December 22, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 12°C
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Fiction

The Unknown Quantity

Hermann Broch's novel of the life and times of a 1920s mathematician is sadly overlooked.

Can't and Won't

Lydia Davis has a problem: she can't not display her ingenious bravura.

Open City

What's most impressive about Teju Cole's debut is its modulated darkness.

Never Love a Gambler

Irish writer Keith Ridgway is beautifully uncompromising in his pitch-perfect thug chronicles.

Scenes From Village Life

Amos Oz's interlocking stories are parables for a brilliant, haunted nation.

The Third Policeman

Irishman Flan O'Brien managed to introduce Disney to Swift in a comic vision of death.

Leaving the Atocha Station

Ben Lerner's 2011 debut set a fine tone for postmodern irony, but it grows repetitive.

The Underground Man

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

The Laughing Monsters

Denis Johnson's novel of spies in Africa falls well short of its Graham Greene-Le Carré mark.

Nonfiction

The Book of My Lives

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




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