An intriguing study for skeptics and believers alike.

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WHY GOD WON’T GO AWAY

BRAIN SCIENCE AND THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF

Science meets religion meets good writing.

Over a century ago, Nietzsche declared that God was dead, but He just doesn’t seem to go away. Why, ask coauthors Newberg and d’Aquili (The Mystical Mind), do human beings continue to quest for the divine? Not satisfied with the usual sociological arguments, they turn to biology and find an answer in the human brain: Spiritual experiences, like prayer and meditation, are “associated . . . with a series of observable neurological events.” Teaming up with journalist Rause, the doctors examine the issues in prose clear enough so that even the most science-phobic reader will feel at ease. Before laying out their case for the connections between religion and science, the authors walk their audience through some introductory material: what the cerebral cortex is, how neurons work, how human beings turn raw information into perceptions that make sense to us; what the limbic system, hypothalamus, and hippocampus actually do. (Occasionally, those explanations get a little too cutesy, as when the authors call the hippocampus “the diplomat” or label the amygdala “the watchdog.”) Ritual, as cultural history attests, is virtually universal, and when rituals work, they help the brain “adjust its cognitive and emotional perceptions” in a way that religious folks call an encounter between human and divine. The authors use science to try and explain religion, not explain it away. They do not conclude that mystical experiences are baloney simply because the brain has something to do with them. It’s no accident that the human brain is wired to help folks get religion, the authors insist, but an evolutionary advantage: religious people tend to have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and better overall health than unbelievers. Nietzsche and other modern prophets predicted the end of religion, but that’s unlikely to happen unless the human brain changes.

An intriguing study for skeptics and believers alike.

Pub Date: April 3, 2001

ISBN: 0-345-44033-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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