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What non-fiction book should we read next? (probably in Oct. & Nov.) 
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I ran across something interesting in the bookstore a few days ago.

Empire of Illusion, by Chris Hedges, discusses what I think is a timely topic: the decline of literacy, and parallel rise of the type of superficial trash culture all too apparent today on TV and elsewhere.

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Illusion-L ... 611&sr=1-1



Mon Sep 21, 2009 12:58 am
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Thank you etudiant. :smile: I just suggested that book about an hour ago so I'm happy to see you mentioning it too. It seems a fitting book for us here at BookTalk.org as we all aspire to be as well-read and literate as possible.



Mon Sep 21, 2009 1:03 am
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etudiant wrote:
I ran across something interesting in the bookstore a few days ago.

Empire of Illusion, by Chris Hedges, discusses what I think is a timely topic: the decline of literacy, and parallel rise of the type of superficial trash culture all too apparent today on TV and elsewhere.

http://www.amazon.com/Empire-Illusion-L ... 611&sr=1-1

That sounds like a good one to read. When I first joined Booktalk, we were reading one with a similar theme, Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason. I was quite disappointed with that book, so I'd be williing to give another author a shot.

Another suggestion. John Krakauer is a fine non-fiction writer. He changes course from his adventure-based books in his new one, Under the Banner of Heaven. From the Randon House website:

Jon Krakauer's literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. In UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN, he shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders. At the core of his book is an appalling double murder committed by two Mormon Fundamentalist brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a revelation from God commanding them to kill their blameless victims. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this "divinely inspired" crime, Krakauer constructs a multilayered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, savage violence, polygamy, and unyielding faith. Along the way, he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America's fastest-growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Krakauer takes readers inside isolated communities in the American West, Canada, and Mexico, where some forty-thousand Mormon Fundamentalists believe the mainstream Mormon Church went unforgivably astray when it renounced polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the leaders of these outlaw sects are zealots who answer only to God. Marrying prodigiously and with virtual impunity (the leader of the largest fundamentalist church took seventy-five "plural wives," several of whom were wed to him when they were fourteen or fifteen and he was in his eighties), fundamentalist prophets exercise absolute control over the lives of their followers, and preach that any day now the world will be swept clean in a hurricane of fire, sparing only their most obedient adherents.

Weaving the story of the Lafferty brothers and their fanatical brethren with a clear-eyed look at Mormonism's violent past, Krakauer examines the underbelly of the most successful homegrown faith in the United States, and finds a distinctly American brand of religious extremism. The result is vintage Krakauer, an utterly compelling work of nonfiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behavior.



Mon Sep 21, 2009 9:58 am
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Under the Banner of Heaven is a book I've been wanting to read and from all the suggestions within this thread it is my top choice. Thanks, DWill. :smile:



Mon Sep 21, 2009 10:37 am
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Sorry, I didn't realize that suggesting books on religion were a "no-no" for this study. Therefore, I would like to suggest a very quick but very interesting book. That is "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl" by Timothy Egan. I learned a lot reading that book and it is well worth spending your time on.



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Leona, I've just looked up that book on Amazon and I think it's a good choice for a non-fiction book. I was even talking about this piece of history with my parents the other day... more like they were educating me because I knew nothing about it. This book sounds like it offers something that would be great to learn about; although I don't know how much discussion it would generate. I also recollect that BT has a page limit and I want to say it's 300. This book numbers 340 pages. If it's allowed in, it will have one of my votes for sure.

http://www.amazon.com/Worst-Hard-Time-S ... 151&sr=8-2



Mon Sep 21, 2009 7:19 pm
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We don't have a page limit just some guidelines. 340 is fine if people are excited by the book.



Tue Sep 22, 2009 2:05 am
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Chris OConnor wrote:
Under the Banner of Heaven is a book I've been wanting to read and from all the suggestions within this thread it is my top choice. Thanks, DWill. :smile:


I've read this book and I think it would make a great choice. Krakauer is a great story teller and he winds in a pretty good history of the Mormon church.


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The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule

Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on evolutionary psychology, Skeptic publisher and Scientific American contributor Shermer (Why People Believe Weird Things) argues that the sources of moral behavior can be traced scientifically to humanity's evolutionary origins. He contends that human morality evolved as first an individual and then a species-wide mechanism for survival. As society evolved, humans needed rules governing behavior-e.g., altruism, sympathy, reciprocity and community concern-in order to ensure survival. Shermer says that some form of the Golden Rule-"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"-provides the foundation of morality in human societies. Out of this, he develops the principles of what he calls a "provisional ethics" that "is neither absolute nor relative," that applies to most people most of the time, while allowing for "tolerance and diversity." According to the "ask-first" principle, for instance, the performer of an act simply asks its intended receiver whether the act is right or wrong. Other principles include the "happiness" principle ("always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind"), the liberty principle ("always seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind") and the moderation principle ("when innocent people die, extremism in the defense of anything is no virtue, and moderation in the protection of everything is no vice"). Shermer's provisional ethics might reflect the messy ways that human moral behavior developed, but his simplistic principles establish a utilitarian calculus that not everyone will find acceptable. 35 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The Washington Post

If God is dead, said Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov, then everything is permitted. Without religion, in other words, there can be no morality. This has been the position taken by religious conservatives as long as there have been religions, and it is Michael Shermer's principal target in The Science of Good and Evil. Shermer's new book is the final volume in a trilogy that began with Why People Believe Weird Things and continued with How We Believe, a critical survey of religious belief systems and their rationales.

It would not be unreasonable to conclude from Shermer's books and his past that he is obsessed with religion. Indeed, he makes no secret of it: He was, in college, a fundamentalist Christian, taking a degree in psychology and biology from Pepperdine University, a fundamentalist fortress in the hills above Malibu. Then at some point he turned on the beliefs of his youth and became the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the director of the Skeptics Society, which he still runs. He calls himself an agnostic now, and an evolutionary psychologist. If he has a god, it is Charles Darwin. In 1999 Shermer co-hosted a 12-part series on the Fox Family Channel called "Exploring the Unknown" and devoted it to debunking everything from the Shroud of Turin to spontaneous human combustion. He has made himself into one of the leading spokespersons in the country for the rational scientific approach toward questions of belief and the unknown. That's quite a switch for a man who cut his intellectual teeth on the Bible.

But Shermer does, as a result, know his enemy, and it gives him a decided advantage in writing a book such as this, which aims to demonstrate that we don't need God at all to be moral human beings, that in fact human evolution has built a tendency toward moral behavior into our brains. We are moral by nature. He draws upon the work of anthropologists with so-called primitive peoples to make his case, showing that man in a state of nature does not, as Hobbes claimed, behave as if life were a matter of all against all. Rather, Shermer marshals research showing that altruism, cooperation, mutual aid, attachment and bonding, concern for the community and other moral behaviors appear not only among tribal humans but in great-ape societies and among dolphins, whales and other large-brained mammals as well, none of which, as far as we know, is monotheist. Since the doctrine of natural selection cannot account for this behavior -- there is no selective advantage to a creature in being altruistic, for example, sacrificing itself for the good of the group -- he turns to the controversial concept of group selection, which most strict Darwinists abjure, and quotes Darwin himself in support: "There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection." "Better" tribes, then, tribes with a greater adherence to principles of justice and altruism and courage, would displace "worse" or more "evil" tribes, and therefore morality would evolve, and natural selection could indeed account for the universal appearance among human beings of moral goodness.

It is an easy step from there to believe in a gradual improvement over time in the moral standards of humankind, and Shermer takes that step. He believes in moral progress and thinks things are getting better. All we need, he seems to believe, is more reason: more Enlightenment. He devotes much of the rest of his book to promoting his own secular system of morality -- "provisional morality" in his words -- that stands somewhere carefully unspecified between complete moral relativism and the absolute systems of dos and don'ts espoused by various religions. He thinks there are fundamental moral rights and wrongs that hold in almost all situations, but he is wary of absolutism in all its forms. He believes in uncertainty. Nothing is either simply good or bad. Pornography, for example: Yes, of course, anything that depicts the physical abuse of men or women or tries to make us believe that women really like being raped is a bad thing. But not all pornography is like that. We can't simply condemn pornography. His arguments have a common sense feel to them. They seem perfectly reasonable, middle of the road. Let's take everything case by case, he says, and not get carried away. He is all for moderation.

It is, in a sense, unfortunate that this should be so, for it may explain why the book, despite its highly charged subject matter, lacks passion. Or it may just be that Shermer is not an eloquent writer. His prose is flat and has a tendency to shift tone and fall into the demotic at odd moments ("bass ackward" is the worst instance), as if he were unclear who his audience is or as if he were writing for television. The result is that he is not entirely convincing. He is a meliorist, but he never persuaded me that human beings had become "better" -- better behaved, less filled with hate, less murderous -- since the Greeks, say, or since World War II. He is always ready to attack his bête noir, religious absolutism, but there is little evidence in the book that he is well versed in the long, contentious history of moral philosophy or the subtleties of the current philosophical debates about abortion rights or most of the other issues he takes on. He's in the unhappy position of trying to establish a moral system that is itself rather unsystematic and ad hoc. His system, if that's the word for it, comes across as reasonable -- but perhaps too reasonable, and too relaxed to compel adherence. I finished the book well-disposed toward Shermer himself, clearly a seeker who has found the best answers he can find in skepticism and a purely rational approach to life, but who seems never to have encountered genuine evil face-to-face or seen tragedy up close and personal. The book lacks, in short, a certain emotional depth, and that is precisely what we want when dealing with intransigent moral issues.

Reviewed by Anthony Brandt


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Tue Sep 22, 2009 3:11 am
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Post Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
How about Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Amazon.com Review
Twenty years after it topped the bestseller charts, Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is still something of a marvel. Besides being a profound and entertaining meditation on human thought and creativity, this book looks at the surprising points of contact between the music of Bach, the artwork of Escher, and the mathematics of Gödel. It also looks at the prospects for computers and artificial intelligence (AI) for mimicking human thought. For the general reader and the computer techie alike, this book still sets a standard for thinking about the future of computers and their relation to the way we think.
Hofstadter's great achievement in Gödel, Escher, Bach was making abstruse mathematical topics (like undecidability, recursion, and 'strange loops') accessible and remarkably entertaining. Borrowing a page from Lewis Carroll (who might well have been a fan of this book), each chapter presents dialogue between the Tortoise and Achilles, as well as other characters who dramatize concepts discussed later in more detail. Allusions to Bach's music (centering on his Musical Offering) and Escher's continually paradoxical artwork are plentiful here. This more approachable material lets the author delve into serious number theory (concentrating on the ramifications of Gödel's Theorem of Incompleteness) while stopping along the way to ponder the work of a host of other mathematicians, artists, and thinkers.

The world has moved on since 1979, of course. The book predicted that computers probably won't ever beat humans in chess, though Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997. And the vinyl record, which serves for some of Hofstadter's best analogies, is now left to collectors. Sections on recursion and the graphs of certain functions from physics look tantalizing, like the fractals of recent chaos theory. And AI has moved on, of course, with mixed results. Yet Gödel, Escher, Bach remains a remarkable achievement. Its intellectual range and ability to let us visualize difficult mathematical concepts help make it one of this century's best for anyone who's interested in computers and their potential for real intelligence. --Richard Dragan

Topics Covered: J.S. Bach, M.C. Escher, Kurt Gödel: biographical information and work, artificial intelligence (AI) history and theories, strange loops and tangled hierarchies, formal and informal systems, number theory, form in mathematics, figure and ground, consistency, completeness, Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry, recursive structures, theories of meaning, propositional calculus, typographical number theory, Zen and mathematics, levels of description and computers; theory of mind: neurons, minds and thoughts; undecidability; self-reference and self-representation; Turing test for machine intelligence.



Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:24 am
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As a Glenn Beck fan, even I sometimes find him a bit extreme so rather than Arguing with Idiots, I suggest, Radical Son, by David Horowitz.

Amazon.com Review
Raised to be a committed Marxist by communist intellectual parents, Horowitz was in on the ground floor of Berkeley activism, and through his work as an editor at Ramparts magazine, he emerged as a key player in the New Left. He went on to become an active supporter of the Black Panthers and something of an intimate of their founder, Huey P. Newton. Yet today he is an outspoken political conservative who has supported many right-wing causes (such as the contras in Nicaragua) and been critical of '60s radicalism in general. It would be easy to conclude that Horowitz went from A to Z this way because he's superficial and unstable. Instead, as this moving, intellectual autobiography shows, his second thoughts about leftism emerged gradually as he experienced various aspects of the "Movement." The catalytic episode came when he discovered that the Panthers had murdered a friend of his, but even then Horowitz was slow to convert, primarily because he was heavily enmeshed in what he now views as the quintessential leftist habit of judging politics by its intentions, not its acts. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly
Horowitz (The Rockefellers) has prominently charted his turn from leftism in Destructive Generation (both books co-written with Peter Collier), but here, he digs deeper to recount his intertwined personal and political odysseys. Because he has witnessed some elemental political battles, and because he tells his often painful story with candor and passion, his lengthy book remains absorbing. His teacher parents were New York City Jewish Communists full of angst and false conviction; young David emerged convinced at least that ideas were important. Married, Horowitz moved to Berkeley for graduate school, the New Left and Ramparts, the hot radical magazine. However, family man Horowitz was made uneasy by figures such as Michael Lerner and Robert Scheer, who rejected community; worse, though Horowitz found Huey Newton's courting of his advice seductive, he fell into "internal free-fall" when he realized that the Panthers were criminal thugs. His Jewish identity?at a time when blacks and the Third World were not allies?helped move Horowitz rightward, as did his disgust with dogmatic leftists. And in 1985, Horowitz and Collier publicly supported Ronald Reagan; the author considers himself a classical liberal. Particularly interesting is his score-settling with authors Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden and Paul Berman, who, he argues, either sanitize '60s history or misrepresent his own views; now, with the help of foundations, he runs the magazine Heterodoxy and monitors what he views as liberal excess.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.



Tue Sep 22, 2009 8:29 am
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Post non fiction
I will give my two cents, even though I think that is all my opinion is worth since, I typically read the non-fiction book, but am not the best participant.

"The Revolution: A Manifesto"

This one is appealing to me. History, politics, the law, love these topics, and I think this would generate a good discussion.

"A Beautiful Mind"

I would love to read this, saw the movie, pretty decent, I think the book would delve deeper into the subject. And, I think the subject is fasinating.

"The Worst Hard Time"

I've read this, it's very interesting, it provides a lot of information, but I don't know what kind of discussion it will create.



Wed Sep 23, 2009 7:35 am
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Post Herman Wouk's This is my God
I've read many posts on BT over the years and it occurs to me that none of them sounded as though it was written by a Jew. Common wisdom says a modern Jew grows up to be an agnostic and is well educated. I would think those attributes would cause them to be drawn to BT.

However, the topic of this thread is "MINDLESSNESS." I am not proposing that anyone believe in something. I am proposing that what ever it is you do believe, it is wise to understand what it is you believe and why you believe it and that what you believe is probably not a fact for anyone else to believe is true. What ever you believe is true, follow it to where it leads you but you can not impose your will on another.
I think that pretty much incapsulates the thesis statement of my essay.

That being said, it seems mindless of Americans not to consider why our government over the past 60 years has given 100s of BILLIONS of dollars, fought and is fighting wars expending more BILLIONS of dollars as well as killing and maiming tens of thousands of people for "Peace in the Middle East." If you read my post on why we are at our current state in health care delivery in America you learned how complicated it is to discern the historical evolution of our current condition.

If you think it is difficult to discern how we reached the current condition of health care, wait until you try to understand Judaism and "Peace in the Middle East." But I believe, as informed citizens, we should begin to try to understand this complex subject. And the way to begin is by reading, studying, and discussing Herman Wouk's book This is my God.

This doggerel peaked my interest: " How odd, of God, To Choose, The Jews." To which Wouk responded: "Though not as odd as those who choose a Jewish God and spurn the Jews."

I assure you he, unlike Dawkins, is not trying to proselytize the reader to Judaism but he does a masterful job of explaining what it feels like to be a modern day Jew and his post scripts on the modern state of Israel were very helpful to me. This is why I am recommending Wouk's book for our next nonfiction reading. I hope you all will vote for it. We BT members don't want to be accused of being mindless Americans - do we?



Sun Sep 27, 2009 7:51 am
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It seems to me the more recent non-fiction offerings from Amazon have little to offer for someone like me. I want to elevate and expand my knowledge so that I can make a more informed decision about today's and tomorrow's affairs. The books offered today provide fertile ground for thought and argument but I think BT is neglecting older books. I'd be inclined to read newer non-fiction for fun but I don't feel that it's making a large impact on my life regarding change of thought. There are quite a few books written from the 16c on (including more contemporary titles) that would make for good discussion and still be relevant today. These might be considered fringe books and may not attract many new participants but it may also lend something else to BT. Someone new to BT who sees that the past two non-fiction books were written by Dawkins might be put off because of cherished beliefs - however fantastic.

The non-fictions that read like fictions, non-fictions that discuss some form of why things are, and the non-fictions that claim to hold insight into why we do things have all been written before and in some cases prove better.

I'm not old fashioned, I just think that many people haven't had the opportunity in life to read the many worthy classic titles that are out there and that putting another contemporary filler in its place wouldn't be right. There has to be something out there that is worth reading with a group. There's a book that most people probably wouldn't read on their own but would really like to say that they have read. BT offers the motivation and opportunity to read these books due to group support.

So, I'm for the classics, I'm for yesterday's books, and I'm certainly not for another theological discussion; there is nothing left of that horse to beat.



Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:27 pm
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Post For the Prez
Prez I then recommend The Passion of the Western Mind Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View. Joseph Cambell stated: "The most lucid and concise presentation I have read, of the grand lines of what every student should know about the history of Western thought. The writing is elegant and carries the reader with the momentum of a novel...It is really a noble performance. 445 pages, published in 1991, and has a bibliography that would make Wikipedia cry.



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