Archive for August 3rd, 2012

Book Review: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Author: Alain de Botton
TitleReligion for Atheists
Publication Info: New York : Pantheon Books, c2012.
ISBN: 9780307379108
Summary/Review:

An erudite atheist, de Botton makes a good case for religion.  Not for the belief in god or the supernatural, but the basic fact that humans invented religion and carried it down through the ages that it must serve some good purpose.  In this book he proposes adopting some of the best elements of religion to secular purposes.  In chapters on subjects such as community, kindness, education, tenderness, pessimism, perspective, art, architecture, and institutions. he identifies the best of religion and make proposals for how these things may be adapted.  For example, he proposes agape restaurants where people dine and converse with strangers and universities where people read books to learn from their emotional content instead of literary analysis.  At times the ideas are silly, but I really like de Botton’s approach and open mind.  As a religious person myself, I find that extreme atheists (really, anti-theist bigots) are one side of the same coin of religious fundamentalists.  It’s good to have ideas that move beyond the tired arguments of the extremes and work toward the betterment of humanity.

Favorite Passages:

“In a world beset by fundamentalists of both believing and secular varieties, it must be possible to balance a rejection of religious faith with a selective reverence for religious rituals and concepts.  It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting.  We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill:  first, they need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses.  And second, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of love ones and to our decay and demise.  God may be dead, but the urgent issues which impelled us to make him up still stir and demand resolutions which do not go away….” p. 12

“The true risks to our chances of flourishing are different from those conceived of by liberterians.  A lack of freedom is no longer, in most developed societies, the problem.  Our downfall lies in our inability to make the most of the freedom that our ancestors painfully secured for us over three centuries. ” p. 77

“‘The object of universities is not to make skillful lawyers, physicians or engineers.  It is to make capable and cultivated human beings.’ – John Stuart Mill” p. 100

“Secular education will never succeed in reaching its potential until humanities lecturers are sent to be trained by African-American Pentecostal preachers.” p. 131

Recommended booksBlue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism) by Frank Schaeffer.
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner

Author:  Eric Foner 
TitleThe Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery
Publication Info:  New York : W. W. Norton & Co., c2010.
ISBN:   9780393066180
Summary/Review:

Every year on or around Lincoln’s Birthday I read a book about Abraham Lincoln, and this year I read this study about Lincoln’s evolving views on slavery.  Some people consider him the great emancipator while others think he was racist and never freed a slave.  Both views have an aspect of truth.  Foner shows that Lincoln was anti-slavery from early in his life but did not think freed black persons were equal or capable of living alongside white Americans.  Until late in his Presidency he held true to a plan of colonization and resettlement of freed blacks in Africa or Latin America.  Yet, even these views were modified over time as during his Presidency he was actually exposed to meeting and respecting black individuals on a regular basis.  It’s an interesting look at how a mind changes and how the country changes as Lincoln was often just a step ahead of popular opinion.

Recommended booksThe Radical and the Republican by James Oakes
Rating: ***1/2

  • The Fiery Trial : Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner

Book Review: The Sandman : Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

AuthorNeil Gaiman
TitleThe Sandman : Preludes & Nocturnes 
Publication Info: Vertigo (2010), Edition: Reprint
ISBN: 1401225756
Summary/Review:

This is the first collection of the legendary comic book series about Dream, the personification of dreams.  In this story he his captured and held prisoner for 70 years, avenges himself on his captors, and sets forth to rebuild his kingdom.  Gaiman’s writing is dark and Dream is cruel but still at times a sympathetic protagonist.  The illustrations are rich and often gruesome but always effective.  It appears with the groundwork set in this volume that the series could really take off from here.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

Author: Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
TitleThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 
Publication Info: America’s Best Comics (1999)
ISBN: 1563898586
Summary/Review:

This novel brings together several fictional characters – Mina Harker, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyl, and the Invisible Man – to solve mysteries in an alternate universe London.  The tone of the book is dark and the characters are highly-flawed and untrustworthy.  Moore unsettling writes in style that reflects the racist and jingoistic attitudes of the time.  On the other hand Mina is a strong female lead, and although the other characters grumble about her, they still follow her lead.  I’ll definitely read more in this series.

Recommended booksBoilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan, The Remarkable Worlds of Professor Phineas B. Fuddle by Erez Yakin, and Five Fists Of Science by Matt Fraction
Rating: ***

Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

AuthorJennifer Egan
TitleA Visit From the Goon Squad by
Publication Info: Anchor (2011)
ISBN: 0307477479
Summary/Review:

I think it took me a good 70-80 pages to get into this collection of intertwined short stories and vignettes, but from that point on I was won over.  Egan does a good job of establishing characters with seemingly minor characters from one story emerging as the main protagonist in a later story.  She also does a great job of writing in many different styles, most remarkable with an emotionally touching story written as a Power Point slideshow.  This type of experimental literature has been done before, but Egan effectively uses these devices without pretension to tell a story of ordinary people facing life and love and morality (as well as music).  The only part I didn’t like was the final story set in the future which had too many cutesy gimmicks that didn’t ring true to the rest of the book.  All the same, A Visit From the Goon Squad is in the running for one of my favorite books read this year.
Recommended booksLet the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, Jazz by Toni Morrison, and Ulysses by James Joyce.
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Including Jackson Hole by Don Pitcher

AuthorDon Pitcher
TitleMoon Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Including Jackson Hole
Publication Info: Avalon Travel Publishing (2011), Edition: Fifth Edition
ISBN: 1598807366
Summary/Review: I read a couple of travel guides to feed my daydreams of taking my kids to Yellowstone in a few years and enjoyed the armchair tour.  This guide is good in that it describes not only the National Park, but offers an extensive description of fascinating places to visit in the surrounding region.  This of course expands my daydreams to what would be a months long visit to Yellowstone and its environs.

Recommended booksLost in My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill and The Rough Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton by Stephen Timblin.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Rough Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton by Stephen Timblin

AuthorStephen Timblin
TitleThe Rough Guide to Yellowstone & Grand Teton
Publication Info: Rough Guides (2011), Edition: 2,
ISBN: 1848367716
Summary/Review: I read a couple of travel guides to feed my daydreams of taking my kids to Yellowstone in a few years and enjoyed the armchair tour.  This guide is good in that it lists of options for hiking in and around Yellowstone.  This of course expands my daydreams to what would be a months long visit to Yellowstone and its environs.

Recommended booksLost in My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill and Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Including Jackson Hole by Don Pitcher
Rating: ***

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