Monday, October 13, 2014


Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without ReligionWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: For the millions of people who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris’s new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.

From bestselling author, neuroscientist, and “new atheist” Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the increasingly large numbers of people who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.

Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous sceptic—could write it. -- AMAZON

MY REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book despite its obvious flaws. The chapters seem disconnected from each other as if the connecting thread has broken. About half way through I started wondering whether I was reading a different book. And, near the end, it seemed that Harris had moved a long way from his emphasis on scientific evidence to support claims that are made about spirituality. But there's lots of ideas to think about. Harris communicates clearly (mostly) with wit and incisive critique of that with which he disagrees. I particularly appreciated his debunking of so-called near death experiences (NDEs) and charlatan gurus. Definitely worth a read.

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Friday, September 12, 2014


The Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern AtheismThe Unbelievers: The Evolution of Modern Atheism by S.T. Joshi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: Atheism, once a minority view, is now openly embraced by an increasing number of scientists, philosophers, politicians, and celebrities. How did this formerly closeted secular perspective gain its current prominence as a philosophically viable and challenging worldview? In this succinct history of modern atheism, a prolific author, editor, and scholar traces the development of atheist, agnostic, and secularist thought over the past century and a half. Beginning in the nineteenth century, when intellectuals first openly voiced skepticism about long-standing Christian beliefs, Joshi considers the impact of several leading thinkers: Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin’s Bulldog"), Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Mark Twain. Each of these writers, in different ways, made searing criticisms of such religious conceptions as the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and the existence of God, at a time when such notions were largely taken for granted. Next, the author examines prominent atheist thinkers of the early twentieth century: attorney Clarence Darrow, journalist H. L. Mencken, philosopher Bertrand Russell, and horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Around the same time as Darrow and Mencken were involved in the celebrated Scopes trial in America, which resulted in a triumph for the theory of evolution, Bertrand Russell in England was becoming well known as a forthright atheist. And Lovecraft was championing atheism in his novels and tales. Turning to recent decades, the author considers the uproar caused by outspoken atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the controversial 1962 "school prayer" Supreme Court decision. Finally, he evaluates the work of best-selling authors Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In each case, he carefully dissects the views of the writers in question and points out both the strengths and fallacies or ambiguities in their arguments. This excellent intellectual history will be a welcome addition to the libraries of readers of both secular and religious orientations seeking a greater understanding of contemporary atheism.

MY REVIEW: A very informative, mostly fair-minded, enjoyable read. First time I've read about some of these famous atheists. Great to read about their ideas within their historical and cultural contexts. Becomes a bit unnecessarily derogatory of Christians at the end but, overall, a good overview. I can't assess the historical accuracy of the information. But author comes across as very knowledgable and credible. Definitely worth a read.

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