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Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs 
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Post Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
It looks as though several of us want to watch the Nat. Geo. docs on this book. We can be like some students I've known--"Nah, I didn't read the book, watched the video." But in this case I think at least some of us want to continue on to the book. If some don't have time for the reading, though, they'll still be able to participate and we may get more people in that way.

Anyone else besides giselle, saffron, and LevV (and geo?) interested in starting a discussion, say about a week from now? The website LevV directed us to works well, and by the way is a very cool one that I hadn't known about.

http://documentaryheaven.com/pt-13-guns ... t-of-eden/


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Last edited by DWill on Sat Nov 12, 2011 8:10 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
You know, I wasn't ready to commit to reading the book, so I had no intention of participating in the discussion, but I believe I will give the vids a go and perhaps they will inspire me to read the book. Thanks for posting.



Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:22 am
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
I've watched 2 out of 3 of these video segments, they are excellent, thanks to LevV for pointing us in the right direction and the documentary heaven site has lots of good stuff. My guess is that the videos will help to spur interest in the book. I'll be interested to see how the book adds 'meat' to the bones that the videos cover. And I look forward to reflecting back on my own experiences and observations from when I worked in Papua New Guinea 20 odd years ago. I do note that video 1 has some great clips of gazelles.

One related matter that I plan to look into is the apparent decline of 'geography' as a field of study. From what I understand this decline is not caused by lack of interest or money or some other material reason but because it's considered 'racist' .... do I have that right? that studying geography is somehow racist? I don't get it, but I do see this as pertinent to discussing Diamond's work because his arguments are heavily based on observations of climatic and biological conditions that are 100% linked to what we call 'geography', a term that Diamond uses several times in his videos. Ironically, Jared Diamond is really arguing that geography-based conditions explain disparities amoung people and societies and, if anything, he argues against race or genetic based explanations, a point that he raises in the videos. Geography was my favourite class back in high school so I feel rather disappointed that it has declined, particularly for a reason that I just don't get. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.



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Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:46 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
The decline of geography as a subject is an excellent topic to look at. I don't know what the reasons could be, and like you, can hardly think of a better or more important subject. I haven't heard of racism as part of the explanation for the decline. I know that when my daughter was in h.s., the kids took geography if they couldn't get into AP Government or just didn't want to be challenged. It was a bonehead class. A random fact floating around in my head is that Michael Jordan, the basketball great, had a geography degree from the University of North Carolina.

I've watched 1 1/2 of the programs, and they're well done. I posted a comment on the first one on the documentary heaven site. I guess we should hold off discussing them for a while yet. I think I'll be spending a lot of time in documentary heaven, because I love docs. Thanks to LevV again.


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Sat Nov 12, 2011 7:43 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
kelstan wrote:
You know, I wasn't ready to commit to reading the book, so I had no intention of participating in the discussion, but I believe I will give the vids a go and perhaps they will inspire me to read the book. Thanks for posting.

Great. The vids go down fast and easy and I think you will enjoy them.


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Sat Nov 12, 2011 7:45 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
The decline of geography as a subject is an excellent topic to look at. I don't know what the reasons could be, and like you, can hardly think of a better or more important subject. I haven't heard of racism as part of the explanation for the decline. I know that when my daughter was in h.s., the kids took geography if they couldn't get into AP Government or just didn't want to be challenged. It was a bonehead class. A random fact floating around in my head is that Michael Jordan, the basketball great, had a geography degree from the University of North Carolina.

I may have been a little premature in declaring ‘geography’ dead on racist grounds. Maybe it is the ‘bonehead’ factor that has led to it assuming a lower profile as an area of study, although I don’t remember geography being any easier than other courses, but that might be my own ‘bonehead factor’! In any case, I just like the study of physical landscapes and places and all that, bonehead or not .. :lol:

I did a bit of checking and possible racism in geography is linked to the idea of ‘environmental determinism’ as described below. It’s interesting that Diamond does tackle this point at the end of the first video …clearly his critics’ views are bothering him. He seems like a genuine and fair minded man, I can’t imagine he is racist. But as the item below details, Diamond and other environmental determinists have taken a few intellectual brick bats, including at least an inference of racism. I found it at absoluteastronomy.com but its actually from Wikipedia. I excerpted a few sections because it is a long article and added bold and italics.


"Environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the view that the physical environment, rather than social conditions, determines culture. Those who believe this view say that humans are strictly defined by stimulus-response and cannot deviate.

The fundamental argument of the environmental determinists was that aspects of physical geography, particularly climate, influenced the psychological mind-set of individuals, which in turn defined the behaviour and culture of the society that those individuals formed. For example, tropical climates were said to cause laziness, relaxed attitudes and promiscuity, while the frequent variability in the weather of the middle latitudes led to more determined and driven by work ethic.

Because these environmental influences operate slowly on human biology, it was important to trace the migrations of groups to see what environmental conditions they had evolved under. Key proponents of this notion have included Ellen Churchill Semple, Ellsworth Huntingdon, Thomas Griffith Taylor and possibly Jared Diamond. Although Diamond's work does make connections between environmental and climatic conditions and societal development, it is published with the stated intention of disproving racist and eurocentric theories of development.

Between 1920 and 1940, environmental determinism came under repeated attacks as its claims were found to be severely faulted at best, and often dangerously wrong. Geographers reacted to this by first developing the softer notion of “environmental possibilism” and later by abandoning the search for theory and causal explanation for many decades. Later critics charged that determinism served to justify racism and imperialism. The experience of environmental determinism has left a scar on geography, with many geographers reacting negatively to any suggestion of environmental influences on human society.

While this accurately reflects the popular belief and perception in the geographic community towards environmental determinism, the debate was overlaid with hues of gray. Rostlund pointed out in his essay in Readings in Cultural Geography: "Environmentalism was not disproved, only disapproved." He also points to the fact that the disapproval was not based on inaccurate findings, but rather a methodological process which stands in contrast to that of science, something the geographers have arguably sought to ascribe themselves to. Carl O. Sauer followed on from this in 1924 when he criticized the premature generalizations resulting from the bias of environmentalism. He pointed out that to define geography as the study of environmental influences is to assume in advance that such influences do operate, and that a science cannot be based upon or committed to a preconception."



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Sat Nov 12, 2011 9:37 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
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Although Diamond's work does make connections between environmental and climatic conditions and societal development, it is published with the stated intention of disproving racist and eurocentric theories of development.

That seems to be the important difference, that Diamond is using geography and climate in his theory, but unlike others who have said that those factors change people biologically, he says humans remain the same the world over. The only thing that geography/climate changed was the opportunities groups had to develop more complex societies and to eventually be the conquering societies rather than the conquered (if that is really an opportunity!).

Geography, as a study, never should have been tainted by the way some people used geography to legitimize racism.


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Sat Nov 12, 2011 11:10 pm
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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Wow! I go off to a show in NYC and the thread gets going without me! I will catch up tomorrow on the bus home. I plan to watch at least the first it not the second video on the bus. I am very excited to get started as I really like what I have read so far.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
I'm sorry, saffron--kind of jumped the gun. Strike my comment from the record, please. I will say that I watched the other half of the vids last night. Now I'm curious about the criticisms of Diamond from the specialists in whose fields he tramples. But that's for later, too.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
DWill wrote:
Now I'm curious about the criticisms of Diamond from the specialists in whose fields he tramples. But that's for later, too.
Me too. I started to read a crit from a link posted by Chris the first go round. I'm on the bus back to DC and watching, so will catch up with the discussion later tonight. Later!


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Giselle wrote:
The fundamental argument of the environmental determinists was that aspects of physical geography, particularly climate, influenced the psychological mind-set of individuals, which in turn defined the behaviour and culture of the society that those individuals formed. For example, tropical climates were said to cause laziness, relaxed attitudes and promiscuity, while the frequent variability in the weather of the middle latitudes led to more determined and driven by work ethic.


This really is political dynamite. Guns, Germs and Steel provides abundant evidence in support of environmental determinism. Harsh winters force people to plan in order to avoid starvation. That is why the Scandinavians are the best in the world at planning and design. When was the last time you heard a Canadian say 'Mañana''?

The international development community totally avoids this sort of analysis because it is politically unacceptable. That ideological stance leads aid policy to pretend that the situation in poor countries is different from the reality. William Easterly has explored, for example, how aid donors prop up dictators because of the ideological belief that country governments should drive their own development policy, even where they are manifestly incompetent and unwilling to do so. The dictator just pockets the money and remains as corrupt and venal as ever, while allowing the dumb rich compassionate suckers to pay for services for the poor. Perversely, guilt over colonialism is now holding the poor in a vicious grip that prevents them escaping from poverty.

Pretending is never a good recipe for achieving results. It is precisely because Jared Daimond has such respect for the people of Papua New Guinea that he wants them to face reality rather than living in the pretend fantasy encouraged by rich anti-racists, who are actually responsible for perpetuating poverty by refusing to see that poor countries can only become rich by changing their culture on the model of European values such as thrift, investment and competition.

Here is an analysis of environmental determinism that critics of Jared Diamond would probably prefer to censor.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sun Nov 13, 2011 2:45 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
I am through part 1, with lots of questions. I have not watched what Robert Tulip posted, but I will. I was struck by the language that Diamond/National Geographic use to describe groups that have technologically advanced and those that have not -- the haves and the have nots referring to "cargo" and not advanced technology. I think this mistakenly puts too much emphasis on the things we have rather than on the technology; which is really the important difference that allows one group to subjugate another. When the language emphasizing the things is used it also confers a positive value onto having stuff.

Here is the big question I was left with at the end of part one:
Has Diamond calculated how much time hunter/gathering groups spend on getting food? It is my understanding that the percentage of time spent on procuring food is fairly small for at least some H/G groups; meaning they have plenty of time to do other things. I think is Diamond has made a subtle mistake in his argument. The way I see it is that in order for a group to move toward more sophisticated technology they need three conditions: 1. available time (made available due to mode of food production), 2. Available resources in the environment. 3. MOTIVATION or need (mother of invention). If all three are not present it seems to me that you will not get the movement of more and more sophisticated technological development. I have not really test out this idea with examples, other than mentioning H/G groups that would prove me right or wrong - so for now, just an idea. What do you think?


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Robert Tulip wrote:
This really is political dynamite. Guns, Germs and Steel provides abundant evidence in support of environmental determinism. Harsh winters force people to plan in order to avoid starvation. That is why the Scandinavians are the best in the world at planning and design. When was the last time you heard a Canadian say Mañana"?

Could you clarify your stance on environmental determinism, Robert? I can't tell here whether you are mocking or supporting. I believe it's clear from the programs and the book that Diamond doesn't support that concept, not in any meaningful way. He simply says that baseline environmental conditions, especially the menu of plants and animals available for domestication, account for regional differences in degree and rate of emergence of civilization. He does not say that environmental conditions, broadly, have created biological differences among humans that show up as differences in intelligence (although he does actually say in the book that New Guineans are smarter than New Yorkers). And he doesn't mention cultural attitudes that may be said to have become ingrained in some cultures, and now may be acting as a drag on progress. That isn't his subject here; he's only talking about how material wealth came to be so unevenly distributed around the globe, and to do this he goes back to origins. But speaking of New Guinea, he says at the end of the programs that nothing about the people or their environment compels them to live as they now are living.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
The link I posted is just Peggy Lee singing Manana. It is an extraordinarily racist song, illustrating how in 1948 Anglo Americans were happy to laugh at Hispanics because of the opinion that the hot sun in Latin America means Hispanics do not have to worry about repairing windows and can put everything off to tomorrow. It says Hispanics are untrustworthy as credit risks because they do not repay loans. These days such a song would probably get banned on grounds of racial vilification.

I have re-read Chapter One 'Yali's Question', in which Diamond asserts, to summarize one of his main points, that primitive people are smarter than modern people because urban concentrations of disease make people stupid. I get the sense he feels very intimidated by attacks on his views on racial grounds, and goes to the opposite extreme from conventional racist opinion, which he calls loathsome, in order to protect himself against these criticisms.

There is no question that race is a highly sensitive topic. Diamond provides a basis for discussing it by the observation that analysis of criminal motivations is not aimed at the researcher becoming a criminal, but rather to understand how to prevent crime. So in the case of massive racial disparity - why Europe conquered the world and not the other way round - analysis of this disparity can help to understand how more backward people can catch up. Researchers can "seek to use their understanding of a chain of causes to interrupt the chain". (p17)

Race is a forbidden topic because of the background of slavery, fascism, genocide and inequality, with the fear that any discussion can legitimize prejudice. Diamond makes the correct point that there is no biological basis for racial difference in ability, so perceived differences such as on IQ test averages are solely due to environment and opportunity.

However, I think Diamond unfairly minimises the impact of cultural determination as a product of environment. His assertion looks very tendentious that so-called primitive people are smarter than so-called advanced people because "intelligent people are likelier than less intelligent ones to escape traditional sources of mortality in traditional societies" (p21) whereas disease carries off the smart and the stupid in urban societies without discrimination. Against this, until recently rich people routinely had more children than poor people, presenting an evolutionary pressure to increase the gene presence of the rich. Intelligence is plausibly a factor in wealth. It is only in the last few generations with the rise of the welfare state that this evolutionary pressure to become smarter has reversed. Diamond's point here is just rhetoric.

I think Diamond is exaggerating when he says (p19) that "peoples who until recently were technologically primitive routinely master industrial technologies when given opportunities to do so." For a start, 'routinely' does not match to the experience that very few people who grow up without electricity or reading can overcome this handicap when it comes to mastering new technology. It is as though Diamond is saying that if only we could take primitive people out of their primitive environment, they might surpass advanced cultures. This is a purely hypothetical assertion, and ignores the dead weight of culture, with all its geographic determination, as a major constraining factor for technological uptake.

Diamond then waxes romantic about how stronger social capital in village groups means there is no basis to say civilization is good. This is a valuable point regarding how to overcome the epidemic of depression and loneliness in dysfunctional modern societies, but it looks more like a way of challenging received opinion than a realistic balanced argument. Civilization is here to stay. If it wasn't for Australian civilized protection, Papua New Guinea would have been invaded and wrecked by Asians. It looks like Diamond is cherry-picking the attractive features of primitive life and not trying to give an objective scholarly assessment.

Diamond summarizes Guns Germs and Steel as arguing that historical differences are due to environment, not biology. This is undoubtedly true as far as it goes, but it leaves out the massive middle ground of culture. If environment shapes culture, then cultural identity reinforces differences between groups. If there are factors in a group culture that inhibit desirable progress, this lends support to an argument for environmental determination, but also shows that these factors can change quickly if people are willing to learn from others.


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Post Re: Invitation to watch "Guns, Germs, and Steel" programs
Saffron wrote:
I am through part 1, with lots of questions. I have not watched what Robert Tulip posted, but I will. I was struck by the language that Diamond/National Geographic use to describe groups that have technologically advanced and those that have not -- the haves and the have nots referring to "cargo" and not advanced technology. I think this mistakenly puts too much emphasis on the things we have rather than on the technology; which is really the important difference that allows one group to subjugate another. When the language emphasizing the things is used it also confers a positive value onto having stuff.

Here is the big question I was left with at the end of part one:
Has Diamond calculated how much time hunter/gathering groups spend on getting food? It is my understanding that the percentage of time spent on procuring food is fairly small for at least some H/G groups; meaning they have plenty of time to do other things. I think is Diamond has made a subtle mistake in his argument. The way I see it is that in order for a group to move toward more sophisticated technology they need three conditions: 1. available time (made available due to mode of food production), 2. Available resources in the environment. 3. MOTIVATION or need (mother of invention). If all three are not present it seems to me that you will not get the movement of more and more sophisticated technological development. I have not really test out this idea with examples, other than mentioning H/G groups that would prove me right or wrong - so for now, just an idea. What do you think?

Hi saffron. For me, the word "cargo" gets in because Yali used it in his question. That's what he is most interested in knowing from Diamond. I think cargo can be a stand-in for the technology needed to make all that stuff. But you're right that the question of values doesn't come up in the programs. The cultures who have all the stuff are also the cultures that have dominated others. That is supposed to be a statement of fact, but it isn't also a statement that those cultures are superior.

Diamond hasn't done a time and motion study on hunter-gatherers, to see if they have time to invent, but he wouldn't feel he needs to. The population that that life-style supports will always be quite small, so you won't have either a surplus of food or people needed to provide for specialists in technology or much else. So he apparently doesn't see time itself as an important factor. If the shift from hunter-gatherer to farming is going to be made, Diamond says there does need to be sufficient resources (your number 2). As for the motivation, this is where others have said that innate differences in groups have played a role, with some groups having become, somehow, more clever than others, or more motivated. Diamond doesn't believe this, though. He thinks that the pursuit of technology arises naturally for all humans, given the optimum conditions.


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Sun Nov 13, 2011 9:54 pm
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Sense 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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