Monday, April 17, 2006

Reading these books will not get you laid

I know our readership well enough to know what you've all been thinking: Why isn't CrimeNotes writing about books more, because if there's anything I love, it's a 1,000-word review of a book I'm not interested in.

I'll keep it short. A few weeks back, I read a breezy book called The Know It All, by A.J. Jacobs, an autobiographical account about a gregarious and neurotic man's effort to read the Encyclopedia Britannica, and in the process, make sense of his life. It's a truly fun read -- laugh-out-loud funny, much more light and chipper than my usual fare. Read it and you'll feel happy.

Exhausted by A.J. Jacobs's good cheer, I changed directions and read Orhan Pamuk's Snow, a novel about Islamic fundamentalism and state-imposed liberalism in Turkey. It's tremendous. Having read Snow and Marjan Satrapi's Persepolis books, I've concluded that fiction in translation is the only way I'll understand the thinking of people who live in that part of the world.

Keeping with a theme, I then read The End of Faith, Sam Harris's searing indictment of religion -- Islam in particular, but Christianity takes quite the pounding as well. Won't get into the details, but if you want to jump into the void, join the Easter backlash, and do some thinking about the immorality of pacifism and where contemporary standards of tolerance have led us, I highly recommend it.

Less so, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell, which makes an argument on behalf of more scientific and empirical inquiry into the biological impulses behind religious belief. I buy the thesis, but in contrast with Harris, Dennett is so concerned about offending the faithful that he never lands the plane. His good arguments get lost in constant hedging and qualification.

In the last couple of weeks I've gone on a book-buying binge. This happens every so often. I buy much more than I'll digest in the near term, knowing I'll get around to reading them eventually. Here's a preliminary summer reading list:
  • Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea
  • Michael R. Gordon and Bernard Trainer, Cobra II
  • Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy
  • Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
  • Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
  • Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology
  • Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy
  • Sara Vowell, Assassination Vacation
  • Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy

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