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Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, Vol. 1
Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, Vol. 1
by Chris Rodda
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.42
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115 of 137 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fisking liars is hard, but essential. A heroic, interesting, prodigious effort., June 14, 2009
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As a blogger at Talk to Action (a pro-faith, pro-religious freedom site) and key employee at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which defends the religious freedom rights of our soldiers, author Chris Rodda frequently comes into contact with Christianists. These people by definition, with the exception of some Reconstructionists, attempt to unconstitutionally leverage the power of government in spite of the Constitution's establishment clause. They desire and work vigorously to promote their faith and their understanding of "God's laws" through government means while simultaneously and unconstitutionally compromising the religious freedom and other liberty rights of people. People that do not share their religious and political beliefs and objectives, including millions of devout American Christians.

Anyone who has even casually studied Christianists can easily come up with a list of defining attributes, one being they all in some combination develop, promote, or believe in a false history of our nation's founding and the character of our founding framers, again with the exception of a few Christian reconstructionists, who advocate we peacefully overturn our Constitution and install a fascist, theocratic state. This revisionist effort is so pervasive within this movement many even home-school their children to deprive them of an accurate rendering of American history; along with the promotion of religious notions as superior explanations describing nature at the expense of scientific understandings.

Why? With the exception of a tiny percentage of far-left fringe groups, most Americans look to our founding as a great moment in history where principles and ideals worthy of defense were ratified in our beloved U.S. Constitution. We also recognize our founding was only the beginning of our perfecting the union given the existence of slavery and government's unequal protection of our rights during that time and even still today. This legacy of shared greatness with ample room for improvement fuels the motivation by nearly all political advocates to claim their political objectives are superior to their opponents' since it's supposedly more consistent with our founding ideals.

The problem for Christianists when looking to our founding was that our framers, framers being the key subset of the founders who designed and implemented our form of gov't, created and successfuled championed the ratification of a radical Constitution given its power was delegated from "we the People" [sic] rather than some sect's understanding of God delegating laws and authority to the government. This resulted in a secular government where most of these framers, especially Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and possibly Washington and Madison also held religious views that even today would most likely practically prohibit them from being able to get elected president by the general populace given their rejection of orthodox, Trinitarian Christianity for what historian Dr. Gregg Frazer aptly describes as theistic rationalism (Frazer also happens to be an evangelical). These framers were also perfectly comfortable creating a society where everyone enjoyed "freedom of conscience" and where the government neither encouraged nor prohibited any one sect's interests. And in spite of their views, all of these men along with other key framers were strongly on the side of keeping religion and the state separated, partially in hopes of seeing religious sects evolve to more rational beliefs (the latter strongly argued for by both Jefferson, Madison, and Adams along with founder Tom Paine).

Therefore a market opportunity to achieve money, fame, and political power is exploited by some on the Right to create propaganda to be used by the Right to achieve power, legislate laws, and publically finance endeavors directly in conflict with our Constitution and its ideals while falsely promoting they are actually in adherence.

Sadly, our current set of historians have turned mostly a blind eye to such shenanigans given the propagandists, such as David Barton, Tim LaHaye, and D. James Kennedy are not historians; I therefore presume our historians believe these propagandists are not worthy of their attention. A perfectly frustrating example is highly respected historian Gordon Wood's excellent critique of this generation's approach to writing history about our founding The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History. While Wood takes on some of the controversies known only within a relatively small circle of academics and quite frankly - relatively inconsequential, he completely avoids covering how more than 30% of our population have a false understanding of American history given the pervasiveness of Barton and his ilk's propaganda that is distributed by way of books, churches, blogs, and viral emails.

Therefore, Ms. Rodda's book is a welcome entry. While there are other books that address the problem of historical revisionism by Christianists, Rodda takes on their lies headfirst. Rather than building a thematic analysis of our founding in light of modern day propaganda, Rodda instead directly fisks their lies. Rodda takes 10 chapters, each to fisk one particularly big lie by the propagandists, and then goes on to provide three additional chapters to refute some of the lies about Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and Blackstone. While this covers only a minority of the lies these propagandists spread, Rodda's efforts comes in at a hefty 496 pages and is noted as "Volume I".

If you are looking for a thematic analysis, I've read several good treatises, though none are perfect:

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness

The Myth of Christian America : What You Need to Know About the Separation of Church and State

The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders

American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation

Rodda also distinguishes herself from these other efforts in two ways. Besides meticulously footnoting her book; she provides a website that provides anyone the ability to actually view the scanned primary and secondary source material used by her to fisk the liars' lies, including exposing how they mistranslated their sources to provide mutated meanings. In addition, Rodda provides ample evidence to the extent frauds like Barton will go by scrutinizing his claims through researching his footnotes to prove he misquotes his sources, takes our founders statements completely out of context, uses discredited sources, and sometimes just makes stuff up. Given the popularity of the propagandists' work within social conservative circles, Rodda's fisking piles on to the already overwhelming evidence of the intellectual dishonesty of social conservatives and their leaders. Propagandists like Barton count on their audience - not known for their intellectual curiosity, lack of skepticism towards their authority figures, and honesty - to trust him. This has become so bad we still have home-schooled children being taught a false history using discredited history printed in their textbooks, even those published in 2009 that even Barton has conceded was wrong several years ago - including fake quotations Barton spread that were never said by the founders and which are directly contradicted by the framers actual speeches and writings.

The one problem with this book is Rodda's lack of access to a good editor. While Rodda meticulously and effectively tears these propagandists apart, I fear its overkill in terms of the number of words it takes if one wanted to read the book from start to finish. This is primarily not because of Rodda's writing skills, it takes many more words to correct a lie than it takes to tell one. Rodda is a fine writer and thinker and provides compelling, obviously honest yeoman work. Therefore, I recommend reading the book in-between other books by breaking up your reading by chapter. And given the fact that these propagandists and their followers continue to perpetuate these lies even after being caught and even after conceding they lied, Rodda's efforts serves the reader well as a great reference book when these false claims are re-presented in the public square, as they most assuredly will for decades to come.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 21, 2014 9:15 PM PST

The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America
The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America
by Lauri Lebo
Edition: Hardcover
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling account of the human cost when exposing dishonest though politically correct zealotry, June 14, 2009
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The "Devil in Dover" is a near masterpiece. Author/Reporter Lauri Lebo's focus on the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial focuses on the people involved in the trial and the drama they experienced. The book covers the initial efforts to use the power of Dover's local school board to undermine the teaching of evolution and introduce competing religious beliefs through the post-trial ramifications for the people involved in the trial.

The plaintiffs are the parents, teachers, and attorneys who took a stand to defend public school students' constitutional and ethical right to be taught science in the science classroom rather than having it suppressed and possibly seeing it supplanted with discredited religious notions.

The defendants' story is also told; it primarily includes those who took over the school board to begin to implement such a process along with their legal counsel and a few of the key experts testifying on their behalf. Lebo also does an excellent job of reporting the testimony of the Dover School Board members in regards to their almost perfect ignorance of not only scientific methodology and the theory of evolution they rejected in spite of their ignorance, but even near total ignorance of their own religious ideas they proposed be included in Dover's science classrooms. Lebo does a near-genius job of providing a nuanced perspective of the defendants in spite of behavior from them that begs caricature, a classy job by Ms. Lebo to resist such temptation.

Part of Lebo's perspective, apart from being the local newspaper reporter for the trial, is that she's the daughter of a socially conservative Christian who owns the local Dover AM Christian radio station. Her father is a good man who unconditionally loves his daughter in spite of her doubt and unconditionally loves others in need. She's also a member of this small community where like all small towns, anonymity is impossible when taking stands and therefore tensions run high as relationships are strained. For those that grew up fundie and eventually were able to move beyond fundamentalist/evangelicalism's primitive, prejudicial notions, this aspect of the story will resonate. Other reasons the book is such a great read is the very personal perspective Lebo brings to the Dover Trial as the local newspaper reporter of record on the trial coupled to her distinguished and currently rare journalism skills as they pertain to reporting on the science/creationism controversy.

The rare aspect of her reporting is her not falling for a fallacy of balance angle like her newspapers' editors promote be used. Instead Lebo reports the facts in an honest framework; which is why her reportage is so consistent with the outcome of the ruling. We don't get "he said, she said" style reporting that her newspaper's editors believe was needed to achieve a "fair and balanced" story. We instead get "he/she said" backed with validated facts that either supports or invalidates the claims being made by the characters in the book. Bravo to Ms. Lebo for adhering to such high standards!

Some have criticized this book for not sufficiently reporting the scientific evidence that easily and overwhelmingly discredits creationism/ID along with providing the evidence that has caused the theory of evolution to become an unchallenged, peer-accepted theory given the overwhelming weight of evidence supporting the general hypotheses, along with a failure to adequately report the details of the arguments made by creationists and how those arguments have been falsified by empirical evidence. I would argue that would have detracted from the human drama Ms. Lebo discusses given that is a book or two length treatise in itself.

For a primer on the controversy one can do no better than read Judge Jones' ruling and opinion, which can be found at Wikipedia by searching for "Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District". The trial transcripts of the testimony by several of the witnesses also provide convincing evidence and extremely compelling reading of how easy the ruling was for the judge while presenting the evidence for evolution and the absurdity of the creationist/ID argument, especially the transcripts from the plaintiffs' witnesses: Barbara Forrest, Rob Pennock, and Kenneth Miller and the key transcripts for the defense: Dr. Michael Behe - the only remotely credible scientific witness in Dover's defense and how he's exposed as a fraud along with the Dover School Board members who implemented the new policy. If the reader would like to become better informed on the evidence for evolution, the best book to start with is U. of Chicago biology professor Dr. Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. For a treatise on the ID movement one can do no better than Dr. Barbara Forrest's Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

One excellent example of how the trial transcripts can't provide the reader with the total perspective of this debate is Ms. Lebo's reportage on how the plaintiffs and defendants acted in court when the technical aspects of the arguments were being presented. Lebo presents absolutely priceless material on who was actively engaged and listening, who was not, along with how the opinions of the creationists changed or did not change after hearing actual scientists present their evidence and case while having their scientific experts exposed as frauds. One debate about the nature of social conservatism and their adherents' near-total lack of intellectual honesty and almost total ignorance regarding science is whether they are virulently ignorant and/or just plain delusional; Lebo provides compelling raw material to help fuel such reasoned inquiry though limits herself to reporting the event, leaving the conclusion to the reader and relevant experts.

My criticism of the book is the lack of content responding to the apparently benign nature of the School Board's final requests for a minor change to the curriculum relative to the curriculum being taught. I think most Americans have this sense that evolution is being taught in their classrooms so what's the big deal if science teachers have to also incorporate a few minor challenges to such. Open-mindedness is a trait most Americans claim for themselves and claim to reward in others.

However the reality, which is under-reported in this book, is that most public school students are not sufficiently taught the theory of evolution, not even close. I believe this is a primary factor for most Americans rejecting the theory; anti-science arguments are almost always composed at least partially as an argument from ignorance. These people are simply not aware of the overwhelming physical evidence and our ability to utilize the principles of evolution as a key factor in technical innovation, especially in the health care and food industries.

While Ms. Lebo briefly covers this topic, I believe it's not sufficient enough to be convincing or provide an accurate perspective of the dearth of material covered in most public school science curriculums. I think having a discussion of the evidence college entry-level biology teachers believe should be covered in high school would be a good start. In addition, a review of how insufficient evolution is taught due to local Christianist pressure would have helped drive the point home to the reader to not consider the question a mere binary one. Most people do not know for example that only 25% of state school boards require human evolution even be taught at the high school level, let alone elementary school level where it should begin. Providing several pages arguing for the necessity of sufficient coverage throughout the elementary through high school to insure a retention of understanding would help compel more readers to take a look at the quality and volume of their own community's curriculum rather than merely asking whether evolution is taught or not taught. It would have also better personalized the issue for the reader, just like Lebo personalized her story that dramatically enhanced her book and its impact.
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Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA
Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA
by Daniel J. Fairbanks
Edition: Hardcover
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaching reasonable certainty by way of overwhelming evidence, April 3, 2009
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Fairbanks' book takes off at a sprint, kicking off with the report on one of the most impressive discoveries in molecular biology, the history and recent validation of the fusion of our chromosome 2 with an additional chromosome we possessed that is nearly exactly the same as the additional chromosome of other great apes (as is our current chromosome 2 when compared to other great apes' chromosome 2A. Any one who has been guided through the past and current structure of these two chromosomes can not reasonably doubt their evolutionary history of once having been two chromosomes at one point identical to other great apes who shared a common ancestry with homo sapiens. That's because this one chromosome still has the attributes of an additional chromosome. Fairbanks doesn't merely provide the finding, he expertly explains the physical evidence, with the helpful use of diagrams that causes this form of physical evidence to be so convincing to anyone who authentically seeks understanding. Fairbanks also preempts any anticipated contradictory arguments by non-scientists creationists; not by mere rhetoric, but instead via a rational accounting of the physical evidence as it is understood not merely by him, but as it has been independently reviewed and accepted by his peers in the field of molecular biology.

While I was cognizant of this fairly recent discovery and expected its inclusion in the book, I wondered how Fairbanks could top that explosive find to keep the book compelling given its position early in the book. Compelling though it is, Fairbanks goes on to provide discovery after discovery that moves deep into the structure of DNA. One of the more fascinating tutorials was how the mutations that occur over time are utilized by species when their environment changes, where Fairbanks does an expert job of explaining how mutations are leveraged by natural selection. He follows this summary with an explanation, supported again by overwhelming evidence; on how populations evolve to the point they are now a different species. In fact his reportage in this area was the most impressive I've encountered in all my general science reading. This is especially important when making an argument for evolution in human DNA coupled to the reality that most non-scientists do not understand the mechanism that could cause a population to evolve to a point they are a new species.

Fairbanks also provides great insight into how science can methodically track back our current genome to its origins, even tracking into the DNA of common ancestral species by using the DNA available in modern day flora and fauna. Fairbanks describes how the DNA in all life provides the "fossil" evidence for our common ancestry along with the evidence needed to relate the closeness of our relationships and the rational inferences on when certain speciation events occurred. The fact this trail is independently confirmed by both the geologic record and the fossil record amply closes the door that "intelligent design" is at work, unless the designer was very unintelligent given the inefficiency of mostly extraneous material in DNA from a design perspective. The fact the actual fossil and geologic record are independently validated by this new evidence has firmly established the theory of evolution as one with overwhelming evidence with no imaginable alternative explanations. Don't believe it? Read this book and then reassess your position.

In terms of reading level, I think anyone who understands high school biology or can read at the college level will enjoy and learn from this book. You may not understand the properties and laws at play but the story will sufficiently emerge, be understood, and provide an enjoyable read. My one criticism of the book is that given Fairbanks provides no primer on molecular biology; the glossary's definitions should have been more expansive. I suggest reading the book near an on-line computer so you can look up the terms in a superior glossary.

There are several book formats available to the general reader to consider the strength of the theory of evolution. I've categorized a few while offering some recommendations that are very readable for the general reader. Other criteria considered was the integrity of the author and the fealty to reporting only peer-accepted work rather than creating arguments that lack peer-accepted evidence:

1) A general tutorial that exposes the reader to the physical evidence while also serving as either a tutorial or inferred case study on scientific methodology. These sorts of books often tie together the multitude of disciplines which have independently validated the evidence though also tending towards some bias in terms of focusing more on fossil evidence at the expense of DNA evidence - especially those published prior to several years ago. These books often ignore creationist arguments given those argument are not scientific. Carl Zimmer's Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins [SMITHSON INTIMATE GT HUMAN ORI] is an excellent example and worthy of any library especially given its photographs and illustrations. I have strong confidence that Zimmer's about to be released book The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution will also be a worthy edition to one's library given that I anticipate his new book will have far more DNA evidence than the Smithsonian book (he's stated as such in his blog).

2) A general tutorial similar to the above example while considering creationist arguments is Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. Its recent publication date allows Coyne to incorporate much of the more recent DNA evidence that corroborates the fossil evidence. Choices in this area and the former argue for new publications given the wealth of recent discoveries, especially in molecular and developmental biology as we continue to use new technologies to map and observe genomes of an increasing number of species, including our own. Coyne's selection of evidence is also biased towards evidence that falsifies any notions of a creator/designer, especially pseudogenes; genes that were once active in ancestors but have become inactivated.

3) A book that focuses primarily on the debate between science and creationism is Ken Miller's Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul. Given Miller's status as a cell biologist who also teaches a introductory level biology course at Brown University, Miller is an excellent instructor that doesn't avoid molecular biology as much as previous general evolution books.

4) Profiles and memoirs of scientists engaged in evolution that also present evidence of evolution though focusing on a particular discovery or the personal experiences of the scientists themselves. These take on a more personal tone while often reporting on an aspect of the compelling evidence for evolution. Two masterpieces have been recently published, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage) and Sean B. Carroll's Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species. Shubin and Carroll present the romantic aspect of the journey and discovery that can make a scientific life so personal fulfilling while greatly advancing human knowledge. However, the amount of evidence, along with the breadth of these offerings' coverage is astonishing. I was most impressed and amazed at how broad a functional expert Shubin is, going well beyond the fame he's earned with his fieldwork right into the lab in terms of his discoveries in developmental biology.

5) A comprehensive review of a subset of the functions that contribute to our current set of findings and understanding. These made good follow-up books to the more general books like Coyne's aforementioned book. Examples in this category have authors focusing specifically on the fossil evidence, or the evidence in our DNA. Three books appear to have risen to the top in this area, all are very worthy reads. Fairbanks' offering reviewed here, Carroll's competing offering, The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, and regarding the fossil and geologic evidence, Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2011 10:15 AM PDT

Starvation Lake: A Mystery
Starvation Lake: A Mystery
by Bryan Gruley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.10
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great first effort, hits a moneymaking demographic, March 30, 2009
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This book works on several levels.

We all know that plot drives mystery novels, and Gruley's plot is compelling while remaining entirely in the realm of believability with one exception trivial to all but overly anal jocks (of which I am). This is a novel in which we could be the key characters; a key strength of the book and what distinguishes it from superhero type thrillers and mysteries whose characters' qualities are often exaggerated to the absurd. In fact, the further one reads, the faster the pages turn. Gruley is a force to be reckoned with now and in the future.

I have a personal investment in the story since it takes place in the same rural zip code where I grew up. While the community described by Gruley adjacent to Starvation Lake is fictional, he accurately establishes place and culture with the exception that there is no way a town the size of his comprised of high school-age kids could challenge Detroit's finest traveling club hockey teams. Hockey was in its infancy in this area during the era described in the book, though not in the Upper Pennisula or down-state suburban areas where it was well-established decades earlier. While its feasible for a coach to teach the fundamentals to the level described in the book; it's highly unlikely such a small place could have one star supported by two solid players from the population available, coupled to the fact that city club teams have far more talented players while their fundamentals are top-rate given the maturity of their programs. However, if one is looking for a good yarn that describes the culture of locals living in the rural, somewhat remote great north woods, than this is great stuff.

I also thought Gruley's cast of characters and the times he wrote about perfectly captures a sub-generation who were mainly ignored by the mainstream culture during their teen-age years, that being the last flock of baby-boomers and the kids born right after them (the story takes place in 1998 with characters mostly in their mid-30s through mid-50s). While there were a few movies and books made about us (the movie Halloween, Stephen King's book and movie, Christine), we were a pretty ignored bunch with the exception of our LPs and music tapes until classic rock took over TV advertising and the radio and the movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was released (this area of the state didn't even have a true rock music radio format during this time except on those rare nights where you were able to catch the signal of a Chicago or Detroit/Windsor AM station, Don Kirchner's concert show was about it for visuals). This leaves a dearth of cultural material about the late-70s/early 80s while a large population of consumers eager for such material about their youth still exists. John Mellencamp's "Small Town", Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" and especially Bob Seger's "Beautiful Loser" all accurately convey the times and mood of Gruley's "Starvation Lake"; Seger's song being the only contemporaneous one on that list. While these songs reflect the book but are not incorporated into the story (I alone reference them); Gruley does use an an even older Seger song as a sort of theme for the book, "Two Plus Two", an anti-Viet Nam war song from Seger's days as a regional artist prior to hitting it big.

Given that Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal; paying attention to exploitable market niches like the one I describe above should be neither a surprise nor reason for criticism. He spoke to my place and my time and for that I'm grateful.

One weakness in this book that I experienced was that start of the book was a bit of a slow slog given Gruley's still amateurish abilities to develop characters, especially its peripheral ones. While the quality of the story overwhelms any hesitancy I have in recommending the book, it would be the area I would recommend he work on in future endeavors.

Sag Harbor: A Novel
Sag Harbor: A Novel
by Colson Whitehead
Edition: Hardcover
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writer who forgot to add a story, March 30, 2009
This review is from: Sag Harbor: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The current copy of Esquire magazine (Apr-09) titles their profile of Whitehead as "The Coolest Writer in America". Benjamin Alsup, the writer of the article, goes on to challenge his readers to find any negative reviews of Whitehead's work. He calls Whitehead's ideas "reliably provocative", creating characters who "live in the world we live in and yet always manage to render this world anew". Alsup goes on to describe Sag Harbor's characters, and Whitehead's characters in all his books, as so cool as to be beyond emotional engagement, and therefore the book fails to achieve the standard of "gripping literature" given it lacks conflict.

I found Whitehead's effort in Sag Harbor to be brilliant creative writing. His ability to define characters who are different than us, and yet are us, is better than any other writer I've experienced. This allows Whitehead to look in on us with the sort of coolness most writers can only fantasize about possessing.

Whitehead's description of his protagonist's first experience holding a girl's hand in a romantic way as a teen-ager (at a roller rink while "Big Shot" and "Bette Davis Eyes" played over the sound system) was as romantic and evocative as any literature I've read.

Yet I cannot recommend this book. It lacks a narrative. Character alone, especially people who are everymen looking down on everymen lives will not turn the pages after you've established your characters. So I disagree with Alsup's argument that Sag Harbor is not gripping literature because of the coolness of his characters, but instead because the book is devoid of a compelling enough plot given the ordinariness and cool detachment of his characters. Whitehead could be one of America's greatest novelists, but first he needs to learn and incorporate a plot to drive his story. This could be why critics love him yet the public has not yet latched on to his work.

Lost Paradise: From Mutiny on the Bounty to a Modern-Day Legacy of Sexual Mayhem, the Dark Secrets of Pitcairn Island Revealed
Lost Paradise: From Mutiny on the Bounty to a Modern-Day Legacy of Sexual Mayhem, the Dark Secrets of Pitcairn Island Revealed
by Kathy Marks
Edition: Hardcover
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great tale though too redundant and narrow in scope, March 2, 2009
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Remote islands are fascinating case studies given that the evolution of species and culture are not nearly as affected by the diversity of nearby populations since there are relatively none. This can often lead to an accelerated rate of evolution of an island's given population with startling results. With Lost Paradise, the subject is how the transplanted group of Bounty mutineer men who kidnapped some Tahitian women were able to create a sustainable society along with the mutations that followed from what advanced or even many primitive civilizations would define as evil.

Kathy Marks has plenty of extraordinarily horrendous material to work with as she describes a society of mutinous kidnappers whose present day progeny end up sexually abusing other families' daughters while turning a blind eye to the abuse of their children. Mark's describes the descent into an extreme form of patriarchy based on the conditions and violence experienced when the Island was first settled. Marks also does a great job of insuring we are able to understand this horror without gratuitous descriptions of the acts. All in an environment that on the surface currently appears to be not much different than other small, culturally British societies that are not as isolated.

Mark's background as a working journalist and the standards for intellectual honesty used here are convincing, much to the dismay of the supporters of this patriarchal society that would prefer the world was not aware of the horrors their women were forced to undergo as a de facto rite of passage. In fact one of the most fascinating perspectives of this story is that most Pitcairners perceive the abusers as the victims, not their wives, sisters, or daughters, who are frequently perceived as traitors.

While I recommend the book given the story and stock I place in Marks' integrity to accurately convey the story, the book itself has two major flaws that limit its impact (due to readability) and narrowness of the perspective.

Marks is excruciatingly thorough in reporting the tale of many of the victims who are still alive in terms of who did what to whom, including those who've since moved away from Pitcairn Island. I would say to the point of stale repitition. This is especially evident after the trial verdicts where Marks spends dozens of pages piling on accounts of abuse in spite of the fact I believe she's already provided ample accounts leading up to the trial verdicts. These dozens of pages could have been easily cut with no loss of perspective.

Soon into the book it becomes self-evident to the reader that the true tales on Pitcairn eerily parallel the classic novel Lord of the Flies (50th Anniversary Edition). Mark's does an excellent job of exploring those parallels in a chapter of that name a couple of dozen pages past the trial verdict. It would have been a far better book if Marks had deleted all the tales between the verdict and this chapter. Marks could have then followed the Lord of the Flies (50th Anniversary Edition) chapter with a chapter or two of perspective based on interviews from sociologists and cultural anthropologists to provide some functional expertise and a broader context to the story. Instead we are left with a lot of great tale, told far too redundantly with no overarching perspective beyond the fact that the banality of evil requires our constant diligence.

Twinlab Ripped Fuel 5X Increased Definition for Men and Women, 40 Tablets
Twinlab Ripped Fuel 5X Increased Definition for Men and Women, 40 Tablets

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unusable, February 15, 2009
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This product gave me bad breath that lasted for hours, so bad I was not able to use it.

Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species
Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species
by Sean B. Carroll
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Succeeds from several perspectives, February 15, 2009
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Remarkable Creatures "tells the stories of some of the most dramatic adventures and important discoveries in two centuries" constrained to some but not all of the people who've made the discoveries that developed and fleshed out the theory of evolution. Given the celebration this year that it's been one hundred and fifty years since Darwin and Wallace formally presented their findings, this is perfect timing.

As a romantic adventure Carroll's protagonists match and exceed Indiana Jones in terms of both adventure and accomplishments while Carroll's talent as a writer makes this as good a yarn as I've ever read (though Carroll swaps Spielberg's Nazis with Thomas Jefferson's contributions to starting this journey, a pleasant and unexpected twist). As a history book, Carroll deftly provides the framework that provided me with the perspective on how astonishingly fast science has been able to develop the theory of evolution with physical evidence supportive of their initial ideas and helping to refine our understanding and explanation in a manner that's led to breakthroughs in agriculture and medicine. As a concise reader of how scientific methodology yields an aggregate understanding where one discovery helps provide future discoveries and superior understandings; Carroll's experience as a practicing and publishing scientist helps educate his readers on how the scientific process produces an understanding that far surpasses any other approach by way of example rather than dry commentary.

While I'm cognizant of the number and breadth of transitional fossil discoveries made over the course of the years, I was astonished in the sheer volume of what we've discovered. Some of the fossil hunters yielded tons of fossil evidence in a single expedition. This helped me better appreciate the efforts of people like the Leakeys.

Carroll also covered an area of evolutionary theory I hadn't heard about though its been around since the time of Darwin and Wallace, which covered Wallace's discovery that some Asian islands currently close to each other had completely different fauna in similar ecological conditions, providing evidence a substantial amount of evolution in each island's fauna occurred when these islands were separated prior to being brought closer together by continental drift.

I also appreciated Carroll's Afterword, which presented a hypothesis on how one might go about predicting the number of other planets conducive to life using mathematical inferences.

The book is also an easy enough read for high school students and a great extra credit project for teachers to promote in hopes of encouraging promising students to consider a career in science. It can be read all the way through or by randomly picking a chapter or chapters given that each chapter serves as a mini-history on some of the giants in science and what they discovered.

The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History
The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History
by Gordon S. Wood
Edition: Hardcover
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Required reading even for causal readers of history though an elephant in the room remains unacknowledged, December 22, 2008
Thoroughly enjoying a history book can tempt a reader to falsely assume that the historian has presented an accurately framed and unbiased accounting of the past, or worse, that a great work has captured the entire breadth of the period. This temptation couples well with Gordon Wood's "Purpose of the Past", which yields a wealth of lessons to minimize such misperceptions.

Wood, one of our most authoritative voices on America's founding, is here to dissect various styles of historical reporting which reminds us of the impossibility of perfectly reporting on the past and the necessity for all readers to consciously consider what is not being reported and the strengths and weaknesses of varying approaches used by historians by providing critiques of the various forms used in previous works by Wood's peers along with emerging historians using more modern approaches.

The format of this book is a compilation of book reviews written by Wood where Wood dissects the approach, format, accuracy, and biases of the author in his review of their book. Wood is no mild, meek critic; he's more than willing to lambast historians with modern-day political agendas that use history as a tool to influence others to their biases, he's also concerned that academia has focused too many historians on reporting data-driven societal descriptions of the life of that periods non-historical figures, possibly at the expense of a paucity of grand narratives Wood seems to favor. Wood's also takes on historians who he believe over-emphasize certain driving factors contrary to what Wood's believes were the driving factors, e.g., economic issues v. slavery v. political freedom, with Woods siding with the latter, no surprise given his peers consider him a neo-Whig.

The beauty of Wood's essays is his willingness to provide a broad context to his criticism and his reporting on historical perspectives beyond the books he's reviewing (I learned quite a bit of history just reading Wood's reviews). The result is that one can consider Wood's arguments while not being limited to merely his opinion because Wood provides enough information to allow the reader to either form their own opinion or defend the author of the book from Wood's critiques. I found myself disagreeing with Wood's on a handful of core points he argued while increasing my respect for him as a thinker, writer, and historian.

I personally learned a ton about how historians approach their work and the different formats available to historians when they take on a project. This alone will help me be a better student and not as apt to accept a historian's perspective merely because I'm reading his book. It's also an easy book to pick up and put down given the format is in essay form, with each essay making up a chapter reviewing either one or two books where the selections are examples of formats Woods weighs in on. Given Woods prodigious knowledge of America's founding coupled with his exceptional talent at analysis, I doubt many other historians could have pulled off such a project.

My one criticism is that while Wood shows no favoritism to historians from the left or right, ripping both with solid critiques, he misses a perfect opportunity to provide his perspective on non-historians who are currently enjoying both financial and political success publishing propaganda as authentic American history at our founding to promote their current political objectives regarding our religious freedom clauses. While the proliferation of biased liberal historians in academia has negatively influenced our understanding of history on some, but not all aspects, I believe the far right propagandists' efforts are far more damaging given their reach via their exposure to media outlets that reach populists. The liberal academics reach is limited mainly to other historians and students who possess the tools to evaluate and accept or discount their arguments while the propagandists reach a crowd that are as gullible a group of people I've ever encountered who vote their false beliefs.

David Barton is Exhibit A in the set of propagandists I wish Wood would have lowered himself to critiquing (and from Woods perspective it would require him getting into the gutter). Barton is not a historian though he promotes himself as one; he has published and successfully promoted inaccurate revisionist books promoting a radical increase in government power to promote his religious beliefs all the while falsely claiming he's merely promoting a return to the founding principles and ideals of our founding fathers. In fact our framers were actually on record as being opposed to Barton's current objectives and whose religious beliefs were far more advanced than Barton's primitive Trinitarian views. Barton's work has effectively made its way into the consciousness of nearly all evangelical and fundamentalist Christians and into the public square, being promoted even by mainstream evangelicals like Rick Warren. Barton's adherents even go unchallenged when his claims are repeated on TV news broadcasts by those on the right looking to impose their religious rights on all of us by way of expanding government power. In fact, Wood's last afterword on page 308 sums up nicely Wood's negative critique of certain historians who fit this mold though not as grossly as Barton:

"I suppose the most flagrant examples in present-mindedness in history writing comes from trying to inject politics into history books. I am reminded of Rebecca West's wise observation that when politics comes in the door, truth flies out the window. Historians who want to influence politics with their history writing have missed the point of the craft; they ought to run for office."
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Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace
Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace
by William Lobdell
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A memoir that will motivate some to start on the road to englightenment, December 13, 2008
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A lot of convergent qualities and events yield a great read. Like the song, William Lobdell's "Losing My Religion" is highly recommended. Lobdell takes us through a personal journey regarding his religious beliefs told in an elegant manner rare in this genre though millions have traveled a similar path.

For a description of the plot, I can do no better than George P. Wood's excellent reader review; I do respectfully disagree with Mr. Wood's conclusions in his review's second to the last paragraph. I'll defer to Mr. Wood's counsel on the value of this book to those doubtless Christians as described in his review's last paragraph, to whom he recommends this book as well.

I believe this is a valuable book to those who have doubts about their beliefs who are not by nature critical thinkers given that the more scientific-oriented books tend to be rejected by doubting believers without fair consideration (as Lobdell does as well); probably because of their insensitive and disrespectful treatment of easily discredited arguments or irrational beliefs promoted as absolute truth by conservative Christians. Lobdell on the other hand does not think like a scientist nor does he treat such ideas like one though we experience the gears beginning to engage near the end of the book. Because Lobdell had very real emotional experiences, along with the similarity of his path into Christianity that is shared by so many (most?) Christians; Lobdell is a great insider in providing perspective on his moving in and out of faith. He's shared similar experiences, been confronted with evidence that motivates him to test his faith, and has a tool (journalistic standards) to consider his findings and report them back to us in this book, all with the skills of a professional writer.

Lobdell's reliance on journalistic standards rather than scientific methodology also works to his advantage in another aspect. Because he authentically lived it like most Christians have lived it, he provides a nurturing context throughout the book. It's a gentle guide to a place where the road to enlightenment can begin. The book is not a presentation of the idiocy of faith like we see with the rash of atheist books by Stenger, Harris, Dennett, Hitchens and Dawkins'. However, "Losing My Religion" does contain some harsh realities; Lobdell's path to discovery begins when his job requires him to report on what becomes an overwhelming (to the author) volume of scandals within Christianity. It is these stories that provide many of the vignettes contained therein and motivates Lobdell to test his faith intellectually. Being confronted with so many Christians that are corrupt leads Lobdell to do the work of testing his own faith, especially after he discovers that Christianity does not produce a more moral population, but appears to instead correlate more with negative societal attributes when faith leans toward, or is fundamentalist. This convergence of experience and illumination is the juncture in Lobdell's life and the raison d'Ítre for publishing a book, and our reading it.

I have two critiques. As a reporter Mr. Lobdell is more used to writing about others and their experiences than his own. This is a both a blessing and a curse. The book is filled with many vignettes regarding other people and their religious experiences and beliefs, examples of both exceptional people and particularly vile people. Reporting on these people and their stories allows Mr. Lobdell a conduit to better understanding his own perception as he reacts to these people. However, I think he provides too many scandal stories. Mr. Lobdell's personal journey is interesting enough and he should have been more confident in his own story and writing skills to expand upon his personal story by publishing a few less vignettes about others. This would have made for a tighter read while still allowing us to "get it" regarding the impact on Lobdell of being confronted with continuous bad behavior by believers, especially their leaders.

In place of less vignettes of others, I would recommend Lobdell treat us to more insight on the implications he hopes to achieve by publishing this book and more of his experiences living with himself after his moving beyond belief. Does he rejoice when there is one less believer? Does he feel guilt or joy and why? Is he comfortable attacking a society where most adherents do not possess beliefs based on honest and rigorous inquiry, but instead based on communal and familial traditions that are more of an emotional commitment that provides them great comfort? "Attacking" these types of people's emotional comfort and risking their relationships serves what purpose? Maybe he's hoping to pick off only those that doubt? Is his objective political? Is he hoping to reduce the number of people that would even consider social conservatives for political office? Is he looking to end the institutional hatred and denial of rights to gay people that is led and influenced by conservative Christians? I would have like to know more and this is the only reason I knock the book down a star.

While Lobdell is critical of the recent rash of books by atheists criticizing religious belief and/or fundamentalism, I personally find them much more valuable books than Lobdell's; they are merely targeted towards a different audience than Lobdell's book. The set within this genre that I recommend to those that are critical thinkers or want a more rigorous test to process the validity of religious beliefs are: God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, Letter to a Christian Nation (Vintage), and The God Delusion.

The aforementioned books only provide fodder to ridicule religious faith, they provide no perspective on why people believe things that are neither rational or have any evidence they have or could occur, though Harris is currently studying such beliefs in his post-doc research from an empirical perspective. However, these books do provide many more arguments, including empirical evidence and the start of actual scientific tests of hypotheses against the existence of a theistic god along with a set of arguments that attempt to falsify the arguments made for a theistic god and their utter lack of empirical evidence (Stenger and Dawkins'). Harris' book is more a treatise on the dangers of religious fundamentalism than a book promoting atheism. Like this book, all are well written and enjoyable reads; all but Harris' book do have some flaws (with the exception of Harris mis-reporting some drugs' effectiveness on AIDS).

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