July 30, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Partly Cloudy 27°C
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Fiction

The Underground Man

Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer endures as a detective ahead of his time.

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's brilliant stories eviscerate families seeking Communist-era roofs.

I Refuse

In a novel with autobiographical hues, Norwegian Per Petterson considers friendship and lost time.

The Dream of My Return

A paranoid Salvadoran expat in Mexico City dreams of going him — but conspiracies come first.

As Good As Dead

Elizabeth Evans' new novel is a powerful look at women friends "reunited" in name only.

Aquarium

David Vann's vision of family redemption starts magically, but grows foul with rage.

My Documents

Chilean Alejandro Zambra's stories move from fictional autobiography into handsome melancholy.

The Mersault Investigation

Algerian journalist Kamel Daoud beats incredible odds in re-imagining Camus' "The Stranger."

Nonfiction

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon's poignant memoir falters when family tragedy becomes its focus.

Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal

American writer Michael Mewshaw generously recalls Gore Vidal and his tumultuous times.




BOOK REVIEW
How We Believe: Science, Skepticism and the Search for God
By Michael Shermer
Owl Books, 2003. 330 pages

Michael Shermer makes his living by asking questions: If God made the universe, who made God? Is the universe perhaps not a universe at all, but a multiverse? What is the point of life, and what can we know about death? These are the fundamental questions that humanity has been wrestling with for millennia. Shermer is a professional skeptic with little patience for answers like, "God made the heavens and the earth" and "After death those who believe will be resurrected; the rest will perish is hell." What makes him bristle is not simple religious faith, however — he himself is a lapsed born-again Christian — but when science is perverted to accommodate it.

How We Believe goes to the heart of contemporary American credulity and its tropism towards easy, faith-based answers. One chapter focuses on James van Praagh, bestselling author and self-proclaimed "clairsentient" (he claims to speak with the dead); another tweezes apart The Bible Code, its "prophecy" based on crossword puzzles supposedly programmed by God in the text of the Hebrew Bible.

There is plenty to chew on regarding religion, anthropology, science and philosophy. Shermer's bread-and-butter is the paranormal, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and charlatanism. The book is highly lucid, well-informed and anecdotal. It distinguishes itself from many more recent books on atheism (or nontheism) by its Spinozan patience and will to understand the phenomena of belief.

Reviewed by Marc Alan Di Martino
Day and Boarding International High School in the Heart of Rome

Everything you need to know about visiting or moving to Tuscany, Italy.