You needn’t buy the total Dawkins package to glory in his having the guts to lay out the evils religions can do....

THE GOD DELUSION

Dawkins’s passionate disavowal of religion and his “I can no other answer make” statement that he is an atheist—and why you should be, too.

Dawkins, eminent Oxford scholar, defender of evolution (The Ancestor’s Tale, 2004) and spokesman for science (Unweaving the Rainbow, 1998), delivers ten chapters arguing the non-existence of god, along with documentation of the atrocities religions have wrought. This is exceptional reading—even funny at times. (A footnote declaims that in the promise of 72 virgins to Muslim martyrs, “virgins” is a mistranslation of “white raisins of crystal clarity.”) By God, Dawkins means a supernatural creator of the universe, the prayer-listener and sin-punisher, and not the vague metaphoric god some invoke to describe the forces that govern the universe. Accordingly, Dawkins focuses heavily on the monotheistic religions with quotations from the Bible and Koran that sanction genocide, rape and the killing of unbelievers. Dawkins is concerned about fundamentalism in America, a phenomenon that stigmatizes atheists and is at odds with the Founding Fathers who ordained the separation of church and state. (Jefferson said, “The Christian God . . . is cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.”) He worries that we abuse the vulnerability of children (who are primed via natural selection to trust elders) by indoctrinating them in religions they are too young to understand. Indeed, natural selection is Dawkins’s strong card to explain why you don’t need a god to account for the diversity, complexity and grandeur of the natural world. In other chapters, he uses evolutionary psychology and game theory to account for why we don’t need a god to be good. He also conjectures that religion may have arisen as a byproduct of the ways our brains have evolved, and he invokes “memeplexes” (pools of memes, the cultural analogues of genes) to account for the spread of religious ideas.

You needn’t buy the total Dawkins package to glory in his having the guts to lay out the evils religions can do. Bible-thumpers doubtless will declare they’ve found their Satan incarnate.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2006

ISBN: 0-618-68000-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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