Posts Tagged ‘Richard Dawkins’

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Nonfiction, Part I

Last week, NPI gave an overview of fiction (in two parts!) of the Aughts. Yesterday, Josh pointed out the popular economics trend in this decade’s nonfiction. Today, Josh and John are going over (in two parts!) what they believe are the biggest nonfiction books of the Aughts.

America: The Book – Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers

I bought this book for a good friend at a surprise birthday party in high school, as did another friend of mine unbeknownst to me. My copy was not kept since I didn’t write a note inside mine. I considered frowning. But, this situation nonetheless demonstrated the book’s appeal.  America: The Book is funny and representative of the politically satirical form of comedy that Stewart engendered in the Aughts through The Daily Show. The book is filled with little tidbits like: “Were you Aware? Cloture is something all Senators seek when a piece of beloved legislation dies.” There are also asides written by Stephen Colbert and Ed Helms. But, America: The Book is insightful as well as humorous; if a scholar in a future decade wanted to understand the American political climate in the early 2000s, this is one book he should examine, particularly the chapter on The Future of Democracy.

–Josh

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It – Paul Collier

In this book, development economist (and a former lecturer of mine) Paul Collier looks at the most impoverished countries in the world (home to about one billion individuals) and asks why they are experiencing so little growth. Explanations seem to occur in fours in the Aughts; there are four development traps that each of these countries typically suffer from: the conflict trap, the natural resource trap, landlocked with bad neighbors, and bad governance, particularly in small countries. While many of Collier’s suggestions are difficult to implement, the most promising is that trade policy needs to lower trade barriers for the Bottom Billion, giving preferential access to their exports. Another important highlight of this book is his attack on the misguided policies of NGOs and other charitable organizations. Ultimately, Collier popularized and integrated his important and informative empirical studies into one of the Aughts’ best development nonfiction books of the decade.

–Josh

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In Defense of Atheism….Again

As some readers may remember, I am a committed and proud atheist (despite some apparent controversy on the point). So when someone attacks atheism, as James Wood does in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, I feel obligated to defend it.

The occasion for Wood’s criticisms is the publication of Terry Eagleton’s new book, Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections of the God Debate. Eagleton is one of the most respected theists currently writing about the subject of theology, but his new book will probably convert about as many people as The God Delusion or God is Not Great: not many.

Books like this have a tendency to appeal only to the side already in agreement, and Wood seems to think Eagleton’s will do the same. Wood offers a pretty sound criticism of Eagleton’s arguments in his review, and even professes a lack of formal belief on his own part.

But Wood—who from the little I’ve read of him seems like a brilliant critic with whom I disagree about almost everything—has many of the same problems with “new atheism” that Eagleton has. Continue reading

Against the Solo Lecture

After spending four years as an undergraduate at a university, you grow to notice the inefficiencies of the university setting. Whether it’s due to catering to trustees, a political agenda, excess conformity to tradition, or some other factor, there is a lot of friction when it comes to making changes at universities.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial aspects of being in the university setting is the ability to hear highly intelligent and well-known speakers fairly frequently. This also serves as a positive externality of living near a university since many speaker events tend to be open to the public.

When bringing in outside speakers to universities, the most popular method of presenting their ideas is through a lecture. The speaker generally speaks at a podium for about an hour—sometimes accompanied by a PowerPoint (which is almost always a mistake)—and then takes questions for about fifteen minutes.
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