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Heart of Darkness 
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This book has made me think about all of these things. S'what books should do.

That is why books are valuable.

Now we have the internet to exchange ideas.

But I do insist that 'Mother Nature' in the form of the planet is not so kind and motherly. That is another 'idea' to reject.

As human beings....we have had to fight tooth and nail to make ourselves comfortable.....which is really what it is all about....not being blinded by the stories. Having said that......I am a believer in a higher power, forcing us home. I like churches....I just don't like religion......I have a respect for the people who have used their brains and their brawn to make us more comfortable here. Not just respect - gratitude.

And I keep searching for what it is that is driving us.....to find out what is 'really' valuable.

Now, this is an atheistic website.....prod..prod...


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Fri Feb 01, 2008 6:17 pm
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Hi! Ophelia mentioned this site and the discussion on Heart of Darkness.

I skimmed through the previous posts, and I noticed that, while colonialism had been mentioned, race hadn't really been discussed. I wondered what you all thought of Conrad's treatment of race in the novella?

Recently, in one of my high school history classes, I taught Adam Hochschild's nonfiction account of the Congo, King Leopold's Ghost, and Chinua Achebe's novel about the Igbo and colonialism, Things Fall Apart. After we finished both books, I gave the students a review that Achebe wrote of Heart of Darkness. In that review, Achebe argues that Conrad, though perhaps well meaning and literary, was ultimately a racist because he reduced Africa and Africans to mere backdrops.

One of my students read Heart of Darkness and wrote an essay arguing that Conrad's depiction was NOT racist.

What do you think?

And if this is an inappropriate discussion - or in the wrong place - please forgive me and feel free to delete!

Best,
Christina



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Hello again Christina, and welcome to Booktalk! :)


Don't worry, your post is at exactly the right place. What you have read in this thread is a pre-discussion, at this stage we're looking for a discussion leader to start things officially.

Thank you for your input, of course the topic of race is relevant.

I don't think Conrad writes in a racist way. The narrator's description conveys a feeling of indignation at the cruelty and brutality of the Europeans-- or do I just assume that the condemnation is there?

Thank you for mentioning Chinua Achebe's review of HD, I think there is a lot of material there that we could use.

Here is a link to the review:Chinua.Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness."


.http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/wyrick/debclass/achcon.htm


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 4:02 am
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Here are some lines that caught my eye from the first half of Heart of Darkness, with page numbers from the Penguin Modern Classics edition reprinted 1980.

1. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! ... The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires. P7
2. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force ... The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. P10
3. The snake had charmed me. P12
4. ...engaged in the noble cause, you know, and he probably felt the need at last of asserting his self-respect in some way. Therefore he whacked the old nigger mercilessly
5. The supernatural being had not been touched after he fell. P13
6. They were going to run an over-sea empire and make no end of coin by trade p14
7. vast amount of red, good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done in there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and on the East Coast, a purple patch p14
8. pale plumpness in a frock coat. The great man himself. P15
9. She talked about 'weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways' p18
10. I felt as though instead of going to the centre of a continent I were about to set off for the centre of the earth p18
11. a man-of-war... shelling the bush
12. places with farcical names where the merry dance of death and trade goes on
13. speaking English with great precision and considerable bitterness
14. each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking 22
15. the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them , an insoluble mystery from the sea 23
16. a flabby pretending weak eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly 23
17. black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom 24
18. a white man in such an unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took him for a sort of vision p25
19. you will no doubt meet Mr Kurtz 27
20. the silent wilderness surrounding this cleared speck on the earth struck me as something great and invincible, like evil or truth p33
21. a prodigy ... an emissary of pity and science and progress 36
22. transgression - punishment



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Well of course I thought the novel racist. I think we were a bloomin racist nation in those days. What about Kipling?

They did not encounter many black people in the West in those days - and in their own countries the natives lived more primitively than we did, so we thought them inferior. Rubbish of course!


We have learned from our encounters with them, that they are just as intelligent (or not) as we are (or not). Good and Bad people....but we needed people like Hariet Beecher Stowe to point out our own ignorance and cruelty.

Shakespeare was very nasty about the Jews as was Dickens.....but the holocaust had not happened then. Jane Austen treats the servants and lower classes, in her novels, in the same way as Conrad treats the natives. They are just part of the scenery - no personalities allotted to them.

Give us a break then, we have progressed a bit.


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 10:18 am
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Penelope wrote:
Mr. P - of course, I know about salt. We live on a pile of salt here in Northwich, and there is Middlewich, Leftwich, Nantwich.....named, all because of the salt. The Wiches.

We have a town underneath our town. There are lorries, wagons, trucks driving around on roads. There are pillars of salt, holding up the surface of this town, and a few times in history we have had severe subsidence - overnight.

Keeps us on our toes..here up North.

It's grim.....but we love it. (Do you know Tom Lehrer, or is he before your time?) There are hailstones beating against my windows just now.

Salt I can understand.....Rubber, Cotton, Wool, COAL - (don't talk to me about Coal - there are miners on both sides of my family going back through generations) but coal is useful and necessary (here up North).

I just keep wondering about the shiney useless stuff....We are inclined to follow like sheep....myself included. Wonder why we do that?


Very cool! I never realized that WICH referred to Salt unitl I read the Kurlansky book. Also "SALZ" (wich should have been more readiliy apparent) as in Salzburg.

I am not a connoisseur of Leher, but during national brotherhood week, I always seek him out for a laugh.

Mr. P.


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 12:09 pm
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Penelope wrote:
Well of course I thought the novel racist. I think we were a bloomin racist nation in those days. What about Kipling? They did not encounter many black people in the West in those days - and in their own countries the natives lived more primitively than we did, so we thought them inferior. Rubbish of course! We have learned from our encounters with them, that they are just as intelligent (or not) as we are (or not). Good and Bad people....but we needed people like Hariet Beecher Stowe to point out our own ignorance and cruelty. Shakespeare was very nasty about the Jews as was BLEEP.....but the holocaust had not happened then. Jane Austen treats the servants and lower classes, in her novels, in the same way as Conrad treats the natives. They are just part of the scenery - no personalities allotted to them. Give us a break then, we have progressed a bit.


Racism is the core theme of Heart of Darkness. The British Empire was an intrinsically racist operation, which Conrad exposed in some of the quotes in my last post. For example, the white man who thrashes the old black man to gain 'self respect' stands for many common attitudes. When this flogger is murdered, his dead body becomes 'supernatural' as a result of the awe and dread in which blacks hold the invading whites. Racism was based on the conquering ability of technology and administrative law. Conrad's description of the Congo as a snake, and as the 'stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention' aims to highlight the ignorance of the buccaneers such as plump Leopold in his frock coat, and how their blithe violence produced strange fruit. I agree with Penelope that all people are just as intelligent as each other, but the outcomes of colonialism in Africa are a disaster which Conrad can help to inform. Decolonisation has often been based on a similar level of ignorance as the original conquests, and part of the problem is the assumption that all are equal, so Africa can equally use indigenous methods of administrative law. Law which evolved in modern metropolitan Europe provides systems suited for state governance, while the tribal traditions of Africa have not delivered transparency and democracy, in Zimbabwe, Congo, many other states, and now Kenya. Mugabe is able to use the race card, arguing the British are just trying to restore Rhodesia. He is supported in this by his fellow African leaders because they see the gulf of perception between black and white as so great that black solidarity, even with a despot, is preferable to agreeing with the Brits. Maybe the African leaders think the slippery slope will lead to UN protectorates replacing sovereign states where conflict is greatest. Part of the value of Conrad is that he opens the 'omerta', the code of silence, which governed the colonizing process. Here in Australia we saw this when the British justice system sought to try whites for killing blacks on the frontier, resulting in a stern laconism on the part of settlers who cleared out blacks to take their land. We are seeing this debate work out today in the work of Keith Windschuttle, who has questioned the Tasmania genocide on the basis of lack of documentary evidence. Windschuttle is basically a Quisling to the miners and pastoralists. He ignores the deliberate conspiracy of silence to conceal evidence of Australia's genocide, and Conrad explains the underlying racist mentality quite well. The Congo is a snake where big trees were kings, and has its own spirit which will eventually prove more powerful than the feeble pirates of empire.



Sat Feb 02, 2008 3:48 pm
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Robert wrote:
Quote:
Racism is the core theme of Heart of Darkness. The British Empire was an intrinsically racist operation,


I agree with you, and this is true of all European empires.

I think we should distinguish between two questions:

1- Is racism a central theme of the novella? (definitely yes)

and 2- Does Conrad himself come out as racist in his writing, for example by supporting the Europeans or identifying with their view of Africans in the story? (for me this is debatable).


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 4:19 pm
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Robert writes that the outcome of colonialism in Africa is a disaster, and I agree with the very interesting analysis he gives.


I find it impossible to make up my mind on the following question:

On French television, we sometimes see interviews of Africans (ordinary people in the street) who express their anger at France and think the French (or their government) still behave as if they owned the place.
I lack information about the present, but they obviously have every right to be outraged about the past.

On the other hand (and here again Robert's analysis is very helpful) I am angry at people like Mugabe, and worried to see that African leaders like Thabo Mbeke, who had such a wonderful democrat as a mentor, prefer to stick with him, come what may.
In a way I understand that they may feel that anything is better than "advice" from the Europeans, who lost all credibility a long time ago.
It makes 100 % sense from the point of view of the leaders, but what about the people who are languishing in Mugabe's jails, has anybody asked them what they think and whether they are glad of the show of solidarity to Mugabe from African nations?

As a European, I think I should be quiet for historical reasons, but do we have the right to keep quiet?

Also, the awful aspect of the dilemma is that Europeans are disqualified for historical reasons, but I wonder whether other nations in the world may not, sadly, care even less about the problem (because they have no historical or linguistic ties with those nations, which are therefore rarely known to the general public).


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 4:35 pm
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Robert and Ophelia - you both have a much firmer grasp of the current situation in Africa, than I.

I haven't ever considered the question of decolonisation and its problems. I suppose because when India gained independence and - the British withdrew - we seemed to be viewed, in retrospect , with very little animosity.

I have read both of your posts carefully and consideringly, but I don't think I can come to any conclusion. The whole nature of Africa is not like the situation in India was. India I have read about and considered. I find the Africa problem too huge to contemplate.

I can give you an opinion on Conrad though. Yes, I think he was racist - but that was just an accepted way of behaving and thinking then. Today we are appauled, although I am sure even then, they knew when they were being downright cruel And not just behaving in ignorance. He accepted exploitation of the native people - because that is just how it was at that point in history. The working class in this country at the time were exploited also. But there is plenty of evidence in the book to show that he would never advocate heartless cruelty.

My posts sound simplistic compared to your well-worded and well researched ones, I am aware of that - but I hope you will indulge a less academic forum member.....



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Please don't see it like this Penelope, we all value your input, and it's a pleasure to be getting to know you.


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Sat Feb 02, 2008 6:31 pm
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Ophelia wrote:
Robert wrote:
Quote:
Racism is the core theme of Heart of Darkness. The British Empire was an intrinsically racist operation,
I agree with you, and this is true of all European empires. I think we should distinguish between two questions:
1- Is racism a central theme of the novella? (definitely yes) and 2- Does Conrad himself come out as racist in his writing, for example by supporting the Europeans or identifying with their view of Africans in the story? (for me this is debatable).

I don't think Conrad comes out as racist. His description of Kurtz as 'a prodigy ... an emissary of pity and science and progress', is laced with the bitter irony, or should that be the bitter ivory, that the plunder of Africa was in some respects a modern scientific operation, with blacks outside the scientific peer group. This arrogance is racist, but was a natural result of the collision of Europe and Africa, given the moral emptiness of the conquistadors. You can't conclude that Conrad identifies with Europe when he presents such a powerful message of the existence of the other and the need to respect it. He places himself between these worlds.
A further point on Conrad's description of the Congo as like a snake. With this description, he is indicating respect for the other which the Bible saw as evil. Conrad is right to do so, as snakes are beautiful natural animals wrongly maligned by Christianity. The evil snake of the Judeo-Christian creation myth was just a precursor to the split between Noah's sons whereby the Calvinists called blacks the hewers of wood and drawers of water to justify slavery. We reject the latter and should reject the former as well. Many would laugh at respect for wild animals, but there is a moral continuum from the Genesis call to subdue creation to the racist European conquest of Africa.
Ophelia wrote:
Robert writes that the outcome of colonialism in Africa is a disaster, and I agree with the very interesting analysis he gives. I find it impossible to make up my mind on the following question: On French television, we sometimes see interviews of Africans (ordinary people in the street) who express their anger at France and think the French (or their government) still behave as if they owned the place. I lack information about the present, but they obviously have every right to be outraged about the past. On the other hand (and here again Robert's analysis is very helpful) I am angry at people like Mugabe, and worried to see that African leaders like Thabo Mbeke, who had such a wonderful democrat as a mentor, prefer to stick with him, come what may. In a way I understand that they may feel that anything is better than "advice" from the Europeans, who lost all credibility a long time ago. It makes 100 % sense from the point of view of the leaders, but what about the people who are languishing in Mugabe's jails, has anybody asked them what they think and whether they are glad of the show of solidarity to Mugabe from African nations? As a European, I think I should be quiet for historical reasons, but do we have the right to keep quiet? Also, the awful aspect of the dilemma is that Europeans are disqualified for historical reasons, but I wonder whether other nations in the world may not, sadly, care even less about the problem (because they have no historical or linguistic ties with those nations, which are therefore rarely known to the general public).

Debate in rich white nations is important to cast light on the problems of the poor world. From my work with AusAID in Papua New Guinea, it is clear the low level of human capital among the poor means that understanding of the legacy of colonialism is a topic that is not at all well understood. For example, technical skills need to be brought from abroad to manage modern systems that will give the poor a chance to better themselves, but how to do this is subject of debate. By the way, I associate Burns and Conrad because both were literary figures admired by the Scottish Presbyterian community of my grandparents in rural Queensland. Kipling was also mythic



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Robert wrote:

Quote:
The new Australian government will on 13 February for the first time apologise to aboriginal people stolen from their families in the twentieth century


There is the beginning of a debate in France as to whether we should officially apologize to our former colonies for the wrong we have done.
I would be in favour of this-- provided the countries concerned and the immigrant population in France felt this was the right thing to do -- from the information I have I wonder whether those countries may not have other concerns than apologies from us, and whether it would not just be perceived as a hypocritical gesture. It can't just come out of the blue at this stage.

Former President Chirac officially apologized for the role of France in slavery; Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jews for the behaviour of the Catholic Church during WWII. Both actions were right.


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Sun Feb 03, 2008 12:39 am
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Quoting Ophelia:-

as snakes are beautiful natural animals wrongly maligned by Christianity. The evil snake of the Judeo-Christian creation myth was just a precursor to the split between Noah's sons whereby the Calvinists called blacks the hewers of wood and drawers of water to justify slavery. We reject the latter and should reject the former as well. Many would laugh at respect for wild animals, but there is a moral continuum from the Genesis call to subdue creation to the racist European conquest of Africa.

That is such an interesting statement. How much dislike (phobia) of snakes is inate and how much nurtured in us by our christian conditioning. Yesterday evening, my son, because of his job, brought home a silver-back vulture (she was not feeling very well so she slept in our book-room). Vultures are much maligned creatures - they are extremely intelligent - and this one could do all but 'talk' - even if she could - she would have told me to go away and stop admiring her!! They eat dead bodies - but that means they are needed in Asia because otherwise the carcasses would just lie around and fester. We have been raising money for 'The Asian Vulture Project' as the vultures are dying because some antibiotic which they give to the cows is poisoning them in great numbers when they eat the carcasses. Interesting - but what to do with Colonialism?

Well, we were once invaded by the Romans in this little island. It is disputed but I personally, feel that we have an awful lot to thank them for.
As a World power - I think they were comparatively benign. I don't think the British were so terribly nasty in India either. Now America, is the World Power (well I think so anyway) and up until very recently, they have been a very benign power. Recent events excepted, I hasten to add.

However, it is only in retrospect that we can see the importance of a healthy vulture population in Asia. And I think it is in retrospect we can see the benefits of the Roman influence in Britain. We didn't like them much at the time, I am sure. In fact whilst reading your posts, I was thinking about Ireland - the only time the Protestants and the Catholics were united was when Daniel O'Donnel united them against the British.
A common enemy works wonders for unity. Innit?

I think with Conrad, with are looking at the Victorian Cosmic Consiousness - they saw things in a hierarchical light. We do this much less so now - and particularly in Australia I think. What do you say Robert?

A few posts back, a new person joined us, introduced by Ophelia. I am sorry that I never acknowledged or said 'Hello'. I was just a bit immersed in the debate - I forgot my manners. Welcome - I dare not look back to check your name in case I lose all this long diatribe. But you know who you are. Looking forward to hearing from you. I will just send this and then go and learn your name. :)



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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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