"How deficit spending, gluttonous consumption and military adventurism, they say, will bring America to its knees…"
— The Economist
"This is a powerful book. In addition to its depth, it is well written, well documented, and vastly readable. I had the feeling of seeing an X-ray of economic reality with the crust removed. It should be made mandatory reading in most circles. Read it, and your views of the world around you will no longer be the same."
—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness
"Now perhaps someone will finally listen!"
—Jim Rogers, author of Investment Biker, Adventure Capitalist, and Hot Commodities
"Instead of trade and work, imperialism breeds militarism, inflation, and debt, as Bonner and Wiggin show. Yet there is a golden hope in freedom and honest money."
—Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., President, Ludwig von Mises Institute
"[Empire of Debt] is a fantastic book. It's thoughtful, erudite, witty, well written, practical . . . and spot-on. If you value your financial health, you'll read it from cover to cover. Now!"
—Doug Casey, Chairman, Casey Research, LLC, and author of Crisis Investing
"I laughed, I cried, I renewed my passport. . . . Bonner and Wiggin deliver a steady diet of insight and wit that terrifies the reader, even as it amuses. Empire of Debt is not for everyone, only for those of us who hope to enjoy continuing prosperity amidst difficult conditions."
—Eric Fry, Editor, The Rude Awakening
An updated look at the United States' precarious position given the recent financial turmoil
In The New Empire of Debt, financial writers Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin return to reveal how the financial crisis that has plagued the United States will soon bring an end to this once great empire.
Throughout the book, the authors offer an updated look at the United States' precarious position given the recent financial turmoil, and discuss how government control of the economy and financial system-combined with unfettered deficit spending and gluttonous consumption-has ravaged the business environment, devastated consumer confidence, and pushed the global economy to the brink. Along the way, Bonner and Wiggin cast a wide angle lens that looks back in history and ahead to the coming century: showing how dramatic changes in the economic power of the United States will inevitably impact every American.
Reveals the financial realities the United States currently faces and what the ultimate outcome may be
Weaves together the worlds of politics, economics, and personal finance in a way that underscores the severity of the situation
Addresses the events leading up to the implosion of the U.S. financial system
Looks ahead to help you avoid the pitfalls presented by a weaker United States
Other titles by Bonner: Empire of Debt, Financial Reckoning Day, and Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets
Other titles by Wiggin: I.O.U.S.A., Demise of the Dollar, and Financial Reckoning Day
The United States is heading down a difficult path. The New Empire of Debt clearly shows how this has happened and discusses what you can do to overcome the financial challenges that will arise as the situation deteriorates.
March of the Kakistocracy, August 26, 2009
By A. Jurshevski "Economist" (Toronto Ontario Canada)
Read the full review at [...]
"Whilst we do not agree with everything that the book has to say, we agree the majority of the arguments and we find the context and perspective that it brings to these issues refreshing, well researched and well-written. Unlike many of the writers in this space, the prose is not verbose, bombastic or shrill. This is a thoughtful and cogent treatment of the most important issue the World is facing today.
You are in good company reading this book. Among those endorsing it are Pete Petersen, Warren Buffett, David Walker, Paul O'Neill, Jim Rogers and others. We recommend that all elected officials and concerned citizens everywhere consider this book required reading."
* Kakistocracy: Government populated by the most corrupt and inept members of a society.
A Crumbling Financial Empire?, October 9, 2009
By Larry Underwood "Author, 'Life Under the Corp... (Scottsdale, AZ)
Authors William Bonner and Addison Wiggin, a couple of economic iconoclasts, have compiled a chilling perspective of a crumbling American financial empire; whose irrational economic policy over the years has created huge buget deficits that defy logic; sooner or later, the bubble is going to burst, and this country is in for an economic disaster of epic proportions.
It's not going to be a pretty picture.
The problem began in the post-Reagan years, when any sort of prudent fiscal policy seemed to become a distant memory. Perhaps the greed & hubris of big government is creating an unrealistic perception that creating an unfathomable budget deficit really won't hurt the economy; just keep borrowing. That's no way to run a business and certainly no way to run a country; except to run it into the ground, financially.
We've become a bailout nation, with little regard for any financial common sense. The Stimulis Package is an ill-conceived plan that is going to be ensuring our long term financial devastation, which our children's children will be still paying off, well into their golden years of retirement. Retirement? What's that?
The message delivered by Bonner and Wiggin is startlingly clear; this country is heading down the primrose path of socialism and it's a cost we won't be able to afford. We're crumbling under a mountain of debt, and the inevitable landslide will prove to be catastrophic, unless our fiscal policy is changed; very soon. We don't have much time to waste; our nation's financial future is on very thin ice.
In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
Some of these things are true and some of them are lies. But they are all good stories, September 9, 2009
By S. Matthews "Sean Matthews" (Mainz, Germany)
This is the perfect beach read for people who do not like beaches, since it will remove you efficiently and absolutely from any beach upon which you are unfortunate enough to find yourself washed up. Mantel's reconstruction of Tudor England: how things looked, how they felt, how they tasted, how both the secular and the vicious religious politics functioned (the latter of which, together with it's embodiment, Thomas More, she despises and loaths), is completely absorbing.
It must be said, however, that Wolf Hall is not _quite_ a convincing reconstruction of all of Tudor England. Mantel is clearly in love with her version of Thomas Cromwell, who is just a bit too good to be true: a thinking woman's daydream. I doubt that any man - gay or straight - could have invented him.
It will be interesting to see how the story is carried forward to its grisly end, in the promised sequel. I will be first in line for a copy.
P.S., The publisher's blurb for the american edition, which you can see on it's amazon page, is crass, ludicrous, and completely misleading (though I don't imagine that Hilary Mantel finds it so funny).
The companion volume to the twelve-hour PBS series from the acclaimed filmmaker behind The Civil War, Baseball, and The War
America’s national parks spring from an idea as radical as the Declaration of Independence: that the nation’s most magnificent and sacred places should be preserved, not for royalty or the rich, but for everyone. In this evocative and lavishly illustrated narrative, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, through the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres.
The authors recount the adventures, mythmaking, and intense political battles behind the evolution of the park system, and the enduring ideals that fostered its growth. They capture the importance and splendors of the individual parks: from Haleakala in Hawaii to Acadia in Maine, from Denali in Alaska to the Everglades in Florida, from Glacier in Montana to Big Bend in Texas. And they introduce us to a diverse cast of compelling characters—both unsung heroes and famous figures such as John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ansel Adams—who have been transformed by these special places and committed themselves to saving them from destruction so that the rest of us could be transformed as well.
The National Parks is a glorious celebration of an essential expression of American democracy.
A gorgeous book on the history of the National Parks, September 20, 2009
By Tim Martin (South Bend, Indiana United States)
This is a beautiful book! Mr. Duncan and Mr. Burns have done a wonderful job telling the history of our National Park system. The book clearly shows the depth of the 30-odd years that they have been working on their project. As the sub-title of the book indicates, this is "an illustrated history." The illustrations alone are worth the price of the book. You won't see the usual travel guide and brochure shots in this book. Instead you will find hundreds of historic and contemporary photos of the National Park system. I cannot imagine the amount of research that went into assembly and organizing all of these photos. They are simply gorgeous.
The text is very informative and provides you with a good history of the National Park system. You will learn a lot about the history of our nation when you read this book. Each chapter also has an interview with someone who is part of the Park Service or has close connections with the Service. These interviews (no surprise here) help bring to life that topics of the text. Being a Ken Burns project, the text tells the big story through little stories: history is personalized and seen through the eyes of the participants.
Simply put, this is a book to linger over and savor. It is a coffee table book in the truest sense: you will want to keep it within easy reach. This is a book to inspire you to daydream and ponder. It will enrich your experiences of our National Parks and you will find yourself planning years of vacations! If you have any interest in our National Park system, you must buy this book. You will not regret it for one second! Enjoy!
An absolute treasure, September 22, 2009
By Scott Chamberlain "Historian and archaeologist" (Minneapolis, MN United States)
Let me first point out that I'm just reviewing the companion book to Ken Burns' PBS show--having not (yet!) seen the show I make no attempt at discussing how it relates to the TV program. This is simply a look on how the book holds up on its own merits.
And let me say it is an eye-popper! As a coffee table book alone, it succeeds wildly, with all kinds of stunning photos that make you want to grab the kids and hit the road. What is particularly enjoyable is that it uses a whole range of illustrations--besides glorious contemporary photos of these magnificent landscapes, there are fascinating historic photos in B&W and photos of the various cranks, caretakers and visionaries whose lives were so deeply entwined with the park. There are also a number of beautifully reproduced photos of paintings from the Hudson River school of painting back in the mid-1800s that not only sparked interest in America's landscapes but created one of the first great artistic movements in our country.
And as always, it's amazing how landscapes can communicate such profound, and profoundly human emotions, even when there are no people depicted. The simple visual of a lone tree, buried under a heavy canopy of snow and placed against a blank winter landscape can convey loneliness on such a powerful unconscious level. Or how a sunrise on the rim of the Grand Canyon can convey majesty beyond any human description. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.
But what makes this so much better than a photo essay of great landscapes is the wonderful written content that frames the illustrations. The text brings these magnificent parks back into the realm of human beings. Again and again we read about how determined individuals, communities, businesses and even bureaucrats *created* these parks, fighting tooth and nail to preserve these natural wonders for us all. Along the way we meet all kinds of fascinating people, and learn to admire their fortitude--or chuckle at their eccentricities. The text is well assembled and flows smoothly, and is as large in its scope as the Grand Canyon itself. Absolutely riveting.
But this also brilliantly shows the character of Americans--we the people. This is a tour-de-force civics lesson on patriotism, of making the country better and making the government serve us, and should be joyously read by every American. Which, I bet, was precisely Ken Burns' goal all along.
This is a book that everyone--left, right, northerner, southerner, African-American, Latino, Caucasian... EVERYONE--should love and cherish. What an incredible country we share! And what a spectacular book that does justice to it!
How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times (Paperback)
The definitive guide on how to prepare for any crisis--from global financial collapse to a pandemic
It would only take one unthinkable event to disrupt our way of life. If there is a terrorist attack, a global pandemic, or sharp currency devaluation--you may be forced to fend for yourself in ways you've never imagined. Where would you get water? How would you communicate with relatives who live in other states? What would you use for fuel?
Survivalist expert James Wesley, Rawles, author of Patriots and editor of SurvivalBlog.com, shares the essential tools and skills you will need for you family to survive, including:
Water: Filtration, transport, storage, and treatment options.
Food Storage: How much to store, pack-it-yourself methods, storage space and rotation, countering vermin.
Fuel and Home Power: Home heating fuels, fuel storage safety, backup generators.
Garden, Orchard Trees, and Small Livestock: Gardening basics, non-hybrid seeds, greenhouses; choosing the right livestock.
Medical Supplies and Training: Building a first aid kit, minor surgery, chronic health issues.
Communications: Following international news, staying in touch with loved ones.
Home Security: Your panic room, self-defense training and tools.
When to Get Outta Dodge: Vehicle selection, kit packing lists, routes and planning.
Investing and Barter: Tangibles investing, building your barter stockpile. And much more.
How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It is a must-have for every well-prepared family.
A reference for further learning., September 30, 2009
By Michael Z. Williamson (Greenwood, IN United States)
This book doesn't cover every detail of every disaster, of course. No one book could. What it has is easily referenced, concise summaries of particular events--hurricanes, earthquakes, brush fires, economic collapses, grid failures--and summaries of preparations one can make. Then, those preparations are roughly described.
All this gives a person or family a handy guidebook to create a disaster plan from.
Obviously, not all disasters have equal probability, nor are relevant to all locations--brush fires and hurricanes don't affect me in the Midwest. Tornadoes, flash floods and blizzards do, as might a New Madrid earthquake. Long term societal problems aren't currently a problem in the US, but are in quite a few other western nations, such as Argentina and sometimes Chile. There's even advice on a checklist to prioritize exactly those issues.
As usual, a lot of the negative reviews revolve around a provincial "it can't happen here" mindset. A given disaster might not be likely in your current location at your current time, but places, people and societies change. Preparing ahead costs little, and can save your life. If you never need it, think of it as insurance.
Prepper bible, September 30, 2009
By W. Kasper (Texas, USA)
First, ignore that illiterate, lying fool who gave this compendium 1 star. He hasn't read the book, and is condemning Mr. Rawles for something he didn't do: Predict a collapse.
Mr. Rawles is a fountain of knowledge regarding basic and not-so-basic prepare-to-survive techniques. Additionally, he supplies excellent Do's and Don'ts for just about every likely, and unlikely scenario you may enounter.
This book is far more likely to save your life than whoever is on the other end of a 911 call, if anyone.
"This is a magnificent book of wonderstanding: Richard Dawkins combines an artist's wonder at the virtuosity of nature with a scientist's understanding of how it comes to be.'' -- Matt Ridley, author of Nature via Nurture
"'There is grandeur in this view of life,' said Darwin, speaking of evolution. There is no one better qualified to convey this grandeur than his worthy successor, Richard Dawkins, who writes with passion, clarity, and wit. This may be his best book yet." -- V. S. Ramachandran
"To call this book a defense of evolution utterly misses the point: The Greatest Show on Earth is a celebration of one of the best ideas humans have ever produced. It is hard not to marvel at Richard Dawkins's luminous telling of the story of evolution and the way that it has shaped our world. In reading Dawkins, one is left awed at the beauty of the theory and humbled by the power of science to understand some of the greatest mysteries of life." -- Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
"Up until now, Richard Dawkins has said everything interesting that there is to say about evolution -- with one exception. In The Greatest Show on Earth, he fills this gap, brilliantly describing the multifarious and massive evidence for evolution -- evidence that gives the lie to the notion that evolution is 'only a theory.' This important and timely book is a must-read for Darwin Year." -- Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution Is True
"This is the book Richard Dawkins needed to write and many need to read -- a comprehensive account of evolution that faces the difficulties and questions his critics have raised. In it he draws on his great ability to write about science in a way that is clear, absorbing, and vivid." -- Lord Harries of Pentregarth (formerly Bishop Richard Harries)
"With characteristic flair and passion, Dawkins has put on a stunning exhibition of the evidence for evolution. In his own words, 'Evolution is a fact...and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it.'" -- Dr. Alice Roberts, biological anthropologist, author, and broadcaster
"'...he is an awesome thinker, a superb writer whose explanatory skills I envy, who dismisses his opponents with the thoroughness of a top silk'....A beautifully crafted and intelligible rebuttal of creationism and intelligent design." -- The Times
"Dawkins gathers up the weight of evidence into a huge lump and hurls it at us from the highest heights his rhetoric can scale...his grandness of vision still dazzles."-- The Sunday Telegraph
Evolution is a Fact and Dawkins Proves it!, September 23, 2009
By John W. Loftus (Indiana)
Usually authors will start out their writing careers making a general case on behalf of something, and then later deal with the specific objections as they arise. But not Richard Dawkins. As the leading prolific evolutionary author in our generation he finally got around to writing the book that many authors would've written first, this one. Since up until now he has not set forth the evidence for evolution as a whole, he calls this book "my missing link" in his chain of books, and it's long overdue.
Taking the title from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Dawkins begins by asking us to imagine what it would be like to be a European history teacher who is "continually faced with belligerent demands to give equal time" in his classes to Holocaust deniers. To him that would be what it's like to teach the scientific fact of evolution around the world, especially in America, where 40% of us deny that humans evolved from other animals and who claim instead we were all created as distinct species not more than 10,000 years ago. Just like the Holocaust deniers these people are "history-deniers" too. The antidote to that kind of ignorant thinking is this present work, which presents "the positive evidence that evolution is a fact" (p.6). Many bishops and theologians embrace evolution as a fact, even if some of them accept it begrudgingly.
Who is he trying to reach? The creationist "history-deniers" themselves, but more importantly those who find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case for evolution (p. 8).
He claims: "Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the Holocaust, even allowing for eyewitnesses to the Holocaust. It is the plain truth that we are cousins of chimpanzees, somewhat more distant cousins of monkeys, more distant cousins still of aardvarks and manatees, yet more distant cousins of bananas and turnips...continue the list as long as desired...It didn't have to be true, but it is. We know this because a rising flood of evidence supports it. Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it." (pp. 8-9).
These are very large claims he's making. Are they justified? Yes, I think so. I challenge the creationists to place this comprehensively argued book, which is illustrated by many diagrams and glossy full colored pictures, next to what a few ancient superstitious people wrote in the Bible and see which one makes the most sense. My bet is that if believers are truly interested in the facts they will see evolution is indeed a fact.
Dawkins knows how to communicate, he knows where to begin his case with dog breeding, and he knows science. It's practically all here within the pages of this book. The reason why we don't see evolutionary change is because it takes place slowly over generations, but dog breeders can do it quickly and efficiently. "Every breed of dog," Dawkins writes, "from dachshund to Dalmatian, from boxer to borzoi, from poodle to Pekinese, from Great Dane to Chihuahua, has been caved, chiseled, kneaded, moulded, not literally as flesh and bone but in its gene pool....The relevance to natural evolution is that, although the selecting agent is man and not nature, the process is otherwise the same." (p. 34).
With regard to flowers, birds and insects make these changes rather than humans, naturally, not artificially: "Hummingbird eyes, hawk-moth eyes, butterfly eyes, hoverfly eyes, bee eyes are critically cast over wild flowers, generation after generation, shaping them, colouring them, swelling them, patterning and stippling them, in almost exactly the same way as human eyes later did with our garden varieties; and with dogs, cows, cabbages and corn." (p. 52). And he asks us: "If so much evolutionary change can be achieved in just a few centuries or even decades, just think what might be achieved in ten or a hundred million years?" (p. 37).
To believers who object that the earth isn't old enough Dawkins marshals overwhelming evidence that it is billions of years old, along with evidence piled upon still more evidence to show evolutionary development of life on earth is indeed the greatest show on earth, and he is clearly in awe of it.
There are a few great books on evolution but this is a superior book long overdue by today's leading communicator of science. You should get it and think through it, especially if you're a "history-denier." Face the evidence and then change your beliefs. It's the intellectually honest thing to do. Then you too will thank Dawkins like so many of us have for his writing in these areas.
Dawkins does it again, September 22, 2009
By WHM (Amsterdam)
Evolution is an inescapable fact, and we should celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty, as Richard Dawkins notes in this marvelously titled book, the latest addition to his already impressive list of books on evolution.
Do we really need yet another "evidence for evolution" book? Well, yes we do. If only because of the alarmingly large number of educated people (especially in the United States) who hold virulent anti-evolution sentiments and prefer a supernatural, "intelligent design" explanation for the key questions in biology. But will the "history-deniers" read Dawkins? Leaving creationists and ID proponents aside, many people misunderstand evolution as a long chain of events that shape simple forms into more complex ones, rather than the branching and extinction of lineages. Therefore, open-minded readers should welcome yet another popular book on evolutionary biology, particularly if it has such a breadth and is so very well written as Dawkins'. As a teacher and communicator of science, Dawkins remains unsurpassed.
The "Greatest Show on Earth" is an ambitiously large survey of evolutionary biology; more than 400 pages (plus many color photos) one long argument for why evolution is a firmly-based scientific explanation, a fact. Even for those who accept the evidence for evolution, Dawkins' book is a stimulating and refreshing read; not least because of its conversational yet authorative tone (although Dawkins can't help but to lash out at religion here and there, it certainly is not an anti-religion book like "The God Delusion"). As one reviewer noted: if Charles Darwin would want to know how his theory had fared in the 21th century, this is the book he should read. My own first recommendation, however, would be Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True. The latter book is equally well written and informative, but more concise and focused. What's more, Coyne is less polemical than Dawkins (BTW, Dawkins praises Coyne's book in his first chapter).
Dawkins covers the science in a rather standard fashion. The Galápagos islands, transitional fossils, embryology, artificial breeding, anatomy, etc., it's all there. Which is fine, of course. But those who are looking for a primer on the latest insights into evolutionary biology won't find it here. I would have liked to see more emphasis on the awesome power of molecular genetics in demonstrating evolution as an established fact. After all, the evidence in molecular biology is even more compelling than the fossil record (but, admittedly, more difficult to explain to lay persons). As an accompanying book, I would therefore recommend Sean Carroll's The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution, which focuses on how DNA directs the evolutionary process.
I'm puzzled why Dawkins chose not to mention the new insights into the molecular evolution of the eye. He discussed eye evolution at length in "The Blind Watchmaker" - as did Darwin in "The Origin of Species" - and it remains a favorite topic of the ID crowd. But astounding genetic findings have revolutionized the eye evolution field: the animal eye, from fruitfly to man, was "invented" only once during evolution. Darwin would have been thrilled! Dawkins could have scored a strong point here. A missed opportunity.
That being said, one can only hope that this book will convert at least some creationists and ID advocates; that the scales will fall from their religious eyes. But I have my doubts. To quote biologist Tom Tregenza: The fact that Darwin's theory makes so many predictions, none of which has ever been falsified, makes it easy to make a further prediction: it is only a matter of time before the ID proponents make it a fundamental tenet of their ideology that the pattern of life has been made that way specifically to fool biologists. In which case, evolutionists can take comfort in knowing that the creator specifically had THEM in mind at every step of the process.
Interesting and very different, July 25, 2009
By P. Wung "Engineering is my vocation, volleyba... (Tipp City, OH USA)
I am a big fan of Doxiadi's book on Goldbach conjecture :Uncle Petros and Goldbach's Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession.
This book is very different, in manifold ways. The previous book was a novel wrapped around a mathematical idea. In the process of telling a story, Doxiadis explained the mathematical problem. It was pretty straight forward - not the problem, the approach. But this book is a tutorial on logic, a historical review of the most dramatic development in logic, a chronological synopsis of how higher mathematics, philosophy and logic became intertwined and coupled. AND, the book did this in a comic book format. The approach is, of course very ambitious. The question then is: was it successful?
This may seem cowardly, but it does echo the book's conclusion: it is really up to the reader.
The book poses the question early on: pure logic will lead a rational person to a right conclusion to a difficult moral problem, in this case, whether Britain should enter into WWII against Hitler. The entire book then is predicated upon the literary mechanism to introduce a wide spanning discourse on the development of 20th century logic, the narrative is taken through all of its twists and turns by the narrator in the form of Bertrand Russell, with occasional self referencing vignettes of the writing and drawing teams of this book.
Russell is a natural choice, and his life in the higher altitude work in philosophy and mathematics really fits in nicely with the history of the logical arguments. His work, Principia Mathematica - Volume One with Lord Whitehead was also seminal in much of the breakthroughs that followed. The narratives are carried on through conversations with some of the most colorful people in the European philosophical, and mathematical intelligentsia: Frege, Cantor, Wittgenstein, the Vienna, Hilbert, Poincare, and Godels. But, relying on the words of these heavy hitters to carry through the dense and complex ideas is a difficult proposition for the reader because the heavy hitters tend also to have heavy and dense writings, so the authors have thoughtfully provided brief respites featuring the comic book counterparts of the actual writers and animators working on the book, and a welcome respite it is, this mechanism saved the readers from some heavy duty mental headaches and gnashing of teeth.
So, after all that work, we return to the original question: were the authors successful? I think they were, by and large, but once again, it is up to the reader to decide because the depths to which the message is delivered depends very much on the reader's depths of understanding of the problems described and the reader's familiarity with the literature. The tutorial on the philosophical works, particularly the Principia and Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Routledge Classics) was very good, the authors did manage to explain some very important and dense material very cleanly and concisely. As for resolving the central problem, actually the argument used to present all this philosophy was not so successful, but that is the nature of a philosophical discourse: most of them end without a black and white conclusion.
The book is very ambitious, it attacked a very large and complex piece of human thought by using a very untraditional means - the format nostalgically brought back to the days when I was religiously reading Classic Illustrated comic books when I was in my youth- it did a magnificent job of relaying the author's intent.
A nice intro to Russell's ideas, but a messy, rambling comic by committee, August 2, 2009
By Anonymous (USA)
While it's a pleasant and quick read, this book's execution hardly lives up to the promise of its brilliant and appealing concept (nor to its "epic" subtitle). Rather than a tightly structured comic-book intellectual biography of Bertrand Russell, this is a scattered mess of a book with too many (albeit quite promising) ideas and much too little successful execution. The book is simply trying to be too many things at once:
First, and most successfully, it wants to be an introduction to the "foundations" of mathematics, the early-20th-century efforts by philosophers and mathematicians to provide a firm axiomatic ground on which to establish a base for the higher-flown efforts of mathematics, which resulted in the development of mathematical logic and thus eventually led to the digital computer. The book gives even a lay reader enough little nuggets of this field to pique their interest, though often it doesn't explain in much depth. And the exposition does sometimes come off a bit condescending, as if the authors didn't trust us to follow them into a truly complex field like set theory.
And, furthermore and far worse, the book often doesn't even try to take advantage of its format by developing the ideas in image form -- instead it gives page after solid page of hastily-drawn panels of Russell (or the authors themselves!) lecturing the reader in massive word balloons, wasting all the opportunities afforded by its comic-book form. Still, had the book remained on the level of a "Russell for Beginners"-type introductory comic, it would have been a fair piece of work.
Second, the book is an intellectual biography of Bertrand Russell, the story of his life and of the development of his ideas. The problem here is that the authors are not very good at either part of the biographer's project, as they are neither experienced storytellers nor historians. They have consciously fudged many historical details, but have also (apparently unconsciously) introduced many small but glaring anachronisms of tone, language, and thought, making it difficult to suspend disbelief and to find their evocation of Russell's historical moment credible. And their psychological portrait of Russell, as well as of the supporting characters, tends toward condescending simplicity rather than interesting complexity or ambiguity, vastly oversimplifying even when they momentarily allude to the complications of Russell's several marriages, his pacifist politics, or his troubled relationships with family and with colleagues. And, as soon as each of these issues is raised, the book quickly marches on, usually with a dismissive remark about its irrelevance to Russell's ideas. A bit more credit should have been given both to the reader's intelligence and to the complexity of the biographical material; as it is, this scattered story could not even be recommended as a children's biography of a man as complicated as Russell.
Third, the book is a nonfiction "graphic novel," a nouveau comic book for smart people. But it is on this level that it fails the most completely, failing to integrate word and image or to use its comic form to any advantage. Despite the competent simplicity of Alecos Papadatos's art, the book shows its origins as a committee product with page after page of drawn talking heads below mammoth word balloons. The images often distract from the material being covered more than they illustrate it. And the authors' frequent self-insertions -- we often cut away from Russell's life to inserted scenes of their discussions about writing the book and about Russell -- are ham-fisted and annoying despite the authors' apparent conviction that this is clever and self-reflexive. When Art Spiegelman wrote himself and his own writing process into Maus, the formal innovation answered a necessity in the content -- the need to represent the remembering of his father's story rather than assuming a deceptive immediacy and a false transparency in its telling. Here, instead, the narratorial interventions distract from the book's content rather than meditating on it, and the interpretive disagreements among the committee of authors simply emphasize the book's scrambled, unfinished nature. Instead of a worked-out, formally coherent narrative about Russell, we get a series of snatches of his life, punctuated by inconclusive discussions of where to go next; it's like reading a first draft punctuated by notes from its editor. (Speaking of editing, the book's words badly need help from a stronger English writer; they are rife with Unnecessary Capitalization, "scare quotes," ellipses... and other signs of amateur writing. And Russell himself often speaks in glaring Americanisms, puncturing any suspension of disbelief.)
The less said of the philosophical side of the book, the better; its "expert" author-character is a theoretical computer scientist rather than a philosopher, and this shows through everywhere in its account of the importance of Russell and his colleagues, particularly in its ridiculously trivializing treatment of Wittgenstein. (E.g. the book's endnote on Wittgenstein claims that his Tractatus was somehow "vindicated" by the emergence of the digital computer, a truly bizarre and philosophically illiterate remark.) There are biographical and conceptual notes in the back of the book, a mini-encyclopedia that would be more appropriate in a For Beginners/Dummies-style textbook than this ostensibly story-driven piece, and while they're often interesting they seem unedited, un-peer-reviewed, and sometimes goofy and idiosyncratic in their account of the material. This makes it hard to recommend this book as an introduction to the basics of logic or the foundations of mathematics.
In short, the book tries to be too many things at once, and succeeds as none of them. It is neither a strong introduction to Russell's ideas, nor a worthwhile biography in condensed form, nor a successful piece of historical comic art. It's a pleasant enough read, but considering its ambition ultimately a disappointing one.
Praise for Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God
“Karen Armstrong’s book is simply superb. Wide-ranging, detailed, well researched meticulously argued and beautifully written, it is a definitive analysis of the role of religious belief and transcendence in our history and our life.”
—Dr Robert Buckman, author of Can We Be Good without God?
“Karen Armstrong, in writing The Case for God, provides the reader with one of the very best theological works of our time. It brings a new understanding to the complex relationship between human existence and the transcendent nature of God. This is a book that is so well researched and so deep with insight and soaring scholarship that only Karen Armstrong could have written it. The Case for God should be required reading for anyone who claims to be a believer, an agnostic or an atheist.”
—The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane, D.D., Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, D.C.
“No one is better qualified or more needed than Karen Armstrong to enter the hot public debate between believers and non–believers over the existence of God. Her latest book, eagerly awaited and received, rings out with the qualities she brings to all of her work—The Case for God is lucid, learned, provocative, and illuminating. Indeed, Armstrong once again does what she always does best by shining a clear light on the deepest mysteries of the religious imagination.”
—Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road
“With characteristic command of subject and crispness, the prolific and redoubtable independent British scholar and former nun takes yet another run at the world’s religious history. . . . She’s conceptual, humanistic and exceedingly well-read. . . . [An] articulate and accessible sweep through intellectual history. The “unknowing” of the mystics has its virtues and its place, but being well-read and knowledgeable makes one powerful and persuasive book.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Celebrated religion scholar Armstrong creates more than a history of religion; she effectively demonstrates how the West (broadly speaking) has grappled with the existence of deity and captured the concept in words, art and ideas. . . . A brilliant examination. . . . [An] accessible, intriguing study of how we see God.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The new book by premier contemporary historian of religion is a history of God. . . . Presenting difficult ideas with utter lucidity, this registers at once as a classic of religious and world history.”
—Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)
“Armstrong offers a tour de force. . . . Highly recommended for readers willing to grapple with difficult but clearly articulated concepts and challenges to the ‘received’ ways of perceiving religion. A classic.”
—Carolyn M. Craft, Library Journal
“One of our best living writers on religion. . . . Prodigiously sourced, passionately written.”
—John Cornwell, Financial Times
“Karen Armstrong is one of [a] handful of wise and supremely intelligent commentators on religion. . . . As in so much of the rest of her hugely impressive body of work, Karen Armstrong invites us on a journey through religion that helps us to rescue what remains wise from so much that to so many . . . no longer seems true.”
—Alain de Botton, The Observer
Praise for Karen Armstrong
“Witty, informative, and contemplative: Ms. Armstrong can simplify complex ideas, but she is never simplistic.”
—Alexandra Hall, The New York Times Book Review
“Armstrong, with her astonishing depth of knowledge and readily accessible writing style, makes an ideal guide in traversing a subject that is by its very nature complex, sensitive and frequently ambiguous.”
—David Lazarus, San Francisco Chronicle
“Armstrong’s enviable capacity to summarize and explain . . . refreshes the understanding of what one knows, and provides a clear introduction to the unfamiliar.”
—Robert Runcie, The Weekend Telegraph
“Aloof and intelligent, she stands on the shore and gives a brilliantly lucid account of those capsizing, floundering and even drowning in the diving ocean. . . . Armstrong has a dazzling ability: she can take a long and complex subject and reduce it to its fundamentals, without over-simplifying.”
—Sister Wendy Beckett, The Sunday Times (London)
“Armstrong . . . writes with precision and lucidity, with an earnestness that keeps her from sounding smugly pedantic even in the midst of what is obviously a great deal of knowledge and insight.”
—Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
“Arguably the most lucid, wide–ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today.”
—Laura Miller, Salon.com
Moving from the Paleolithic age to the present, Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names, such as God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao. Focusing especially on Christianity but including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Chinese spiritualities, Armstrong examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?
Answering these questions with the same depth of knowledge and profound insight that have marked all her acclaimed books, Armstrong makes clear how the changing face of the world has necessarily changed the importance of religion at both the societal and the individual level. And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for drawing on the insights of the past in order to build a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age. Yet she cautions us that religion was never supposed to provide answers that lie within the competence of human reason; that, she says, is the role of logos. The task of religion is “to help us live creatively, peacefully, and even joyously with realities for which there are no easy explanations.” She emphasizes, too, that religion will not work automatically. It is, she says, a practical discipline: its insights are derived not from abstract speculation but from “dedicated intellectual endeavor” and a “compassionate lifestyle that enables us to break out of the prism of selfhood.”
Remarkable, fascinating, mindshifting,, September 22, 2009
By Student of Life (USA)
Karen Armstrong is able to do two things which are individually remarkable, and in combination perhaps unique.
- provide a credible, erudite, historical overview of all the main religions in a way that shows how they fit together. ie. the key ideas they have borrowed from each other
- do so in a way which is vivid, accessible and often inspiring.
Some religious readers will be shocked to discover that "their" religion is based on ideas that are far more widespread than they may have realized. And they may be uncomfortable that the God Armstrong is arguing for is not one actively involved in day-to-day human concerns, checking off prayer requests or directing the weather, but deeper, mysterious, perhaps ineffable. Some non-religious readers will be shocked by how compelling a case Armstrong makes for a religious mindset based, not so much on "belief" or "faith" but on spirituality and compassion. But all, if they approach this book with an open mind, are likely to emerge with a richer understanding of life's most important questions.