Category: Arts & Culture

A New Take on Skepticism in Early American History

By Paul Heffron

A new book by Christopher Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018), presents a new take on early U.S. history, which might lead to a revision in the historiography of that era. The conventional view of this history is that the Revolution, and the founding of the United States through the Constitution, were influenced by Enlightenment thought, but that the secularism and rationalism of the founders faded in the Early Republic and were succeeded by what Grasso calls an “Evangelical Tsunami.” 

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‘After Life’ On Netflix: An Atheist Confronts Life With No After

By Mary McLeod

There aren’t many TV series that feature an atheist as protagonist. But Netflix recently offered “After Life,” created by and starring British comedian Ricky Gervais. HofMN member Mary McLeod offers this review: The series centers on Tony, a misanthrope of massive proportions, who talks about suicide constantly, and calls his curmudgeonly hate a superpower. He claims there is no advantage to being nice, or caring, or having integrity, because the world will just defeat you in ways you can’t imagine. In other words, his wife, whom he loved beyond words, has died.

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Think Humanity Is Making Progress? This Book Could Disillusion You

By Nathan Curland

“Contemporary atheism is a flight from a godless world.” ”The progress of humanity has replaced belief in divine providence.” “The idea that the human species realizes common goals throughout history is a secular avatar of a religious idea of redemption.” These provocative statements open John Gray’s newest book, Seven Types of Atheism. The title of his tome is a nod to literary critic and poet William Empson, whose Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), he says, “showed how language can be open-ended without being misleading.”

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A Book to Soothe the Soul in These Turbulent Times

By Michael Anderson

I have always been fascinated by the American presidency. In college and adulthood I began to read about all the presidents and their leadership styles. One of my favorite historian/authors is Doris Kearns Goodwin.This review is about her latest book, Leadership in Turbulent Times,  which focuses on four of my favorite presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

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How to Find Meaning in Our Short, Finite Lives

By Nathan Curland

In his latest book, Michael Shermer — publisher of Skeptic magazine, author, and Scientific American columnist — offers a comprehensive review of what science can (or cannot) say about the afterlife, immortality, and the past and present searches for possible future utopias.

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Enlightenment Now: Steven Pinker Does It Again

By Michael Anderson

I’ve been a fan of Steven Pinker since 1994 when I came across his book The Language Instinct. I have read everything he’s written since then, with my favorite being The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. His newest book is Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress — and as usual he blows me away with his intellect, wit, and distinctive writing style.

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The Brain As Expectation Machine: Understanding Placebos, False Memories, and More

BY NATHAN CURLAND

I was first introduced to Erik Vance when he was interviewed about his book by Steve Mirsky on a “Science Talk” podcast on Scientific American Online in November. That interview motivated me to borrow a volume from the library. It is quite a find.

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Homo Sapiens Have Conquered the World; Now What?

By Nathan Curland

Homo sapiens have, in the last few millennia, filled every corner of the planet and—in less than 100 years—have for all practical purposes conquered plague, famine, and war. How did this happen? 

What sets Homo sapiens apart from other species? What is the mind? Or consciousness? Do we have free will or are we just algorithms? 

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BOOK REVIEW: SING YOU HOME BY JODI PICOULT

By Mary McLeod

Few would call Jodi Picoult a literary author, that is a Nobel- or Pulitzer-quality writer. She does not experiment with the art form, but primarily writes straightforward novels about social issues many are still puzzling over or up in arms about, long after publication.

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A Book on Humanism for Kids

By Paul Heffron

The author has impressive academic and professional credentials and does an excellent job of presenting humanism for kids ages 10 and up.

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