Book Review: “Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con that is Breaking America” by Matt Taibbi (Nov, 2010)
February 17, 2013

I realize I’m late getting to this book, but better late than never.

The subject matter of this book ranges from the depressing to the terrifying. Greed and corruption at the top levels of the financial and political powers of the world conspire to rob us blind and leave our country at the brink of disaster. And no one is doing anything about it. Luckily, you have guide Matt Taibbi to ferret out the wrongdoers and expose them to the light of day, all the while relentlessly illustrating how screwed you are in the deal.

Taibbi has a great gift for taking complex and mind-numbing subjects like housing markets, commodities trading, and credit default swaps and boiling them down to easy to understand, bite size chunks. And his biting humor helps you to be able to stomach the horrifying, rapacious greed and lack of ethics at the heart of the power structure.

There may be no hope, but information is power, and Taibbi brings you the information. Once armed, it’s up to you what to do with it.

Rating: 4/5

Recommendation: If you care about politics or finance at all, this is a must read.

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Book Review: God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens, 2007
December 21, 2011

Given the author’s unfortunate passing only days ago, the temptation to write a review overflowing with praise is one I shall have to resist. It is only fair that I confess that I also agree wholeheartedly with his core atheist beliefs, so that may generate bias as well, but there you are.

This book is not merely an argument for atheism, or against theism (or deism), it takes the case much further than that. As the subtitle makes clear (“How Religion Poisons Everything”) Hitchens intends to demonstrate that belief itself is dangerous. Religion, he contends, has done harm both to individuals and society itself wherever and whenever it is practiced.

That’s a bold claim, encompassing as it does all of (recorded) human history and the entire worldwide spectrum of faiths. Hitchens makes a surprisingly effective effort, taking you all over the globe through his eyes as a journalist, and through history via his extensive study of philosophical and religious texts.

As for readability, the book varies. The book is at its strongest when Hitchens relates his own experiences. It is filled with riveting anecdotes from war-torn regions and harrowing times. However, when discussing ancient tomes or turning to classical knowledge from antiquity, Hitchens can be somewhat didactic, and I found these passages harder to wade through.

Overall, though Hitchens makes strong points, I think he fails to make his overall case, that it is religion itself that is at fault for every one of the woes he brings up, and not simple human greed or ambition. His erudition and intelligence are everywhere on display, though, and it is a pleasure to see the world through his keen eyes.

Hitchens’ brilliant mind is now sadly lost to us, and though neither he nor his work were perfect, I highly recommend giving it a read to expose yourself to his passion and searching intellect.

Book Review: “The Moral Landscape” by Sam Harris
August 15, 2011

Sam Harris is one of the so-called “New Atheists”, and is a great proponent of reason and the scientific method. He also has a doctorate in neuroscience, so his specialty is the activity of the brain.

In “Landscape”, Harris proposes nothing less than a ‘science of morality’, and while that may at first strike you as contradictory, the book is Harris’ series of arguments to win you over to the idea.

Harris has a plain-speaking and punchy prose style that keeps the arguments lively and helps laymen keep up with the science. He also makes compelling cases for some of his key points: that there exists a link between morality and human happiness, that we can determine through science what actions result in said happiness, and can therefore chart a course of actions. VoilĂ ! Science as moral compass. Whoda thunk it?

Harris sometimes resorts to fallacious arguments which weaken his position if you know what you are looking for, such as the straw man. At times when he cannot successfully argue he belittles his detractors and their cases, referring to them as “howlers” or laughable. This did turn me off somewhat. His easy style and obvious passion for science and reason make up for it, though.

I did not agree with every point put forward in this book (I still think moral relativism is the strongest scientific thought on this subject) but I enjoyed it and it definitely made me think. If you, like me, think society has largely abandoned reason, pick it up and spread the word. The world could use a dose of Sam Harris.