always felt woefully uneducated in the topic of evolution. It is such a hot topic in education and religion, I felt I owed it to myself to get the facts. Fortunately, this book is very easy to understand for the “non-science” types. Plus, right on the back cover are glowing recommendations from three of my favorite authors, Dawkins, Hitchens, and Pinker. That was enough to convince me to buy the book. I read it in about two weeks, and I found it fascinating. Yep, the facts that support evolution are all there. There’s no denying it. But I…

BOOK REVIEW: Myra Breckinridge & Myron

by Gore Vidal There are so many things to say about this book. One must keep in mind that it was written in 1968, and some of the views of sexuality are interesting. It’s hard to write a complete review of the book without giving away the entire premise. However, I would like to comment on one passage I found quite fascinating and relevant to today’s arguments about sexuality. In one chapter Myra and Rusty are disucssing sexuality: heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality. Myra asks Rusty why he thinks that the latter two are wrong. He responds with some of the same tired arguments you hear today from the religious right:…

BOOK REVIEW: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

by Jeff Sharlet This book is fascinating and a fast read. I finished it in four days. The book is divided into six chapters, each focusing on a different goal of “The Family,” the group of fundamentalist U.S. Senators and Representatives, and others, who meet in a house on C Street in Arlington, Virgina, to study the Bible and talk about how to influence domestic and international politics with “the teachings of Jesus.” The chapter on the proselytization of Africa is most disturbing. The Family uses their power and clout as U.S. Congressmen to promote their brand of Christianity throughout Africa, but in a way they wouldn’t dare try here…

BOOK REVIEW: Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment

by Phil Zuckerman Is it possible to live a good, moral life and not be religious? Of course, it is, claims the author of this book! Phil Zuckerman spent a year living in Denmark with jaunts over to nearby Sweden to interview hundreds of Scandinavians about their religious beliefs. What he discovered first and foremost is that the Scandinavians view religion as a private matter. What one personally believes about god and religion has absolutely no impact on other people’s lives and is hardly ever discussed. By contrast, Americans tend to wear their religion on their sleeves, as a type of badge of a sign of one’s personal virtue. The…