Fair but uncompromising, counseling us to slough what William Blake called the “ ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ of organized...

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THE SERPENT'S PROMISE

THE RETELLING OF THE BIBLE THROUGH THE EYES OF MODERN SCIENCE

British biologist Jones (Darwin’s Island, 2009, etc.) has fun examining miraculous biblical tales with the gimlet eye of science.

The author doesn’t go in for hard-boiled trashing of the Bible but rather stands back, takes a fresh look and discovers where adherents and scientists part company. Sometimes the divide is fairly clear-cut: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth—or there was a “closed spherical space-time of zero radius.” But sometimes faith and science can coexist. Pituitary tumors could account for giants. Money may well be the root of all evil, although as Jones wisely points out, human beings (gender: male) come a close second or perhaps trump money, since it’s their creation. Celibacy? Like everything, there are pros and cons, though the pros are devilishly beguiling. After all, as Jones writes with his characteristic bright sense of humor, “[t]he cost of sex involves much more than the effort and annoyance associated with the act itself and the genetic events behind it. Liaisons with males force females to squander their energies in copying the genes of another individual, and to dilute their own investment with progeny who carry his DNA.” The author has some rough things to say about those who downplay or ignore the miraculous and the magical, which certainly can provide a spiritual lift. Still, in the end, Jones comes down on the side of rationalism: “From the cosmos to the continents and from primeval slime to philosophy, everything evolves. Science is an attempt to recover the process.” A central problem of faith is that quarrels frequently lead to disaster, and the more extensive the membership, the more the conflicts. What does God want? With enough believers, anything.

Fair but uncompromising, counseling us to slough what William Blake called the “ ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ of organized religion” and practice something universal: science.

Pub Date: June 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60598-542-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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