Mostly for devotees of the New Atheism. More than a decade later, not much has changed, as the faithful and the skeptics...

THE FOUR HORSEMEN

THE CONVERSATION THAT SPARKED AN ATHEIST REVOLUTION

A commemoration of the only extended conversation the four bestselling authors ever had.

It was the loosest of confederations that united these “Four Horsemen” of the literary atheist apocalypse. The publication, around the same time, of bestselling challenges to organized religion by neuroscientist Harris, philosopher Dennett, biologist Dawkins, and journalist/essayist Hitchens linked them in the public’s mind, as each of them participated in increasingly public debate on the ascendance of atheism and the decline of religious faith. The bulk of this slim volume is a transcript of a two-hour cocktail conversation among the four, in 2007, at the annual conference of the Atheist Alliance International, filmed by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and subsequently available on DVD and YouTube. Padding what would otherwise be a 90-page transcript in large print are a biographical and contextual introduction by Stephen Fry (“sitting in on these dialogues…reminds us that open enquiry, free thinking and the unfettered exchange of ideas yield real and tangible fruit”), a new essay by Dawkins (“The Hubris of Religion, the Humility of Science, and the Intellectual and Moral Courage of Atheism”), and considerably shorter introductory pieces by Dennett and Harris. Though the conversation has plenty of wit and bite, it is the atheist equivalent of preaching to the choir, capable of reinforcing convictions but unlikely to topple or change any. It’s a convivial conversation without agenda, as the four thinkers try to figure out what they’re collectively trying to accomplish and what the best outcome might be. Dawkins takes the hardest line, hoping that organized religion will simply disappear as the world comes to its collective senses; Harris is the most mystical, confirming the sacred and practicing meditation while distancing both from God; Hitchens wants the debate to continue forever; and Dennett appreciates some of what churches do, though not what they believe.

Mostly for devotees of the New Atheism. More than a decade later, not much has changed, as the faithful and the skeptics continue to talk past each other.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-51195-3

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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