Spring cleaning continues with the fourth donation run set for next Tuesday of the following five books. It’s my way of saying goodbye to books I read a while ago. Most of them I loved.
Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out (2008) compiled and edited by Susan Crimp and Joel Richardson
This is pretty much as advertised, a collection of stories of people who have left Islam. The first entry is by Parvin Darabi, an Iranian-American activist whose sister, Homa, died by suicide, burning herself to death publically in 1994 in Tehran as a protest against the Iranian regime. Her last words before pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself ablaze are reported to have been: “Death to tyranny! Long live liberty! Long live Iran!”
The story is ghastly. Darabi wrote her own book about her sister’s life and death, Rage Against the Veil.
This is not an easy book to read. And it’s hard not to wonder if the editors don’t have an agenda as they as both Christian, an element they’re coy about. The worst of the atrocities seem to arise when religion of any stripe is given governmental power. These stories deserve to be heard.
My feelings about this book are mixed. One person who has suffered because of their religious views is one person too many. At the same time, vilifying one religion in favor of MY religion which would, of course, never do anything like that, is hypocrisy of the lowest order.
Bio: Susan Crimp I could find little about this editor. The jacket blurb states she “is a respected journalist and author specializing in Middle East affairs.” The contributor notes say she is the author of eight books, including a biography of Rose Kennedy and one of Mother Teresa, Touched by a Saint.
Joel Richardson uses a pseudonym because “of threats against his life and the life of his family due to public and private dialogues with Muslims who wished to leave Islam.” He calls himself “an independent religious scholar who has lived and worked in the Middle East.”
Are We Alone? Philosophical Implication of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (1995) by Paul Davies
This was based on a series of lectures given initially at the University of Milan in November 1993.
Davies discusses with a lot of facts and figures and a healthy dose of speculation what the odds are of extraterrestrial life. A thornier problem, of course, than whether intelligent beings are out there is whether we’ll ever be able to communicate, much less meet them.
The author takes the reader through the history of SETI, cosmology, and the nature of consciousness. It is an interesting read.
Bio: Paul Charles William Davies (b. 1946) is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, educator, and writer.
Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (2005) by Daniel C. Dennett is a collection of essays based on lectures the author gave in Paris in 2005. The essays explore different models approaching investigation the nature of consciousness. The author cautions they should be read in order: “The Zombic Hunch,” “A Third-Person Approach to Consciousness,” “Explaining the ‘Magic’ of Consciousness,” “Are Qualia What Make Life Worth Living?,” “What RoboMary Knows,” “Are We Explaining Consciousness Yet?,” “A Fantasy Echo Theory of Consciousness,” and “Consciousness: How Much is That in Real Money?”
Some sixteen years after I read this book, my feelings remain mixed. I remember feeling anger after I finished it, as if Dennett has told the reader we humans are just blithering idiots but he’s the only one of us smart enough to figure it out. On the other hand, rereading bits of it now, I have to admit much of what he says makes sense.
I doubt most of us humans are blithering idiots, or it we are, how tiresome for someone of Dennett’s intellect.
The book is a sequel Dennett’s 1991 work, the modestly titled Consciousness Explained.
Bio: According to his Tufts University page, Daniel C. Dennett (b. 1942) is the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy. His books include Breaking the Spell (2006), Freedom Evolves (2003), and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), (an excellent book I read somewhere in the beginning of time). Dennett has also published many scholarly publications.
Good natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (1996) by Frans de Waal
The main argument is that morality as humans know it has its roots in biology and evolution. While he stops short of calling non-human primates moral—in the sense of understanding right and wrong in abstract and language to pass that understanding on—DeWaal sees rudiments of fellow-feeling among some primates. Specifically he notes a sense of expectations as to how others ought to behave, with respect to things like food-sharing, for example. He sees the idea of “morality” as representing a continuum across various species (our own included) without clear dividing lines. That is, empathy and reciprocity are present in greater or lesser degrees in different species of primates, not simply absent or present.
De Waal obviously enjoys the work. This is an enjoyable, informative book.
Bio: Frans de Waal (b. 1948) is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. According to Wikipedia, he is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, and author of numerous books.
Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1997) by Jared Diamond
The author sidesteps the obvious answer to the question of the title and takes a different route by explaining just how odd we humans are in our behavior with respect how the birds and the bees do it. His tone is light but not salacious. “If your dog had your brain and could speak,” Diamond starts his first chapter, “and you asked it what it thought about your sex life, you might be surprised by its response.”
The rest of the short book (146 pages of text) discusses why human sexuality works for humans and not for animals.
Bio: Jared Diamond (b. 1937) is a Professor of Geographer at University of California, Los Angeles. According to his personal website (Jared Diamond), he began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He’s probably best known for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), for which he was awarded a Pulitzer. He is also active in the climate change movement.