Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category


Book Review: The Qur’an

December 14, 2011

The Qur’an seems to fascinate people. For Muslims, it is the supreme source of knowledge and wisdom. For Bill Maher it is a “hate-filled holy book“. Given the current climate, there are presumably quite a few people who regard it with suspicion if not outright hostility. So, naturally, it seemed like it would be a good idea to read it.

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Book Review: The Bible

July 17, 2011

I thought it would be educational to read the Bible, a process which took roughly two months of train journeys to and from work. There were a number of motivations for this:

  1. To have a better grasp of its contents.
  2. To recognise figures of speech and literary allusions which have a Biblical origin.
  3. To form my own understanding of God.
  4. To try to understand what Christians see in it.

I shall tackle these in order.

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Book Review: American Taliban

October 28, 2010

American politics is fascinating in the same way a car-crash, invasive medical procedure or messy celebrity divorce is fascinating. You know it’s wrong to stare, but you crave every detail of the whole sorry business so you gawp dumbly at it, unable to take it all in.

Broadly speaking, there are two political parties in the States – the Republicans and the Democrats. When I was younger, my mental picture of the world had these mapped nicely to English equivalents – the Republicans were Conservatives (pro-business, pro-rich-people) and the Democrats were Labour (pro-social-equality, pro-poor-people in the sense of wanting to help them). A nice simple picture, marred by two facts, namely that the colours were the wrong way round (Republicans = red, Democrats = blue), and if it ever had any truth at all (doubtful) this mapping now is entirely wrong. A more accurate picture would have the Democrats as Conservatives (perhaps on the left of the party) and the Republicans – well, they’re just off the scale.

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Book Review: The Case For God

September 2, 2010

The Case For God” by Karen Armstrong is an interesting history of religious faith, but it suffers from the fundamental problem that the God for whom she is making the case is not a God that would be recognised by the vast majority of people who would claim to believe in him. That said, it has at least given me fresh insight into why things are the way they are and forced me to think a little more deeply about the issue. At the risk of being thrown out of the atheist club for heresy, I’m prepared to countenance the notion that a case can be made for religion.

Rather than try to address the entire book, I’m going to focus on one central idea which Armstrong seems keen to get across which is that for the truly religious, God exists outside the realm of rational thought and language. There are no words with which one can adequately describe God, the best one can do allude to a transcendent state of being (or as the Greeks would call it, ekstatis) and suggest that this means that God is somehow present. In the early days of religion, such states would be brought about in people through rituals and activities such as fasting.
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Book Review: An Edible History of Humanity

July 8, 2010

Like a great many people in the world today, I am basically quite ignorant about a huge range of subjects. It is true that there are one or two small outposts off the beaten track (quantum mechanics, computer programming) about which I would claim to have more knowledge than the average person on the street, but I am constantly finding new ways to be astonished by the sheer number of things I don’t know. This is why it’s always a delight to come across a book which, with the minimum of fuss, fills me in with a few basic details. And when it actually leaves me with some hope for the future, it is a special thing indeed.

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