THE FOUR HORSEMEN

THE CONVERSATION THAT SPARKED AN ATHEIST REVOLUTION

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

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. 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

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

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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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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