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Godless in America: Why I wrote it 
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Post Godless in America: Why I wrote it
I wrote Godless in America: conversations with an atheist with two goals in mind.

The first was to explain atheism, as I understand it, and to show how it can lead to a positive outlook. The second was to address the status of nonbelief in the United States and the dangers I see in the efforts of fundamentalist religionists to coopt our public institutuions.

In order to address those issues, I felt it necessary to critique some fundamental aspects of religions and to explain why I find them less than satisfactory. My intent was not to attack the religious beliefs of individuals but to discuss general religious concepts and some of the problems inherent in them. However, my book is not a scholarly tome on religions.

My overall objective was to explain my view of atheism and why I find it preferable to a religious perspective. It was not to provide another tiresome compendium of arguments against the various versions of the god idea or of the many contradictions and imbecilities to be found in the holy books of most religions. Nor did I have any interest in leading my readers down one or another of the metaphysical ratholes into which such discussions often vanish.

I wanted to write in plain English about atheism and gods and religions. I hoped the reader would find the conversational tone of the book to be inviting and would come away from it with, at a minimum, a greater appreciation of this atheist's view of things.

Godless in America was published in April 2006, so it came out before Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation. In a sense it has been eclipsed by those other titles. However, I think most of those who have found my little book have, for the most part, enjoyed the experience.

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Fri Aug 03, 2007 11:07 am
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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
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However, I think most of those who have found my little book have, for the most part, enjoyed the experience.
I've been enjoying your book immensely. While on the flight to and from Lake Tahoe this past weekend I devoured and apprciated your book.

I'd like to advertise that we're reading and discussing your book, but I'm not sure where to place the ads. Any suggestions?




Fri Aug 03, 2007 8:21 pm
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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
I am going to try to find the book this weekend and if I have any free time I will read it while I am at the academy.

I really hope I have the time to read it, it sounds like something that I will enjoy.

Later

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Fri Aug 03, 2007 9:46 pm
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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
Chris: I'd like to advertise that we're reading and discussing your book, but I'm not sure where to place the ads. Any suggestions?

I guess anywhere that freethinkers and liberal religionists are likely to gather. I wish I could be more specific, but, when it comes to advertising on the web, I'm really clueless.

I did post an announcement on the "My blog/What's new?" page on my web site. Maybe a few people will migrate from there to here.

Glad to hear you liked the book. ::14

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Sat Aug 04, 2007 4:10 pm
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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
George: The first was to explain atheism, as I understand it, and to show how it can lead to a positive outlook.

I appreciate your down to earth, informed, brass tacks approach to the subject George. I've visited your blog and have read a number of your posts there, as well engaged many of your important contributions at Booktalk. I don't know if I'll have time to read your book during this cycle of discussions, but it looks like something certainly worthy of careful reading when time is more available. Congratulations.

Of the theists I take seriously (Hans Kung, Nicholas Lash, John D. Caputo, to name a few) they have a similar approach to their work: explaining what it means to have faith in God and how that can lead to a positive outlook. An important part of that project involves taking account of the abuses and misuses of theism in the history of religion and ideas. In other words, some of the most incisive criticism of religious superstition, ideological thuggery, and theistic nonsense is written by theists. Obviously they draw very different conclusions than yourself, but they often share many of the same criticisms. Do you engage a similar critique of atheism and its abuses across history?

George: The second was to address the status of nonbelief in the United States and the dangers I see in the efforts of fundamentalist religionists to coopt our public institutuions.

What do you mean by fundamentalist religionists and do you make substantive distinctions when defining the differences within the communities of religious folk...do these distinctions allow for political allies among some theists? If political alliances are possible with some theists, do you expect them to leave their theology at home...or is there room for that in your struggle against the fundamentalist assault?




Wed Aug 15, 2007 3:47 pm
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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
DH: Do you engage a similar critique of atheism and its abuses across history?

Since I define atheism as the absence of belief in a deity, I'm not sure how abuse could enter into it. However, if I'm understanding the direction of your question, I waste no time at all dealing with political systems that feature atheism as a dogma. In my view atheism is antithetical to any sort of dogmatic approach and I think that's clear in what I have written.

DH: What do you mean by fundamentalist religionists and do you make substantive distinctions when defining the differences within the communities of religious folk...do these distinctions allow for political allies among some theists? If political alliances are possible with some theists, do you expect them to leave their theology at home...or is there room for that in your struggle against the fundamentalist assault?

I'm quite clear that there is tremendous variety of belief among religionists and that the fundamentalist variety I am addressing is a small but vocal minority within respective religious communities. As a matter of fact, I do note that many religious people also are concerned about many of my concerns regarding these issues.

However, my book is not a manual on communities of religious folk and makes no effort to categorize all the variations that are possible. As far as alliances with religious folk are concerned, I really don't discuss that in the book. As I've told you before in other threads, I have no problem with such alliances. Whether or not the religious folk in question leave their religious theologies at home is up to them. But if religion is driving the train, I won't be on it.

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
garicker: However, if I'm understanding the direction of your question, I waste no time at all dealing with political systems that feature atheism as a dogma. In my view atheism is antithetical to any sort of dogmatic approach and I think that's clear in what I have written.

No doubt atheism has been abused by totalitarian regimes, especially during the 20th Century (Stalin and Mao sludge immediately to mind). Both systems had a particular vision for the future and were willing and prepared to sacrifice whatever stood in the way. Key to their ideology was an ancient practice of keeping dangerous ideas away from the community. Unacceptable thoughts, questions, notions, values, contrary visions for the future and debate about what was best for the people, party or state...borders are required and boundaries need be set in place to quarantine these infectious beliefs...they cannot be allowed to spread.

What is it about your form of atheism that keeps it from embarking on this ancient (and quite modern) practice of patrolling the borders of unacceptable thought: forcing a quarantine on the deluded and dangerous minded...being willing to silence, sacrifice, or eliminate whatever gets in the way?

garicker: I'm quite clear that there is tremendous variety of belief among religionists and that the fundamentalist variety I am addressing is a small but vocal minority within respective religious communities.

How do you define the fundamentalist variety? Do you spend any time in your book making sense of what motivates this small but vocal minority?




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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
DH: What is it about your form of atheism that keeps it from embarking on this ancient (and quite modern) practice of patrolling the borders of unacceptable thought: forcing a quarantine on the deluded and dangerous minded...being willing to silence, sacrifice, or eliminate whatever gets in the way?

Atheism is the absence of god-belief. It is not a religion, a philosophy or a political ideology. Totalitarian regimes that may advocate non-belief are problematic because they are totalitarian, not because they are atheistic. There is absolutely nothing in the statements "I have no belief in gods" or "I believe no gods exist" that could or should cause anyone to do anything to anybody. I think any attempt to impose atheism as some sort of dogma is antithetical to the nature of atheism as I understand it.

DH: How do you define the fundamentalist variety? Do you spend any time in your book making sense of what motivates this small but vocal minority?

Fundamentalism, in most religious traditions, is dogmatically orthodox, usually insists on the most literal interpretation of whatever holy book is followed by that religion and regards all departures from orthodoxy as anathema.

I don't think speculating about motives is especially profitable. My concern is more with the impact of fundamentalism on our society.

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
George: There is absolutely nothing in the statements "I have no belief in gods" or "I believe no gods exist" that could or should cause anyone to do anything to anybody.

Until, I suppose, antithetical beliefs bump up against it. Then an additional belief would need to mobilize action against the demand "all must believe in god". Beliefs in self-defense, civil rights, personal liberties, or freedom of conscience might provide the spur to protect oneself from theistic intrusions...but atheism, itself, as you see it, would...well, what would/should it do in the face of totalitarian theologies and invading ideologies?

George: I think any attempt to impose atheism as some sort of dogma is antithetical to the nature of atheism as I understand it.

Why not impose it on others? If others are engaged in self-delusion that can and does lead to destructive impact upon surrounding communities and ecosystems: why not intervene on behalf of oneself and the community? Why not intervene on behalf of the truth?

George: Fundamentalism, in most religious traditions, is dogmatically orthodox, usually insists on the most literal interpretation of whatever holy book is followed by that religion and regards all departures from orthodoxy as anathema.

I'm not certain if any community can escape dogma, or avoid endorsing orthodoxy. The issue is whether said dogma or orthodoxy can be proven legitimate. Dogma, as I understand it, is the teaching that binds the rules of the community across geography and generations: it keeps the traditions in tact across space and time, providing an integrity of identity and mission; inculcating the vision and purpose of why this particular community chooses to organize itself. Orthodoxy involves what is correct thinking and proper deeds: truth and action. When a community abandons dogma and orthodoxy, it essentially abandons itself. The heretic does not reject orthodoxy and dogma, per se, but introduces a different teaching and opposing set of rules. This forces the orthodoxy of the community to make a decision: is this new introduction a threat to our integrity, or can it enrich our understanding?

I really don't see how any community can avoid this process. Again, the issue is whether the process is legitmate. How we define this legitimacy is complicated, no doubt. Totalitarians define it without debate, absent dialogue, and with scarce tolerance for anything beyond orthodoxy: and they impose it with brute force, violence and terror. Fundamentalists (if they lack the power of brute force) utilize similar narrow strictures of orthodoxy, and impose their beliefs with threats of social anomie, familial disarray, cultural decadence, and (often) eternal punishment in the fires of hell....as well as promises of temporal wealth and heavenly reward.

We both reject the legitmacy of totalitarian and fundamentalist imposition of orthodoxy and dogma: but do you agree that dogma and orthodoxy are inevitable?

George: I don't think speculating about motives is especially profitable. My concern is more with the impact of fundamentalism on our society.

Perhaps if we found a legitimate need being perversely met by totalitarian ideologies/fundamentalist religions, then by finding other ways to meet these needs: we reduce the attraction and allure of totalitarian and fundamentalist options?

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 8/17/07 1:23 pm



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Post Re: Godless in America: Why I wrote it
I wrote: There is absolutely nothing in the statements "I have no belief in gods" or "I believe no gods exist" that could or should cause anyone to do anything to anybody.

DH responded: Until, I suppose, antithetical beliefs bump up against it. Then an additional belief would need to mobilize action against the demand "all must believe in god". Beliefs in self-defense, civil rights, personal liberties, or freedom of conscience might provide the spur to protect oneself from theistic intrusions...but atheism, itself, as you see it, would...well, what would/should it do in the face of totalitarian theologies and invading ideologies?

You answer your own question. Obviously anyone has the right to assert freedom of conscience and to resist the attempt to impose belief. That's true of atheists and theists alike. It's not something that's unique to atheists or atheism.

I wrote: I think any attempt to impose atheism as some sort of dogma is antithetical to the nature of atheism as I understand it.

DH responded: Why not impose it on others? If others are engaged in self-delusion that can and does lead to destructive impact upon surrounding communities and ecosystems: why not intervene on behalf of oneself and the community? Why not intervene on behalf of the truth?

When belief leads to actions that are destructive to other people or groups of people, then societies have a right to intervene to prevent such behavior. However, there is no such right to force other people to abandon their beliefs. One might attempt to persuade or to inform another as to why a set of beliefs might be in error, but that's as far as it goes. The only exception might be in cases of serious psychoses when an intervention was necessary to prevent a person from self-inflicted harm or from harming others. Although, even here, a society must be very careful because anytime one attempts such action, the potential for abuse is great. Lots of people in Gulags around the world were placed in them, supposedly, because of psychological aberrations.

I should also add that I am always leery of attempts to impose "the truth." All my truths start with a small "t" and are subject to revision based on what I may learn tomorrow. I would never advocate imposing my beliefs on anyone because I thought I had some unique window on the truth. Truth is what we think we know today. But truth changes as we gain knowledge.

I wrote: Fundamentalism, in most religious traditions, is dogmatically orthodox, usually insists on the most literal interpretation of whatever holy book is followed by that religion and regards all departures from orthodoxy as anathema.

DH responded: I'm not certain if any community can escape dogma, or avoid endorsing orthodoxy. The issue is whether said dogma or orthodoxy can be proven legitimate. Dogma, as I understand it, is the teaching that binds the rules of the community across geography and generations: it keeps the traditions in tact across space and time, providing an integrity of identity and mission; inculcating the vision and purpose of why this particular community chooses to organize itself. Orthodoxy involves what is correct thinking and proper deeds: truth and action. When a community abandons dogma and orthodoxy, it essentially abandons itself. The heretic does not reject orthodoxy and dogma, per se, but introduces a different teaching and opposing set of rules. This forces the orthodoxy of the community to make a decision: is this new introduction a threat to our integrity, or can it enrich our understanding?

I really don't see how any community can avoid this process. Again, the issue is whether the process is legitmate. How we define this legitimacy is complicated, no doubt. Totalitarians define it without debate, absent dialogue, and with scarce tolerance for anything beyond orthodoxy: and they impose it with brute force, violence and terror. Fundamentalists (if they lack the power of brute force) utilize similar narrow strictures of orthodoxy, and impose their beliefs with threats of social anomie, familial disarray, cultural decadence, and (often) eternal punishment in the fires of hell....as well as promises of temporal wealth and heavenly reward.

We both reject the legitmacy of totalitarian and fundamentalist imposition of orthodoxy and dogma: but do you agree that dogma and orthodoxy are inevitable?

It may well be that some amount of dogma and some level of orthodoxy are the inevitable result of human beings living in social groups. However, recognizing that reality is a far cry from endorsing any sort of slavish devotion to the process or the product of that process. It may well be that we can evolve other modes of thinking in a cooperative framework that reduces the need for such institutionalized conformity.

Be that as it may, that's a subject for another day or maybe another book. We both agree that the imposition of dogma or orthodoxy by a totalitarian agency or fundamentalist religion is wrong, at least I think that's what you just said. I'll settle for that.

I wrote: I don't think speculating about motives is especially profitable. My concern is more with the impact of fundamentalism on our society.

DH responded: Perhaps if we found a legitimate need being perversely met by totalitarian ideologies/fundamentalist religions, then by finding other ways to meet these needs: we reduce the attraction and allure of totalitarian and fundamentalist options?

Sure, but I think we're talking about the same thing. In both cases the concern is not motivation but actions. Any ideologue who seeks power over people is going to have to meet some legitimate need. Even a dictator installed by brute military force attemps to justify the coup by invoking a societal need. Otherwise, the attempt is doomed at the outset. Seeking to meet that need by less coercive means is a worthwhile goal, but it doesn't really address motives but actions. Put another way, it's often said that, at least under this or that dictator's rule the trains ran on time (a legitimate need--to have reliable public transport). But the dictator's motive for meeting that need may have nothing to do with promoting a public good. In fact, given the track record of most totalitarian and fundamentalist ideologues, it's a safe bet that it probably doesn't.

This is also getting rather far from the subject of my book.

As I said, my concern with fundamentalist religion is at the point where it intersects with the society in which I live. When fundamentalists attempt to impose their beliefs by legislative fiat or to force them into our public schools or to dress our government in religious trappings, that leads me to react because of my concerns for the implications of such action. I'm not bothered by other people's religions unless they start bothering me with them.

George

http://www.godlessinamerica.com

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Sat Aug 18, 2007 9:46 am
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Getting away, for a moment, from the line of inquiry DH is persuing, who did you envision as your audience for the book, George? Religious believers? Other atheists? People who were on the fence?



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MadArchitect wrote:
Getting away, for a moment, from the line of inquiry DH is persuing, who did you envision as your audience for the book, George? Religious believers? Other atheists? People who were on the fence?


I hoped the book would be useful to nonbelievers to help them clarify their own thinking about atheism, etc., and would help some theists to gain a better understanding of atheism and what it means to be an atheist in the United States, or, at least, how this atheist perceives it.

I can't honestly claim I had a specific target audience in mind when I wrote the book, except to say that I was fairly confident fundamentalist religionists probably would not be reading it.

George


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"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


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BOOK FORUMS FOR ALL BOOKS WE HAVE DISCUSSED
Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart - by Lex Bayer and John FigdorSense and Goodness Without God - by Richard CarrierFrankenstein - by Mary ShelleyThe Big Questions - by Simon BlackburnScience Was Born of Christianity - by Stacy TrasancosThe Happiness Hypothesis - by Jonathan HaidtA Game of Thrones - by George R. R. MartinTempesta's Dream - by Vincent LoCocoWhy Nations Fail - by Daron Acemoglu and James RobinsonThe Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. KiernanThe Consolations of the Forest - by Sylvain TessonThe Complete Heretic's Guide to Western Religion: The Mormons - by David FitzgeraldA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - by James JoyceThe Divine Comedy - by Dante AlighieriThe Magic of Reality - by Richard DawkinsDubliners - by James JoyceMy Name Is Red - by Orhan PamukThe World Until Yesterday - by Jared DiamondThe Man Who Was Thursday - by by G. K. ChestertonThe Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven PinkerLord Jim by Joseph ConradThe Hobbit by J. R. R. TolkienThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsAtlas Shrugged by Ayn RandThinking, Fast and Slow - by Daniel KahnemanThe Righteous Mind - by Jonathan HaidtWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max BrooksMoby Dick: or, the Whale by Herman MelvilleA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganLost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell BanksThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnHobbes: Leviathan by Thomas HobbesThe House of the Spirits - by Isabel AllendeArguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensThe Falls: A Novel (P.S.) by Joyce Carol OatesChrist in Egypt by D.M. MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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