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Mark Joseph has commented on (5) products.

Hunger Games Trilogy Set by Suzanne Collins
Hunger Games Trilogy Set

Mark Joseph, January 1, 2013

Impossibly amazing. "1984" meets "Star Wars." Full of heart-stopping action and beautiful writing, and yet also develops the characters, especially the main protagonist, as well as any book I've ever read. I can't recommend this trilogy highly enough.
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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

Mark Joseph, January 1, 2012

I read a number of books this year that together help to refute the claims of religion and creationism--Hitchens' "The Portable Atheist," Dawkins' "The Magic of Reality," Carroll's "The Making of the Fittest," Prothero's "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters," and two more books of Stephen Jay Gould's essays. Any of these could have topped my list of non-fiction books this year. But, I've chosen Sam Harris' book, because it is the only book I know on its topic, and undercuts a common, though blatantly false religious argument--that religion is necessary for morality. Making such a claim is only possible if one has a weak understanding of morality, or an overwrought opinion as to the value of religion, or both, and Harris shreds the argument, as well as providing a much more positive and useful theory of morality, based on neurobiology and on generally accepted facts about people and society.

One reviewer said that this book was not the last word in neurobiology and morality/ethics, and he's right, but it's a great beginning, and a worthy book to stand alongside Harris' amazing "The End of Faith."
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(3 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Perdido Street Station

Mark Joseph, September 2, 2011

I love Tolkien as much as anyone, but sometimes you want something different. Might as well start at the top--this book is maximally different from The Lord of the Rings. Both are "fantasy" novels, but that is the extent of their similarities. Creator and perfecter of the sub-genre "New Weird," Perdido has everything--a heart-poundingly scary plot, brilliant characterization, more moving parts than any novel I can think of, more than one "I didn't expect that" moment, a fair amount of political commentary and/or subtext, and lots and lots of *weird*. This is one of my favorite books ever, and I'd only have one caveat for the potentially interested reader--if you can't handle weird (especially one central romance between a human man and an insect-headed woman), the book may prove a bit too rich for your tastes.
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Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

Mark Joseph, January 22, 2011

Of all of the books I've read, this is probably the one that most deserves the epithet "mesmerizing." Falling into the "quest for wisdom" genre, it is nevertheless completely different from any other book in the same genre in that the teacher is a gorilla, who represents nature, and his teaching is presented to a human being, who presumably represents modern culture and civilization.

Hmm, reading the paragraph I've just written makes it sound like this would not be an interesting book. And, if one is looking for the latest romantic vampire shoot-'em-up, one might well be disappointed. But if one is looking for an absolutely riveting intellectual journey, at least life-affecting if not life-changing, "Ishmael" delivers the goods with an incandescent look at how nature works ("the law of limited competition"), and how we have disrupted and destroyed it to make room for an impoverished landscape consisting of humans and the few species that can coexist with humans. Political conservatives (who know nothing) and religious fundamentalists (who think they know everything) will be outraged, and really, what higher recommendation can be given to a book?
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(5 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Mark Joseph, January 1, 2010

As one who spent the decade escaping--successfully--from fundamentalism, the value of a book is not only in how absorbing of a read it was, but also how it encouraged the freedom to not believe. I read a number of excellent books along these lines during the last ten years, both positive, in their portrayal of the ability of science to understand what is true (this one, Park's "Voodoo Science," books of essays by Stephen Jay Gould, Coyne's "Why Evolution is True") and negative, in their criticism of religion's discredited truth claims and baleful social effects (the ones you all know by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, as well as Kaminer's "Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials" and Mills' "Atheist Universe"). A tough call, but I'd have to choose this book by Sagan for the very best of the group. To call it a book about the scientific method would make it sound dull--which it decidedly was not!--so let me rather characterize the book as providing the epistemological basis for a life of freedom.

To catalogue the book's intellectual riches would be either to reproduce it word for word, or to be annoyingly pedantic, so one example alone will have to suffice. Sagan clarifies the two meanings the word "science" has, namely the method whereby we come to know things with some confidence, and the body of facts known thereby. This one idea distinguishes science from religion (religion has its store of dogma, but no method to determine whether or not any of it is true, relying on faith rather than any objective method), and illuminates the source of science's success in explaining the world (further experiments and theory can result in changes and revisions to what is considered to be true, and even overthrowing it; the final arbiter is nature, not any given human being's opinions). As Sagan himself states: "The method of science, as stodgy and grumpy as it may seem, is far more important than the findings of science").

The eclipse of science in America, due to funding issues, poorly-conceived educational practices (translation: science in elementary school is dull), and the efforts of the strange bedfellows of the religious right and the po-mo left, both eager to prevent any true scientific reasoning from overthrowing their subjective beliefs and political opinions, is leading to widespread religiously inspired ignorance, political extremism reactionary to the point of fascism (you think I'm exaggerating, but I hear it every day from my still-fundamentalist friends and family) and, more to the point and if the right can prevent any action from being taken on the climate crisis (the details of which we know by the hard work of those "stodgy and grumpy" scientists), the extinction of the human race within the next 100-150 years. It is silly to think that any one book, even one as wildly exciting as this one, can change this state of affairs--but one can always hope.
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(8 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)

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