Non-Fiction Archives

  1. In Praise Of Doubt / Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld

    Cover of In Praise Of Doubt
    The publishers gave In Praise Of Doubt the subtitle how to have convictions without becoming a fanatic. I am a skeptic at heart, so I purchased the book thinking it would explain approaches to blending doubt and conviction. It’s not that, unfortunately. The back cover copy claims the book will explain why religion, politics and culture need doubt to survive. But it doesn’t do that either. The first chapter explains the authors’ theory that the defining feature of modernism is pluralism rather than secularism. In other words, we’re not becoming more secular, we’re just sticking people of different faiths in closer proximity. On the latter, that’s a big duh. On…
  2. Scandalous Women / Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    Cover of Scandalous Women
    Scandalous Women might be the first non-fiction blog-to-book project I’ve read. I grabbed this at a fundraising table at WisCon in May. It’s a series of short biographies of scandalous women throughout history. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon notes in her introduction that most This Day In History bits cover men predominantly. Her stated goal with the blog and book is to reclaim history, one woman at a time. All the included women caused a scandal, a commotion, they bumped up against the status quo. The obvious thing about a patriarchal society is that pretty much any woman who did anything before recent times was bound to piss people off and cause…
  3. A Room Of One’s Own / Virginia Woolf

    Cover of A Room of One's Own
    I read A Room Of One’s Own to participate in the Year of Feminist Classics discussion, but then I didn’t get around to writing up my experience in time. C’est la vie. The thing that struck me most about A Room Of One’s Own was my mis-impression of its argument. I’ve thought her premise was that women would write more and better fiction if they had the means to do so. If a woman has to do housework (and the like) rather that writing, she has to snatch bits of writing time between her other duties and between interruptions. That is obviously not conducive to writing extended works of fiction.…
  4. Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer / Gerald Chodak

    Cover of Winning The Battle Against Prostate Cancer
    In December, my step-father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s a very minor case of the disease so I’m not particularly worried. His prospects of being cured are excellent. However, I knew very little about the cancer. At the same time, LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program included the book Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer by Gerald Chodak. I thought highly of a book that Demos Health published about A.L.S. (my mother died from that illness) so I selected Dr. Chodak’s book to review. Before I delve into the book, I need to specify a caveat. I am not in the slightest qualified to determine the accuracy of Dr. Chodak’s information…
  5. Devices & Desires / Andrea Tone

    Cover of Devices And Desires
    I wish I remembered where I saw this book recommended, because I really would like to thank the person who got me to put it on my to be read list. Devices & Desires is a history of contraception in America, covering the late 1800s until the early 1970s. The coverage focuses on the makers, proponents, and users of birth control, rather than the legal and political status. I haven’t done the independent research to know whether Tone’s tome is accurate (voluminous end notes notwithstanding). Because Tone wrote about both the warts and the virtues of the characters involved, I tend to credit her with completeness. And of course, it’s…
  6. The Best American Science Writing 2002 / Matt Ridley ed.

    Cover of The Best American Science Writing 2002
    Matt Ridley notes in his introduction that he has a soft spot for contrarians. He picked a fair number of articles for their contrarian scientific views. But the problem with that approach is that the writing then tends to focus on the controversy and the personalities rather than the science. While I love me some good drama, I really like science. In a few cases, I felt pretty short-shrifted by how shallow the actual science coverage was in the article. You can sort of see that by the number of articles that come from culture magazines such as The New Yorker or Esquire as compared to science magazines like Science…
  7. A Preface to Metaphysics / Jacques Maritain

    Cover of A Preface to Metaphysics
    I had only a vague idea of what metaphysics was prior to reading this book. Had I known, I probably wouldn’t have snagged this book from whatever pile of used books it came from. But really, I should have had a clue. Wikipedia notes that metaphysics is the study of what transcends physics. Duh. Strike one on me. To tell the truth, such questions as Does the world exist outside the mind? don’t really interest me. I tend generally toward a view of philosophy as espoused by the pragmatists. Nevertheless, I don’t think I would have gained much of an understanding of Jacques Maritain’s view of Thomist metaphysics from reading…
  8. Palestine Peace Not Apartheid / Jimmy Carter

    Cover of Palestine Peace Not Apartheid
    When this book came out last year, there was a lot of controversy. Some people said it was sloppy. Some folks said it was anti-Semitic. Several Carter Center employees resigned. I heartily subscribe to the belief that the Palestinians get a raw deal. There is periodic unacceptable violence against Israelis. Comparatively speaking though, Israel’s citizens live in peace and security compared to the Palestinians. That hasn’t always been the case. Through the 1970s, Israel fought multiple wars against its Arab neighbors, winning all of them. But winning doesn’t mean lack of danger. Attacks since then have been sporadic and perpetrated by insurgent groups rather than by state actors. At the…
  9. The Communist Manifesto / Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

    Cover of The Communist Manifesto (Signet Classic)
    The Communist Manifesto is another work of political science that the conservative HumanEvents.com placed on their list of the most harmful books written. However, HumanEvents.com never made clear exactly who these works harm. Marx and Engels argue in this polemic that their Communist plan harms only the bourgeois , that small portion of society (which they put at 1/10 of the population) which owns the means of production. In their view, their revolution would help the proletariat, the working men, the wage laborers, who comprise the other 9/10ths of the world. If they are indeed correct, it would seem that HumanEvents.com is narrowly identifying itself with but a small portion…
  10. The Freedom / Christian Parenti

    Cover of The Freedom
    The Freedom is The Nation writer Christian Parenti’s first-person account of his stints reporting on the war in Iraq from the frontlines during 2003 and the first half of 2004. It’s a moving account, and covers ground I haven’t read in newspapers or magazines. That’s not to say it hasn’t been written, but I haven’t seen it. For its descriptions of the facts on the ground, I don’t think the book is very useful anymore. While the conflict is still bloody, and still similarly bleak, the people, alliances, and situations no longer exist. That’s the danger in a war such as this. The fronts are fluid. The opponent changes. The…