November 21, 2004
As with the previous book review meeting (on January 18), this meeting was well attended and well received. Wayne Luney, Leon Lefson, Carl Seratt, Pete Holmquist, Esther Franklin, Ted Webb and Bill Potts all presented book reviews and/or recommendations. Other than their recommendations, the reports below don't pretend and are not intended to fully reflect the content of each person's review, something that would have required considerable note taking.
The images below are of book covers.
Wayne Luney's book was Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, by Susan Jacoby, published in hardcover by Metropolitan Books (ISBN 0-80-507442-2) and in paperback by Owl Books (ISBN 0-80-507776-6).
About this book, the Los Angeles Times Book Review says, in part: "At a time when the separation of church and state is under attack as never before, Freethinkers offers a powerful defense of the secularist heritage that gave Americans the first government in the world founded not on the authority of religion but on the bedrock of human reason. In impassioned, elegant prose, celebrated author Susan Jacoby traces more than two hundred years of secularist activism."
Wayne recommends the book.
Leon Lefson's book was The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, by Greg Palast, published in hardcover (2002) by Pluto Press (ISBN 0-74-531846-0), in a revised paperback edition (2003) by Plume Books (ISBN 0-45-228391-4), on audio cassette (abridged edition) by Penguin Audiobooks (ISBN 0-14-280064-3), and on CD (abridged edition) by Penguin Audiobooks (ISBN 0-14-280065-1).
Greg Palast is the brilliant and persistent muckraking reporter who works for (or has worked for) the BBC, The Observer, The Guardian and The Independent. According to the description of the printed editions on the amazon.com website, "This exciting new collection brings together some of Palast's most powerful writing of the past decade. Included here are his celebrated 'Washington Post' exposť on Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris's stealing of the presidential election in Florida, and recent stories on George W. Bush's payoffs to corporate cronies, the payola behind Hillary Clinton, and the faux energy crisis. Also included in this volume are new and previously unpublished material, television transcripts, photographs and letters."
Leon strongly recommends this book.
Carl Seratt reviewed four books.
His first was Socrates' Way: Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost, by Ronald Gross, published in paperback by Jeremy P. Tarcher (ISBN 1-58-542192-8).
The customer reviews on amazon.com have headings as varied as "Inspirational, involving, rewarding reading" and "A well-intended but boring book." Carl would seem to agree with the former and strongly recommends this book.
His second was The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason, by Charles Freeman, published in hardcover (2003) by Knopf (ISBN 1-40-004085-X) and in paperback (to be released in February 2005) by Vintage (ISBN 1-40-003380-2).
The publisher describes the book as "A radical and powerful reappraisal of the impact of Constantine’s adoption of Christianity on the later Roman world, and on the subsequent development both of Christianity and of Western civilization." On the other hand, Publisher's Weekly says, "Freeman repeats an oft-told tale of the rise of Christianity and the supposed demise of philosophy in a book that is fascinating, frustrating and flawed." Notwithstanding that, Carl gives this book a strong recommendation too.
Carl's third book was Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, by Andrew Newberg, MD, Eugene G. Aquili, MD, and Vince Rause, published in paperback (2002) by Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-34-544034-X).
In this book, the authors make the case that the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain. Once more, a strong recommendation from Carl.
Finally, Carl reviewed Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally, by Marcus J. Borg, published in paperback (2002) by Harper San Francisco (ISBN 0-06-060919-2).
Borg's target audience is, unsurprisingly, not freethinkers. Rather, it is those Christians who have become disaffected with their religion as a result of the literalism of Christian fundamentalists. Carl still recommends this one, but not as strongly as the other three.
Pete Holmquist reviewed The Borzoi College Reader, by Charles Muscatine and Marlene Griffith, currently published in paperback by McGraw-Hill (ISBN 0-07-044166-9). Even in paperback form, this book weighs over a kilogram and, even on amazon.com, costs over $45. The good news is that amazon.com also has used copies available with a range of prices starting at $2.
Like most college readers, this book contains both fiction and nonfiction from a wide range of well-known and respected authors.
Pete strongly recommends it.
Esther Franklin reviewed two books.
Esther's first book was the intriguingly-titled The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales from the Bible, by Jonathan Kirsch, published in hardcover (1997) by Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-34-540749-0), in paperback (1998), also by Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-34-541882-4) and audio-cassette, an abridged edition published by Audio Literature (ISBN 1-57-453211-1). It's also available as an audio download from http://audible.com, in either Windows Media or Real Player format.
The publisher's description of the book says, "The stories you are about to read are some of the most violent and sexually explicit in all of Western literature. They are tales of human passion in all of its infinite variety: adultery, seduction, incest, rape, mutilation, assassination, torture, sacrifice, and murder ..." Library Journal's description includes the following: "For those to whom Bible stories suggest 'Disneyesque animals and simple uplifting moral lessons,' this book may be a bit of a shock. Kirsch shows that the Bible is not a children's book. Then, as now, rape, incest, prostitution, murder, and strange religious cults were a part of life."
Esther strongly recommends the book.
Esther's second book, which she recommended but did not review, was The Outsider, by Colin Wilson, published in paperback (1987) by Jeremy P. Tarcher (ISBN 0-87-477206-0) and in hardcover (1990) by Buccaneer Books (ISBN 0-89-966670-1).
One reviewer describes the book as, "An attempt by the author to get behind the expressions of what he terms outsiders, but in reality are people who attempt to break free from society's constraints and illusions." He sums up the book as "The most profound book that I have yet read."
Ted Webb chose a Noam Chomsky book -- the very timely Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (The American Empire Project), published in hardcover (2003) by Metropolitan Books (ISBN 0-80-507400-7), in paperback (2004) by Owl Books (ISBN 0-80-507688-3), as an unabridged CD (2003) by Audio Renaissance (ISBN 1-55-927941-9), and as an e-book (2003), requiring Microsoft Reader, by St. Martin's Press (ASIN B0001MBZVK). It's also available as an audio download from http://audible.com, in either Windows Media or Real Player format.
The publisher's description starts with, "From the world's foremost intellectual activist, an irrefutable analysis of America's pursuit of total domination and the catastrophic consequences that are sure to follow." It closes with "Lucid, rigorous, and thoroughly documented, Hegemony or Survival promises to be Chomsky's most urgent and sweeping work in years, certain to spark widespread debate."
Needless to say, Ted recommends this one.
Bill Potts chose the glossy, but satirical, America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, written and edited by Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin and David Javerbaum, with writing and additional material by sixteen other people on the staff of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. The book is published in hardcover by Warner Books (ISBN 0-446-53268-1). It is also available as an abridged audio CD, from Warner Adult (ISBN 1-58-621701-1) and as an audio download from http://audible.com, in either Windows Media or Real Player format.
For those unfamiliar with The Daily Show, you might want to note that it has won a Peabody Award and several Emmies. It always includes an interview segment, often relatively serious and often with politicians of all political persuasions.
In its description of the book, Amazon says, "American-style democracy is the world's most beloved form of government, which explains why so many other nations are eager for us to impose it on them. But what is American democracy? In America (The Book), Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writing staff offer their insights into our unique system of government, dissecting its institutions, explaining its history and processes, and exploring the reasons why concepts like one man, one vote, government by the people, and every vote counts have become such popular urban myths. Topics include: Ancient Rome: The First Republicans; The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted, and White; The Media: Can it Be Stopped?; and more!"
Report prepared by Bill Potts