Friday, October 12, 2007

This Week at the Library (12/10)

Life at college tends to cut into my reading time. I'm not particularly caught up in doing any one thing, but there are a multitude of little affairs -- going to classes, working, practicing German, studying, club meetings -- that add up. Consequently, I'm not able to read through a given list as quickly as I used to be able to. My most recent reading:

- Broca's Brain by Carl Sagan
- The Assault on Reason by Al Gore, Nobel Laureate
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris
- And The Darwin Awards, edited by Wendy Nortcutt.

When I visited the campus library to obtain Broca's Brain, I had to go upstairs. The layout is very dense up there, and I was momentarily confounded by the Library of Congress system. While I looked around for the Sagan book, my eyes fell upon The Darwin Awards. The Darwin Awards, for those of you who don't know, are given to people to remove themselves from the human gene pool in incredibly stupid ways. The awards (given posthumously, of course) are so named because the removal of these genes are said to aide the human race in evolving. I visit the website on a regular basis, and I was delighted to discover this book, which is a compilation of submitted stories. The stories contained therein are hilarious.

After I finished The Darwin Awards, I was very eager to begin former Vice President Gore's book The Assault on Reason. Gore begins by explaining how the culture of television has negatively impacted the democratic process, leaving Americans entertained but uninformed. Then begins the book proper. Some of the topics Gore addresses are "The Politics of Fear", "The Politics of Wealth", "Blinding the Faithful", and "The Assault on the Individual". You can probably figure out what these chapters are about. "The Assault on the Individual" deals with the abuses the Constitution has endured in the past six years under the reign of You-Know-Who*. "Blinding the Faithful" concerns how those in the right wing have used Christians in America to come to power. Of course, there's no way I'm going to feel sorry for fundamentalist Christians who continue to be duped by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I used to be one of `em. I say if you find a supporter of the current president, ask them about the Military Commissions Act and the Patriot Act. Their faces will go blank. They'll have no idea what you're talking about. The same is true of Executive Order 9066.

After finishing The Assault on Reason (which I would recommend), I read Sam Harris' The End of Faith. This book was one of the first to be written when rationalism and atheism started coming into vouge a few years ago. The book doesn't just attack fundamentalism (Christian and Islamic) and promote rationalism and compassion-based ethics; it contains a good deal of philosophy. I enjoyed the book, although it wasn't quite what I expected. My favorite part of the book was when Harris compares faith to a rhinoceros. In Harris' words, a rhinoceros won't do any real work for you, but up close it demands your attention.

Finally, I read Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. This book was written by Carl Sagan, so as you can imagine I enjoyed it. The book strikes me as a collection of individual essays rather than one tightly-focused book. In one chapter, Sagan gives the biography of Albert Einstein. In another, he muses on the role science fiction plays in affecting people's ideas about science. The subjects are varied, and most are interesting. Given how different each chapter is from the other, I think it's safe to skip a chapter that focuses on something the reader isn't personally interested in.

Pick of the Week: The Assault on Reason. The Darwin Awards was a hilarious book, but I prefer substance over amusement.

This week's reading: unknown. I haven't really determined what all I want to read this week. I know I'll be reading Mephisto by Klaus Mann for my German History class, and I'll also be reading England in the Time of Chaucer by Roger Hart. I may also do some reading in the direction of my research papers.