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Either this or the author's previous title, not both.
on July 2, 2007
I ordered this, Pearce's latest offering, together with his preceding 2002 effort, "Biology of Transcendence" and read them back to back, in chronological order. This is the one book, in his output so far, Joseph Pearce needn't have written.
Given that Pearce's incentive for writing this book (p. 190) was triggered by an altogether demonic experience, that behold-and-become function stressed so often in his authorship has here become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Really, a previous reviewer put it mildly in saying "Death of Religion" shows the author retreading familiar ground. In fact, this is an about 80% rehash or rewrite of his previous title "Biology." The very same material has been reorganized, rewritten - sometimes expanded upon a bit, sometimes contracted. I would not say the presentation of it has improved, it is merely a different version. It even uses the same batch of quotes from a select number of, to Pearce's mind, outstanding thinkers.
So because the bulk of the contents is yet again the discussion of the "New Biology," the title of the new book is a bit of a misnomer. The post 9/11 impetus to writing a book on "violent culture" is a thin veneer, a couple of dozen pages bracketing the older material. Pearce carries over not only his favourite quotes but even repeats a number of his own punch lines already used up in "Biology."
Some mistakes slipped through editing: using cases from, to some, controversial para-psychology, one would expect facts to be absolutely in order. Still famous French explorer Alexandra David-Neel turns into an Englishwoman (and gets her name slightly misspelled). From where Pearce got the etymological explanation that "sin" originally meant "separate" (p. 166) baffles. See [...]resource for more trustworthy facts. From "Biology" one remembers Pearce explaining "existence" as "to set apart" (p. 78), e.g. separate, so perhaps he misread his old notes while revamping them.
Commenting upon the ability to live without food (p. 178) without previously having introduced the subject, is another hint this book was hardly the fruit of that "Heureka! effect" Pearce is rightfully fascinated by. Presumably a paragraph was lifted out from an early draft and this reference to supernatural non-food eaters remained in place.
I heartily recommend the previous "Biology of Transcendence" as a great reading experience, upon which this rewrite has nothing substantially more to offer. The book gets three stars given the intrinsic value of Pearce's observations and if you have not read "Biology," nor intend to, you may consider this a very thought-provoking read. But as Pearce devotes quite a number of pages to describing a theory of Julian Jaynes' (The Origin of Consciousness) - a summary not present in his previous work - I really recommend you to go for Pearce's previous "Biology" and also Jaynes' 1970s classic in its entirety instead. That would be a crucial reading experience.