Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Week at the Library (10/9)

Books this Update:
  • A History of God, Karen Armstrong
  • The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
  • Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn
  • The Sons of Caesar, Philip Matyszak
I started the week off with Karen Armstrong's History of God, a religious history focusing on the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. While her focus remains here, Armstrong often connects themes in these religions as they develop to developing traditions in other religions The book reminded me of her The Great Transformation. While she covers a lot of information -- focusing not only on the general history of the religions but trends within them, like mysticism and rationalism -- she does it fairly well, and the end result reads nicely.

I decided to revisit Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World this week. I read it in 2006, and it helped reignite my passion for science and the natural world, as it concentrates on the benefits of science education and scientific thinking in understanding and enjoying the world -- as well as protecting us from very easily made errors.

I reread another book following this, although I'd forgotten most everything about it except for a few particulars. Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire is the first in the Thrawn trilogy of Star Wars books set after Return of the Jedi, in which Imperial forces are rallying behind the extremely competent and devious Grand Admiral Thrawn to take on the New Republic, which is having serious problems creating a government from the ruins of war and from the framework of the Rebel Alliance. The trio from the original trilogy are the book's main characters, but other characters (like Thrawn and Mara Jade) are introduced. The last sentence in my extended comments sums it up nicely: "Zahn delivers a prime Star Wars novel with elements of everything that made the movies enjoyable while making believable modifications to the now-late ROTJ universe."

Lastly, I read The Sons of Caesar, a narrative history of the Julio-Claudian dynasty covering Julius Caesar to Nero. According to the author, the Julio-Claudian dynasty oversaw the complete transition of Rome from Republic to Empire, each succeeding emperor making changes to the system. After spending a little time to analyze the late Republic, Matyszak devotes one chapter to each of the emperors. The narrative is nicely done, giving me a feel for how Rome was changing over the generations. It never lost my attention.

Pick of the Week: I'm exempting Sagan because I've read Demon-Haunted World before. The Sons of Caesar gets it this week, I think.

Quotation of the Week: "Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. It is a way of of skeptically interrogating the universe with an eye for human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those of authority, then we're up for grabs for the next charlatan -- political or religious -- who comes ambling along." (Carl Sagan, in an interview available at the Sounds of Sagan. He reflects a similar sentiment in the book.)

Potentials for Next Week, in order of likelihood:
  • Death by Black Hole, Neil deGrasse Tyson. I'm mostly finished with this one.
  • Taming the Mind, Thubten Chodron. This one is shaping up to be more dogmatic (and thus, less enjoyable) than I had anticipated. I may finish it, but I may stop and move on to something more enjoyable, like..
  • Murder on the Appian Way, Steven Saylor
  • Waiter Rant, Steven Dublanica.
  • The Philosophy of Humanism, Corliss Lamont. Considering I've thought of myself as a Humanist for over three years now, it may seem strange that I've never read anything about it. Humanism is a philosophy easily self-arrived at, though, its values being human values, and so no books are necessary.
  • Dark Force Rising, Timothy Zahn. The second in the Thrawn series.

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