Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Pop-sci meme: what books have you read?

August 29th, 2008 by Reinder

Via PZ "I bought you a sacred host but I trasheded it" Myers comes this book meme: from the list of popular science books below, highlight which ones you've read. It's making me feel like an ignoramus; even with the expanded list suggested by PZ, I don't get very far at all:

1. Micrographia, Robert Hooke
2. The Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin
3. Never at Rest, Richard Westfall
4. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
5. Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney
6. The Devil's Doctor, Philip Ball
7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Richard Rhodes
8. Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, Dennis Overbye
9. Physics for Entertainment, Yakov Perelman
10. 1-2-3 Infinity, George Gamow
11. The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
12. Warmth Disperses, Time Passes, Hans Christian von Bayer
13. Alice in Quantumland, Robert Gilmore
14. Where Does the Weirdness Go? David Lindley
15. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
16. A Force of Nature, Richard Rhodes
17. Black Holes and Time Warps, Kip Thorne
18. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
19. Universal Foam, Sidney Perkowitz
20. Vermeer's Camera, Philip Steadman
21. The Code Book, Simon Singh
22. The Elements of Murder, John Emsley
23. Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer
24. Time's Arrow, Martin Amis
25. The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, George Johnson
26. Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
27. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
28. The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Lisa Jardine
29. A Matter of Degrees, Gino Segre
30. The Physics of Star Trek, Lawrence Krauss
31. E=mc2, David Bodanis
32. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Charles Seife
33. Absolute Zero: The Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman
34. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, Janna Levin
35. Warped Passages, Lisa Randall
36. Apollo's Fire, Michael Sims
37. Flatland, Edward Abbott
38. Fermat's Last Theorem, Amir Aczel
39. Stiff, Mary Roach
40. Astroturf, M.G. Lord
41. The Periodic Table, Primo Levi
42. Longitude, Dava Sobel
43. The First Three Minutes, Steven Weinberg
44. The Mummy Congress, Heather Pringle
45. The Accelerating Universe, Mario Livio
46. Math and the Mona Lisa, Bulent Atalay
47. This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
48. The Executioner's Current, Richard Moran
49. Krakatoa, Simon Winchester
50. Pythagorus' Trousers, Margaret Wertheim
51. Neuromancer, William Gibson
52. The Physics of Superheroes, James Kakalios
53. The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, Sandra Hempel
54. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, Katrina Firlik
55. Einstein's Clocks and Poincare's Maps, Peter Galison
56. The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan
57. The Blind Watchmaker, Richard Dawkins
58. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
59. An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears
60. Consilience, E.O. Wilson
61. Wonderful Life, Stephen J. Gould
62. Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
63. Fire in the Brain, Ronald K. Siegel
64. The Life of a Cell, Lewis Thomas
65. Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris
66. Storm World, Chris Mooney
67. The Carbon Age, Eric Roston
68. The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind
69. Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
70. From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne
71. Gut Symmetries, Jeanette Winterson
72. Chaos, James Gleick
73. Innumeracy, John Allen Paulos
74. The Physics of NASCAR, Diandra Leslie-Pelecky
75. Subtle is the Lord, Abraham Pais

76. Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
77. Basin and Range, John McPhee
78. Beak of the Finch, Jonathan Weiner
79. Chance and Necessity, Jacques Monod
80. Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, Olivia Judson
81. Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll
82. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer
83. Genome, Matt Ridley
84. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
85. It Ain't Necessarily So, Richard Lewontin
86. On Growth and Form, D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
87. Phantoms in the Brain, VS Ramachandran
88. The Ancestor's Tale, Richard Dawkins
89. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, Elisabeth Lloyd
90. The Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Freeland Judson
91. The Great Devonian Controversy, Martin Rudwick
92. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, Oliver Sacks
93. The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould
94. The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment, Richard Lewontin
95. Time, Love, Memory, Jonathan Weiner
96. Voyaging and The Power of Place, Janet Browne
97. Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

I have read several of the books suggested in the comment thread, though, including Steve Jones' Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated and several other Dawkins books. Still, this makes me feel like I should work harder on this reading thing.

Michael Pollan, my time sink of the past 24 hours.

August 24th, 2008 by Reinder

I've spent far too much time in thepast day reading the website of journalist Michael Pollan, writer of In Defense of Food and a range of books, essays and journalism about the food (mostly) Americans eat. I particularly recommend his piece on Animal rights, which despite the obnoxious provocation at the top is one of the best-written pieces on the issue I've read.

I've added In Defense of Food to my Amazon Wish List in case any of my readers here want to give me something nice for my birthday on Sep. 14. Pollan's website has the introduction online for free.

Books not to buy: Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools.

October 6th, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools is an awful thing to realise you spent six quid on.

At first, I thought it was a Musicians of Bremen plot, which seemed interesting. You know, a group of people who set off to make their fortunes, then get sidetracked into something better and settle down together happily.

The dialogue and characterisation was weak, and there's occassional Drawings from the Uncanny Valley, but I kept reading because I thought this was just a consequence of the fairy tale plot.

I was, of course, wrong. It quickly took a sharp right turn into cliché. They meet a spoiled princess, who reforms in .3 seconds. She has an evil uncle, who even thinks about how fun it is to be evil, who is trying to kill her. The heroes get blamed for her absence, she's sold into slavery, they rescue her, she gives a speech, rallying the commonfolk, and takes things back.

More about the heroes in a moment. Let's first talk about enemies By legal requirement in Philip Caveney's world, anyone evil must be described as being big and having a beard. The beard is best described every single sentence. For example:

There was a long silence while the men appraised each other. Then the bearded man stepped forwards, his sword raised. Cornelius waited, his expression calm. The man launched an attack, and Cornelius performed that lazy, almost imperceptable flick of the wrist. His opponent took a couple more steps forward, his eyes staring straight ahead, a bright pool of blood blossoming on his chest. Then he missed a step and went tumbling down the staircase.

Another, surprisingly similar one:
There were shouts of encouragement from Red Beard's companions and he looked around them for moral support, before shrugging his shoulders, hefting his huge double-handed sword, and stepping forward to meet Cornelius... The manling gave an almost imperceptable flick of his wrist, the silver blade blurred into motion and the big man grunted in surprise, clutching at his stomach.

And a third:

The bearded man and Cornelius stood in the dimly lit barn staring at each other.... The bearded man lunged forward, his sword raised to strike, but Cornelius parried the blow with his own blade and then performed a quick somersault up onto the tabletop... he intercepted a second blow and ran the bearded man through.

The heroes, meanwhile? A hairless dwarf with a baby-like features. A half-elf jester (OMG hated because of his half-breed status!) with empathetic powers to see the truth about people's character that strangely only ever kicks in when plot convenient, and otherwise fails. A talking buffalope (Why, why did I read past that word?). And a spoiled princess who becomes unspoiled in three pages, then is unable to do anything else but have the narrator preach at her for the rest of the book. Because, you know, the reader might not realise slavery is wrong, or that, um... alright, I'm not quite sure what lesson she learns from seeing people squabbling over bread while she thinks of the dinners back at the palace she didn't eat, and which in a working palace would have been happily eaten by the servants. But I suppose that the author had a child who wouldn't eat his vegetables, and needed a way of lecturing him.

In the end, the princess rejects the jester so that she can make a diplomatic alliance by marriage (people still do that plot?) and there's a deus ex machina map found. Both are awful writing to allow a sequel on the high seas. I'm sure there will be lots of Cornelius making almost imperceptible flicks of his wrist which kill bearded bearded bearded pirates. However, funnily enough, I won't be reading it

Avoid this book at all costs.

Starship Stormtroopers

August 29th, 2007 by Reinder

Starship Stormtroopers, an eminently readable essay, or perhaps a transcripted speech, by Michael Moorcock from 1977, about authoritarianism in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature:

There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkien or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.

Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before.

Read on and take notes. And get yerself some John Brunner novels. They're good. (via)

Note: misspelling of "Tolkien" in the quoted section corrected because I'll have no part in spreading it around.

Rilstone on Harry

August 7th, 2007 by Reinder

On August 2, Andrew Rilstone asked Is J.K. Rowling actually any good? and answered "No". Now*) he's written the review to back it up, and it's one of those reviews that made me nod in agreement even though I really like the series as a whole and the latest installment in particular. This is how it's done, would-be reviewers (warning: the quoted section is merely a sample of the whole and should not be taken as a substitute for it):

Harry Potter and the Qualified Recantation: ....
I thought that Rowling had cleverly dusted off the old and slightly reactionary genre of the school story and given us permission to enjoy it again. I thought that it was a witty conceit to set such a story in a world which functions, like Alice in Wonderland, according to a kind of dream-like illogical logic. That's very much how the adult world can appear to a child. (That was Lewis Caroll's point as well, obviously.) Snape asks Harry questions that he knows perfectly well that Harry can't possibly answer. Harry is sometimes late for lessons because one of the staircases in the school moved while he wasn't looking. The Headmaster makes strict and sometimes rather arbitrary rules but is just as likely to praise Harry as punish him when he breaks them. That's how school feels to a child. "I don't know how this works, I can't avoid getting into trouble because I simply don't know what these irrational adult-things expect of me." When I was eight, it was obvious that the class bully was a member of a secret order bent on world domination and that Miss Beale was a wicked witch in disguise. At Hogwarts, that's actually true.
The problem sets in around volume 4, when Rowling ceases to treat Hogwarts as a literary device and starts treating it as if it was a real educational establishment. The whimsical "Billy Bunter with a magic wand" adventures become subordinate to a painfully derivative fantasy quest story in which Harry is the Chosen One who can defeat the Dark Lord. This creates massive inconsistencies in tone. In the fifth volume, evil Blairite Dolores Umbridge starts to physically torture misbehaving pupils. Are we to read this as comic violence or react to it as a realistic depiction of quite serious child abuse? If the latter, are we entitled to ask whether there are social workers or schools inspectors in the wizarding world? If Harry is now the Hero With a Thousand Faces are we really supposed to care (or imagine that he cares) about his wizarding exams or who wins the Quidditch tournament?

I also like his use of style parodies to bring home his point, though neither that gimmick nor his use of the question-and-answer format midway through the review are strictly necessary. It's another fine example of the reviewer's craft, from a man who, unlike most bloggers, including, on most days, yours truly, actually thinks and organises his thoughts before posting. Read the whole thing.

*) Strictly in the non-journalistic sense of the word, i.e. after previously.

Harry Potter and the Botherers of God

July 29th, 2007 by Reinder

While we're on the subject of Harry Potter (and I suspect we will be for a little longer), Sara Robinson at Orcinus wrote a good piece on why fundamentalists are so bothered by myth-and-magic stories in general and Harry Potter in particular:

The common thread that runs through all of these is magic. And that, I think, is the real burr that gets under fundamentalist saddles. In fundieland, magic is the most frightening and legitimate of all the competing myth systems -- the Devil's own preferred alternative to prayer and submission. Other belief systems (Buddhism, Hinduism, the Greek myths) are viewed as sad and rather pathetically delusional; but anything that smacks of magic is feared as actively Satanic.

Why is magic such a hot button? The reasons go to the heart of fundamentalist theology. At their core, fundamentalists believe that humans are wretched creatures who aren't really even human unless touched by God's grace. (And, yes, this does mean that those of us who are unsaved can rightly be considered subhuman.) We cannot do anything right; we do not deserve to have control over our own affairs; and any notion that we have intrinsic power to achieve good in the world (or even the authority to define "good" or "bad" on our own terms) is a diabolical delusion. Left to our own devices, we will not only screw it up for ourselves; we will ultimately ensure the Devil his victory over the world -- including them -- as well.

Implicit in this is the idea that all authority is necessarily, rightfully external. The fate of the entire world depends on how completely we can give up our desire to control our destinies, and submit to God and his appointed earthly overseers. This obsession with the need for external authority is, in a nutshell, is why fundamentalism is a form of religious authoritarianism.

Stories about magic openly defy this whole belief system. Magic-using characters like Harry usurp the supernatural power and prerogatives of God -- a sufficient heresy in its own right. But it's worse than that: they're also exercising their own internal authority, and acting out of their own agency. And that's the last thing fundamentalists want their children -- or anyone else -- learning how to do.

That's why we're hearing all the shrieking hysterics from the fundie side.

Read the rest, and read the comments, as Orcinus is one of those sites where the quality of commentary is usually high.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spoiler-free capsule review

July 28th, 2007 by Reinder

(Note: When I say "Spoiler-free", this should be taken as a statement of intent. I can't second-guess what other people will consider spoilers, and even minor revelations about the content of Deathly Hallows can be used to piece together the puzzle of what happens in the book, who dies, who wins, etcetera, before actually reading it. So while I go out of my way to avoid spoilers in this review, it still goes below the adcut (I removed the ad in an attempt to figure out what's breaking the template when the cut is used) in the blog, and under an LJ cut for those reading it through the Livejournal feed)


Because it’s You-know-who day

July 20th, 2007 by cmkaapjes

The Hermione Crookshanks Experience
Harry and the Potters
The Remus Lupins
Draco and the Malfoys
The Harry Potter Allience
The Mudblood brothers
The Hungarian Hornbloods (just 8 years old!)
Neville and the Longbottoms

There are many, many more. You can spend all day on Myspace to get in the mood!

Review of “The God Delusion” – Part I: Preface to Chapter 2

May 1st, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is an important book: There have been other books about atheism, but most are written in such a way to preach to the converted, or have been ignored. His book has succeeded where they have not, and for that, Dawkins deserves all respect.

Dawkins sets out his purpose in writing this as to make it clear for people stuck in religion that there is an alternative, and they have another option that is, indeed, an acceptable one. As someone who spent years tormented because I never knew that my growing discontent with the problems I kept finding in the weird branch of fundamentalist Christianity my mother espoused, and feeling I had noone to turn to (while never realising my father was a damn Freethinker, and I could have gone to him at any time. Sheesh, dad! You could have dropped a few hints, and not suddenly tell me when I'm 27 and have worked my way through it alone), I can only wish I had known about this book, or any other like it, as a child. (He wanted me to be able to make my own decisions, and so just made sure to teach me science and mathematics, and so on. I appreciate this, but, still...) This book fulfils its purpose as set out, and thus must be considered a total success.

However, it does mean that like "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker", I'm going to be reading this book far too late in my education for it to really tell me much I don't know, so I'm going to end up much more critical than other supporters would be.

Chapter 1 deals mainly with the Einsteinian version of God - Spinoza's pantheism, or God as a metaphor for the universe and its laws. It's actually very well done - engaging, and also informative.

However, like the rest of the book, it's somewhat sloppy. References are given in three seperate forms: Footnotes, endnotes, and worked into the text; none of them would allow you easily locate a quote Dawkins used, unless the source is short, because Dawkins never gives page numbers. On page 16 (British hardcover edition), he begins to describe reactions to Einstein's public statement of his beliefs, gives a source for them, then parenthetically mentions that this source was his "main" source for all the quotes that came before. Does that mean some of them are not from that source? If so, where? Dawkins is silent.

I trust Dawkins, and am willing to believe he's gotten things mostly right, and don't feel the need to check he's accurately quoted Einstein. However, a standard rule of referencing is to be sure to cite anything that's especially difficult to believe. A section on the reaction to the Danish cartoons (page 25) claims that one sign at a protest read "Behead those who say Islam is a violent religion". This complete lack of irony is especially difficult to believe. Now, this is tangental to his main point, and three references do support major points in his description of the affair from Danish imams intentionally manufacturing protest and adding three additional images to the original set in order to provoke anger further. Sadly, I can easily believe the uncited, but plausible descriptions of violence that occured as a result of it. However, while getting upset about a few cartoons may not show intelligence, "Behead those who claim Islam is a violent religion" is ridiculously stupid, and therefore ought to have been cited.

Chapter 2 begins by setting out the existance of God as a minimal hypothesis, "There exists a super-human, upernatural intelligence who delibrately designed and created this universe, including us." He goes on to mention that individual religions add rather a lot of extra baggage to the hypothesis wihich makes it more and more improbable. He mentions polytheism, but explains that the arguments against it aren't significntly different than that of monotheism, and most of his readers are probably more familiar with monotheism. This is... to some extent fair enough. He also explains that the Trinity, angels, and saints are polytheism in all but name (an opinion I've long held myself). He deals at length with the deism and atheism of America's founding fathers, and their probable horror at religion taking over America, and it's great reading, and very convincing stuff. A summary of an incident from David Mills' book "Atheist Universe" on page 44 was very well chosen, but perhaps a bit too well chosen: it's far more exciting and readable than anything Dawkins writes himself, precisely because Dawkins has almost certainly never suffered significantly for his atheism, but Mills lives in America and has. Dawkins' detached style cannot compete with a good personal story.

Then he spends 9 pages on an unconvincing and, frankly, ridiculous discussion of "why the term agnostic is bad." He explains the source, T.H.Huxley, one of my favourite writers... then... redefines agnosticism as saying that the two possibilities are equally probable - that God's exostance and non-existance are both equally likely to be true.

This is poppycock. Unadulterated nonsense. Huxley was seperating himself from people who rejected religion outright on emotional grounds. He was defining agnostic as someone who analysed the evidence, and could find no evidence that God existed. Dawkins pulls his equal-probability claim out of thin air. This poorly-argued bit of claptrap should never have made the cut to reach the final book.

The second half of this section quotes half a dozen examples of undisprovable, but highly improbable things as supposed examples of why agnosticism (under his definition) with regards to questions of faith is foolish, and how the proper term is atheism. These range from Bertrand Russel's teapot orbiting between the Earth and Mars to invisible, intangible, and inaudible unicorns to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Also "the world is rhombus shaped and borne through the cosmos in the pincers of two enormous green lobsters" - which is highly disprovable, even easily disprovable, and should not have been mentioned.

This being Dawkins, he then has to spend a section attacking Gould. The concept of "non-overlapping magesteria" from Gould's "Rocks of Ages" (a book I admire), was one of Gould's many attempts to put religion in its place by defining it as precisely equal to ethics, and keeping it out of science.

Dawkins, however, spends 7 pages completely misconstruing Gould's points. Again. Is some great public demonstration of his inability to follow the logic of anything Gould writes at least once per book a requirement of his book contract or something? To be fair, though, his points in this section are perfectly valid, just directed at something Gould, a fellow atheist, didn't believe in the first place - which Dawkins admits on page 57 "I simply do not believe that Gould could possiblyt have meant much of what he wrote in Rocks of Ages", but goes on to say he, as Dawkins claimed Huxley did in his setting out of the meaning of agnosticism, was "bending over backwards to be nice to an unworthy but powerful opponent". Dawkins best evidence for this is that Gould says that we cannot comment on the question of God's existance as scientists. Dawkins reply that we can, however, comment on its probability. However, the key phrase is "as scientists": science does not work by what seems most likely or ought to be true. It works by making hypotheses, collecting evidence, and testing them. Dawkins' makes several arguments against this view, but all are very poor, and get increasingly far from anything Gould ever claimed as they go on. They all boil down to either "some things could potentially be proven one way or the other if we somehow got evidence" or simply saying that all logical endeavours count as science.

This section is his most flagrant example of lack of references: "How many literalists have read enough of the Bible to know that the death penalty is prescribed for adultery, for gathering sticks on the sabbath, and for cheeking your parents." The relevant verses are not given, though it's implied they're in Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

I'll lend a hand. The verses in question are Leviticus 20:10, Numbers 15:32-35 (Guess the implication was wrong), and Deuteronomy 21:18-21. Always make it as easy for someone to confirm a surprising revelation as possible. Being undeniably shown that sort of thing is in the Bible is a good way to demonstrate against inerrancy. Making vague assertions that sort of thing is in there is not.

However, I'm happy to say the rest of the chapter returns to the engaging and highly readable mood with which it opened.

The Last Battle

April 8th, 2007 by Adam Cuerden

I was rereading C.S. Lewis a while ago. I remembered that the last Narnian book wasn't very good. I had forgotten just how bad. Ignoring the simple things: poor characterisation, continuity breaking, new characters who are forced to act like idiots to forward the plot, and Susan not getting to come to Narnia because she decided she liked dating men, we hit the deep problems: The whole thing is about how evolution is a devilish trick that will damn us all, and how horrible Muslims are.

The plot, in simple form, is as follows: A monkey, who later puts on clothes and claims to be a man (spot the allusion to evolution) disguises a donkey in a lion skin and claims he's Aslan. All the other characters act like idiots, so the monkey is able to manipulate things, make deals with an Arabic country to take Narnia over and exploit it, and this causes the end of the world as per the Revelation of St. John. In the process, anything Lewis disliked is bashed, from young girls wearing makeup to evolution to skeptics (there's a group of dwarves who are so wrapped up in not wanting to be tricked that in the end they delude themselves that heaven is a mucky stable, because they entered it through a stable door. Those of you who know my love of dwarves can imagine how I feel about that.)

The first half, with religious feeling leading all the Narnians to bow down to the will of a donkey in a lion skin costume, going so far as accepting their enslavement by the Calormenes (basically, Arabs) because "Aslan" wishes it, is almost a parody of religion. The intended targets, however, remain evolution and Muslims (with a side of skeptics), with the foolishness displayed by the religious evidently being considered absolutely appropriate, I suppose. Lewis' views on evolution are explained further here, where he's quoted saying that Darwin's "monkeying with the ancestry of Man", as well as the study of psychology, stripped away (in that article's summary) "rationality, purpose, volition and freedom, imagination, commitment, [and] the image of God."

...What? So using rational thought to investigate man's origins and modes of thought is less rational than blind belief? Are the vague purposes given man in the Bible - to basically serve God as his servants every waking moment - conductive to volition and freedom, or are they in fact subsuming yourself to a God that cannot be as he is defined in the Bible? Is imagination destroyed by showing us the full spread of reality in all its myriad forms - the animals of Cambrian explosion, the strangeness of nature as a whole, the stars spiraling above us? Or is it destroyed by narrow-mindedness and refusal to consider new ideas that contradict with a single book? Commitment to what? Is this a request to return to the days when beaten wives were forced to remain married to their husbands and put up with it? And what exactly is "the image of God" anyway?

...In short, skip the book. The whole thing, save maybe the last 10 pages, (which it must be admitted do manage, unlike every other depiction I've ever seen, to create a view of Heaven that might actually be livable in), is a badly-writted screed with all the subtlety of "All those with living fathers step forwards. Not so fast, Johnson!"