August 31, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Thundery outbreaks in nearby 20°C
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Fiction

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.

Submission

In the spirit of "Dr. Strangelove," French novelist Michel Houellebecq puts a brilliantly comic spin on a sensitive topic.

Dear Thief

Samantha Harvey's novel-length letter to a long-lost friend is as brilliant as it is sad.

Tyler's Last

"Tyler's Last" evokes the ghost of Patricia Highsmith in a thriller of global complications.

One Out of Two

Put mischievously spinster twins in a small Mexican city and out come sly laughs.

Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue

André Alexis's stunning "Fifteen Dogs" confers canines with human sensibility, and the greater gift of empathy.

This Census-Taker

China Miéville turns too arcane in his latest foray into the Stonehenge-styled surreal.

Zero K

Don DeLillo's latest future-sprawl, cryonic freezing included, doesn't quite know what it most wants to say.

Swallowed by the Cold

Jensen Beach's 15 stories are set in Sweden and convey equal doses of wisdom and melancholy.




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.