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on July 26, 2007
Alas, Darwin's great-grandson has not been well served by his publisher. Athough Chapman's description of the dramatis personae of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial is both engaging and illuminating, the book's presentation suffers from a lack of attention by its publisher and/or editor.

The cover itself seems to advertize a work of pulp fiction, not an entertaining account of a trial with historic implications. It's reference to " . . . Oxycontin, and Other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania" is not only false, but unnecessary; the actual content of the book would be its best advertisement.

Another reviewer has commented on the hilariously unflattering photo of the author, which implies that the publisher does not take this book seriously. And a firmer editorial hand might have spared us such phrases as the Center for Thought and Ethics having provided certain documents "thoughtfully and ethically," and a book with a panda on the cover being referred to as "unbearable."

Apart from the general cutesiness of the author's attempts at puns, the account of the trial and its aftermath make for entertaining and informative reading.

But the final chapter, in which Chapman argues that Intelligent Design should be taught in schools so that its falsity can be demonstrated is tedious. Worse, Chapman apparently fails to appreciate the irony: he is, in essence, arguing FOR the first step of the "wedge strategy" advocated by the Discovery Institute, that is, to "Teach the Controversy," thus elevating "Intelligent Design" to a level apparently competitive with evolution. Given Chapman's obvious viewpoint expressed in the book, his failure to appreciate the implications of his final disquisition is disappointing. Not to mention that demonstrating the falsity of Intelligent Design in athe classroom might well run afoul of the Establishment clause of the Constitution.

40 Days and 40 Nights has the appearance of having been rushed into print with little attention to serious editing. The publisher should be embarrassed.
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VINE VOICEon October 6, 2008
Film writer and director Matthew Chapman has a few reasons to be interested in the trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board. First, he is a direct descendant of Charles Darwin. Second, he has written before on issues of faith vs. science (Trials of the Monkey). Third, he is the type of writer inherently drawn to exploring characters.

This third reason is what seperates this book from the several others profiling the "battle of intelligent design versus science." As other reviewers point out, books like Edward Humes's "Monkey Girl" and Gordy Sack's "Battle Over the Meaning of Everything" may be more journalistic, this book explores the characters. Chapman seems to have a face-to-face with every major (and minor) player on all sides.

Beyond this, Chapman himself notes, "One of my chief defects - or better qualities, I'm not sure which - is that I find it almost impossible to maintain animosity toward people with whom I violently disagree once I get to know them." (loc. 490, Kindle edition) No matter how judgmental and acerbic Chapman can be - and he is both, strongly pro-evolution - Chapman paints all characters in as fair a light as possible. (One of the best parts comes later in the book, where Chapman reveals the very human side of Bill Buckingham, the perjurer and hot-headed leader of the Dover School Board that started the whole mess. You almost - ALMOST - empathize with the guy!)

If Chapman's book explores the more human Dover, it doesn't make for anywhere near the gripping blow-by-blow account of Edward Humes' or Gordy Sacks' books. Whereas those are very matter of fact and linear, this book jumps from spot to spot, intertwining scenes from the trial with scenes from the school-board meetings to philosophic rumination. The other two books are more snappy and journalistic in tone, whereas this one (for good or bad) is warmer in tone, which doesn't make for a page turner.

In the end, Chapman's book on a well-trodden subject DOES manage to set itself apart form the others by focusing on the characters more than the others. With Humes,' and Sacks' book (I have yet to read Lebo's), I feel like I understood the trial quite well. With this book, I feel like I understand Dover quite well.
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on August 27, 2008
Matthew Chapman's book was one of many that were written about the "Kitzmiller versus Dover Area School District" trial. The others were Gordy Slack's "The Battle over the Meaning of Everything", Lauri Lebo's "The Devil in Dover", and Edward Humes' "Monkey Girl". I found Slack's and Humes to have a more comprehensive coverage although Chapman's book looked bigger (could be I was reading the hardcover edition). The attraction of Chapman's book lies in his collection of anecdotes. It seems that the journalists covered each other's lives as much as they covered the trial. Chapman recalls the tension between Lauri Lebo and her fundamentalist Christian father, and the coincidence of her beer can collecting husband playing in the same band as one of the other reporters (Argento). Interestingly, Slack had a witty quip about Chapman, who is a great, great grandson of Charles Darwin. Slack wrote, "He [Chapman]is not only a Darwinian; he's a Darwin."

Of all the chapters, I enjoyed Chapman's last best. Perhaps the contents of the other parts of his book had grown a little stale on me having read the other books, but I think that in the final chapter his reflections on the case and the history of fundamentalism, the sting it still carries in its tail, is short and well written; and certainly worth commiting to memory. I do enjoy his chapter "John Haught and the Teapot of Wisdom" very much. It was a detailed account of the cross-examination of the theologian John Haught, who was called as an expert by the plaintiffs. Finally, I think one of the earlier reviewers ("Dr GH") mentioned in his review that he did not find 'the "Of Pandas and People" gaff exposed by Barbara Forrest' mentioned in this book. I hope I can be helpful and refer to pages 140 to 142. It is in the chapter "Barbara Forrest and the Panda's Tale".
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on October 13, 2007
Matthew Chapman has penned an entertaining, personality driven account of the Dover, PA Intelligent Design trial. I would recommend this book to those interested in the trial with the caveat that it short changes some of the more important portions of the testimony given by the experts and key participants. It tends to dwell on a few key players, as well as, the mood and tone of the event. Chapman, a great great great grandson of Charles Darwin, brings his filmmakers eye for characterization and has a fast-pace, cinematic editing sensibility that is up to the task of writing a book that moves along like a tight shooting script. It is a quick, easy read that, like many film treatments, leaves out several essential points. Reading the transcript of the actual trial would be advised after completing 40 Days and 40 Nights. The book Monkey Girl also offers a journalistic interpretation that might appeal to those who prefer a more linear chronology of this event. I also strongly disagree with Chapman's premise that ID is so inane that it should be taught in public schools, just so that students can compare for themselves how actual science works. I'm sure the PR spinners at the Discovery Institute would like nothing better than to introduce any attempt to "teach the controversy". However, Biology is a difficult enough subject for middle and high school students without the addition of supernatural elements to ponder.
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on May 8, 2010
I came across the Kitzmiller/Dover case more or less by accident a couple of months ago but once I discovered the transcripts of the case were available I just couldn't 'put it down'.

I bought this book and finished it within two (otherwise working) days. That's because it's relatively short but also because it's a very sharply observed description of the trial and was quite fascinating. It fills in a lot of gaps that the the prosaic trial transcripts leave to the imagination - especially the brief descriptions of the people involved.

There are some reviews here that say it better than I ever could so I'll just say I think Chapman's observations add another facet to the trial but I wouldn't consider this the definitive work on the subject. I'm looking forward to receiving 'Monkey Girl' and 'The Devil in Dover' to try and round out my knowledge and put the whole thing in context.

I do think a little more imagination could have gone into the design of the paperback cover...

Michael
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on May 16, 2007
What Matthew Chapman has written is an account of a trial and a report of an America suffering from a widening cultural gap between the secular protections of the constitution and a segment of the population who want to press a Christian agenda in public institutions. Richard Feynman, the physicist, in characterizing the aim of science and the aim of religion said that science seeks to uncover immutable laws that can predict events. The inverse square law of gravitation, laws of motion, and the effect of acceleration on mass, once revealed, changed how the universe is understood. Scientific method postulates a theory and then tests it, always open to new facts that will refine it. Oppositely, religion formulates opinions as dogma that, like conspiracy theory, is not accountable to fact. Dogma resists information that would compromise its premise. As long as science could not explain phenomenon, religion took as its providence superstitious understanding and assigned the mysteries of the world to an all-knowing God, who spoke to human creatures through inspired texts interpreted by anointed priests and ministered to the uneducated. Little has changed in the process of religious knowing, but much has changed in scientific understanding.

In this compelling report of a forty-day trial, arguments are heard for and against the inclusion of a textbook describing Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolutionary theory in a ninth grade science class at Dover High School in Pennsylvania. The board of education voted the text into the curriculum and several parents who objected, claimed that the content was religiously driven, scientifically invalid, and legally unconstitutional. They won the case, but not before an exhausting, and by turns boring, shocking, outrageous, bigoted, benighted and ridiculous sequence of witnesses had their say in a formal court of law.

It will serve no purpose here to comment on the obdurate convictions of religious people who are simple-minded, except to say that anyone can have an opinion, and everybody does, but an opinion is worthless unless it comports with reality. People in asylums have opinions, but it would be foolish to account any weight to them. In Mr. Chapman's narrative, science represents reality, and in Judge Jones's court, reality obtained.

It's hard to know what opponents of Darwin fear especially. The loss of God from their world is part of it, or more to the evangelical point, the loss of God from your world, which good Christians find hard to countenance. But more fundamentally, dread screams from their intolerance and zeal from a possible awareness of the cosmic fraud in all of it. Matthew Chapman quotes Mark Twain: "Faith believes something you know ain't true."

The constitutional rights framed by the wise fathers of our country stand as a barrier against extremism. In our day religious belief systems are collapsing under the weight of their absurdity. A world view seething in prejudice, misapprehension, sexual phobia and violence handed down to our day from desert kingdoms of the late bronze age is not relevant to what science has learned about the universe within and without since then.
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on April 17, 2008
Chapman is best when putting human faces on the drama of Creationism (aka "Intelligent Design") versus science during the now famous "Dover vs Kitzmiller" trial. For the most part, his sarcastic asides and obvious favoritism are balanced by genuine empathy and regard for those with opposing views. However, if you read only one book on the trial in Dover, it should be Edward Humes' "Monkey Girl," which is the most informative and broadest in scope of the various available reports. Chapman is a fun read, and he certainly fleshes out the story, but he's a bit thin on some of the opening moves, and not as aware of the cultural significance of the trial as is Humes. Nonetheless, if you are truly interested in the trial and the ID controversy, you will profit from Chapman's account of the trial in Dover.
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on September 19, 2013
This is an awesome book about how silly the religious community can be in trying to force their superstitions on others. Highly recommended. By the way......Read the book--Christians lie like crazy when it meets their needs.
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on January 25, 2010
When I heard that a descendant of Charles Darwin had written a book on Kitzmiller, I had to read it - and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. While Chapman's bias on the side of the plaintiffs is never in doubt, he describes the people on both sides of this case as the complex creatures that all human beings are. He injects a good deal of humor in his telling of the case, and he revels himself to be an excellent observer of people in this tense situation. Chapman is a fine author, and I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in this most interesting case.
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on May 14, 2007
Matthew Chapman has written a fine account of a town divided over its school board's foolhardy attempt to bring creationism into the classrooms via the back door. While Chapman tries hard to make some characters sympathetic, it is impossible for me to admire Bill Buckingham, knowing he was the arrogant, ignorant bully on the school board.

Reading about the lead defense attorney, Richard Thompson, one can only conclude he was born to run fools' errands, such as his latest job as water boy for Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Chapman's distaste for Thompson is evident.
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