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William Fross (London, UK)
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Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance
by Steven D. Levitt
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - but not quite up to its predecessor, 1 Dec. 2009
Freakonomics was counterintuitive and surprising. Each chapter offered an in-depth analysis of a strange phenomenon, and did so in a way that taught helpful lessons about how the world works.

Superfreakonomics is less coherent than its predecessor, but it is just as interesting. Research data about prostitution opens the book; it ends (notoriously) with the idea that there could be a quick fix for global warming.

The book is fascinating because it is a collection of interesting anecdotes and analyses, but it lacks a coherent theme. There are only five chapters. Each chapter has an overriding question ("How is a street prostitute like a department store Santa?"), and the answer is arrived at through a collection of vaguely relevant stories, along with some directly relevant analysis and data. As a result, the book is compelling: you are always reading about something new and interesting. But it is difficult to remember anything "big" once you're done. The final chapter on global warming is the only section to break this mould, analysing different ideas in detail, but it feels somewhat out of place in this book - the predecessor built on counterintuitive analysis of surprising data. It feels like the economist lost his grip on the final chapter, and the journalist had a greater influence on it.

But the book is still worth four stars. It is entertaining and challenging throughout. It feels like a follow-up to the phenomenal success of its predecessor, rather than a solid work in its own right. If you enjoyed the first, you will enjoy this. But if you haven't tried either, go for the original.


James (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
James (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries)
by Douglas J. Moo
Edition: Paperback

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear exegesis - but not so practical, 5 May 2009
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This provides great insight into what the letter of James is about. But beyond telling you what it says, it doesn't provide much help with working out what that means for you today. Start here, but go elsewhere (or think and pray hard) if you want it to affect your life. Thankfully, James is intensely practical, so perhaps it doesn't matter so much as it would with other parts of the Bible.

(Of course, if you are looking at James from a purely intellectual/academic standpoint, I expect this will fit the bill, though I think it is a shorter/popularised edition of a more technical commentary that Moo has written.)


The Life You Can Save
The Life You Can Save
by Peter Singer
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear and challenging, 5 May 2009
This review is from: The Life You Can Save (Paperback)
Singer writes to convince the reader to give lots of money to help people. He uses clear arguments and thought experiments to show you how inconsistent it is not to do so. He writes clearly and accessibly, and he succeeds in his goal.

It's just a shame that the book is not particularly interesting: after a while I found the anecdotes and examples began to grate and I just wanted him to get to the point (he also provides only a cursory look at religious teaching, which could have provided some fascinating insights into motives for doing good). Anyway: others may love the book in its entirety. But in the main I expect it will be used as a reference book by people already convinced of its argument, looking for clear ways to refute people who argue against giving their money away.


Assorted Fire Events: Stories
Assorted Fire Events: Stories
by David Means
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Literary, accomplished, dull, 3 May 2009
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David Means is a good writer. He is observant, insightful about human character, and convincing; but hardly any of the stories in this book are actually interesting. Few have a discernible plot, and it's difficult to remember much after you have finished reading. A couple stood out for me: The Widow Predicament is haunting (but there are reasons I particularly found it moving) and Assorted Fire Events, itself a short story, is memorable because it is shocking. But overall I found most of the stories burdened by Means' prose style, rather than uplifted by it.


The Authority : Relentless
The Authority : Relentless
by Warren Ellis
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unoriginal and dull, 30 Jan. 2009
The characters are flat, the ideas are undeveloped, and the plotting is simple, but I wasn't bored because the art is dazzling.

I was excited after reading the preface. It raves about the Authority being the next big thing, but it's flat. The stories are too short to be developed in interesting ways, far too much is assumed (there are fascinating ideas that aren't developed at all, along with overblown ideas that are just a bit much like a hero who is a "shaman", able to control the nature of reality...pffff), and the dialogue is flat and childish.

However, I could be jumping into the middle of a bigger story. If that's the case, try to pick up earlier stories with these characters first. It might be better in a wider context.


Little Brother
Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun teen page-turner, 24 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Little Brother (Paperback)
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This is fun.

The hero is a teenage hacker in San Francisco. After a terrorist attack, the government openly begins to track everyone in the city. The hero works out how to avoid being watched, and he spreads the word in the name of freedom. Drama ensues.

The book has a clear message about civil liberties. The hero argues for privacy, and others argue that it's necessary to give up privacy for security. The text doesn't really move the argument beyond that, but it does encourage you to fight against oppressive (and unjust) people in power.

This is no 1984. But it is a fun story, and all the more so thanks to appendices at the end of the book that explain how to hack systems yourself, and why. They are fascinating.

Three stars from me because the characters are cardboard and it raises old questions without interesting answers. But if I was 12, I'd give it five stars. It's a good entry point in the debate over civil liberties.


The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism
by Timothy Keller
Edition: Hardcover

115 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Winsome, convincing, intelligent apologia, 29 Feb. 2008
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The Reason for God is one of the best books I have read on why Christian belief is true belief. It is an engaging essay on how and why a clear-thinking sceptic can take the Christian worldview seriously. It forces you to think about what you think about the world, not just what you don't agree with.

Keller's thesis is that no-one is a pure sceptic. Everyone believes things about the world and people and God. He believes that compared to the alternatives, Christian belief is the closest to the truth about things. Combined with this, he argues that everyone knows God exists, even if they don't admit it to themselves.

The first half of the book addresses common objections to Christian belief. The second half argues for the Christian worldview. There is an intermission halfway through which briefly considers other issues, like why beliefs differ between Christians and Christian denominations. The final chapter explains the implications of his argument for readers.

When I say this is one of the best books I have read, that's because it crosses boundaries in the same way that our own experience does. It has philosophical clarity, it asks us to consider our own experience, it looks to literature and art and science and the world to make things clearer for us.

If you have specific issues, such as questions about a particular philosophical argument, there are other, more comprehensive works dedicated to such things. But for most people this is the most competent overview of all the issues.

Like Mere Christianity by C.S Lewis (somewhat dated now), I would recommend it to sceptics for the reasons above, but also to Christians as an example of how to communicate what they believe clearly and compassionately.
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The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths
The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths
by David Robertson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent but limited response to Dawkins, 27 Dec. 2007
This book stimulated my thinking, but it is not a blow-by-blow academic response to the God Delusion, nor does it try to be. Each letter responds to a different "atheist myth" with specific reference to Dawkins' book. This means it is still accessible and interesting for those who have not read the God Delusion.

Robertson raises valid points, such as how Dawkins argues against a "God of the gaps" but advocates a "science of the gaps" when Dawkins advocates the multiverse theory, but other arguments that Robertson puts forward seem restricted by the book's format. For example, he puts forward an argument from beauty as pointing to God--but spends only a few paragraphs on it. Philosophers through the ages have expounded on this in whole books!

As a result, criticisms of Robertson's book feel a bit foolish--he is not writing to offer comprehensive argumentation, nor does he have the format in which to do it. But as it stands he offers enough valid criticisms of the God Delusion to raise significant doubts about the validity of much of Dawkins' bestseller. It is an excellent introduction to sensible thinking about God, and the reading list at the back is a good nudge to further investigation.

Definitely worth reading if you found Dawkins interesting.


The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
The Diary of a Nobody (Wordsworth Classics)
by George Grossmith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars David Brent...100 years ago, 17 May 2007
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Light and funny, this book actually made me laugh out loud several times. It's how I'd imagine David Brent to be 100 years ago--not so embarrassing, but endearingly slow-witted and desperate to climb the social ladder.

I can understand why some people might find it a little dated, but it's certainly worth a gamble at less than two quid!


Lost in the Cosmos
Lost in the Cosmos
by Walker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Good questions and fewer answers...think about it!, 16 May 2007
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This review is from: Lost in the Cosmos (Paperback)
This book is funny and insightful and helps you think about yourself without worrying about 'success' or 'actualisation'. In fact, it undermines the priorities of most self-help books from the start.

Two thirds consists of engaging anecdotes and scenarios, with multiple choice responses to tease out what you think about certain situations and what defines you. It's often obvious what Percy thinks is the 'right' answer, but that doesn't matter. It's interesting anyway.

The remaining third (which Percy says you can skip!) is an examination of how he defines 'self' and how it fits into the world around us. This might be beyond some readers--I'll have to read the section again--but it's actually encouraging to have it explained exactly what is unique about the self (and therefore myself).

Four stars because it's got me thinking properly for the first time in ages, and I was never bored.


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