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HTML5: Up and Running
HTML5: Up and Running
by Mark Pilgrim
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.27

5.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction, 24 April 2011
This review is from: HTML5: Up and Running (Paperback)
Mark Pilgrim has written a really useful introduction to the new technologies that are driving HTML5 adoption. If you're creating HTML for web sites then I recommend this book.

I'm not a web site designer, but I've always tried to produce web sites that use valid HTML. And then when the current standard switched from HTML to XHTML I converted most of my web sites to the new standard. A couple of years ago, some friends started talking about HTML5 being a replacement for XHTML. I was tired of converting my web sites, so I pretty much ignored them.

And then last year more and more people started talking about HTML5. It was obviously time to investigate further. And Mark Pilgrim's book seemed as good a place as any to start.

It turns out that HTML5 is rather more than just a mark-up language. It's a term that encompasses a number of new technology standards that will be driving web application development for many years to come.

Pilgrim explains all the new elements that are available in HTML5. Some of these, obviously, won't be supported by older browsers so, perhaps more importantly, he also covers how to detect which features are supported on a browser which is visiting your site. In each case, he explains the nuts and bolts of how it would be done, but then he also describes how it can be done far more easily using the Modernizr Javascript library.

The most interesting new features to me are the native support for audio and video (although there is still some disagreement between browser makers as to which formats are supported) and the canvas element which will finally allow some powerful graphical effects to be produced in a manner which will work well across most (if not all) browsers.

I haven't yet had a chance to really start using HTML5 on my web sites. But when I do, this is a book that I will return to frequently.


The Social Media Marketing Book
The Social Media Marketing Book
by Dan Zarrella
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.50

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good tips for social media marketing campaigns, 19 Mar. 2010
Social media marketing is big business. All of the social media web sites are awash with companies trying to use them to sell their products and services. In many cases these campaigns are ill-conceived and end up annoying more people and driving them away from the company in question.

It's not that social media marketing is particularly difficult. It's just that it's a new area and it's very easy to get something wrong and to end up doing more harm than good. The users of social media services tend to be a little more clued-up than the general population and they are often suspicious of traditional marketing methods. I'm sure we can all recite horror stories of internet marketing campaigns that have backfired badly.

Dan Zarrella knows what he's talking about though. He knows how to tiptoe around the minefield that is social media marketing without stepping on any of the minds. If all of the people currently trying to use Facebook and Twitter as a marketing tool would stop and spend a couple of hours (yes, it's a very short book) reading Zarrella's book then their campaigns would all be of a higher quality and they'd have a lot more success.

Zarrella covers all the bases in his discussion of social media tools. He goes from blogging and Twitter to video sharing and Second Life. On the way he shares all the nuances that he has picked up whilst working with these various tools. Each chapter discusses a particular area in some depth and the final two chapters step back from the detail to have a look at strategy and measurement.

The precise sites that we'll be using in the future will no doubt change. It's quite likely that won't still be using Twitter in three years time, but Zarrella's advice is likely to still hold true as the underlying principles will still be appropriate.

If you're planning a social media marketing campaign then it'll be well worth your while reading this book.


The Definitive Guide to Catalyst: Writing Extensible, Scalable and Maintainable Perl-Based Web Applications (Expert's Voice in Web Development)
The Definitive Guide to Catalyst: Writing Extensible, Scalable and Maintainable Perl-Based Web Applications (Expert's Voice in Web Development)
by Kieren Diment
Edition: Paperback
Price: £43.50

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Guide to Modern Perl Development, 12 Sept. 2009
Catalyst is one of the most interesting projects to come out of the Perl community in the last few years. Originating as a fork of the Maypole web framework, Catalyst has grown into the de facto standard for building web application using Perl. Its power and flexibility make it a great choice for many web-based projects.

But often great power and flexibility goes hand in hand with complexity. I've used Catalyst in simple ways on a couple of projects but I had always suspected that I wasn't getting everything that I could out of the software. What I really needed was a good book that explained the best way to get the most out of Catalyst. With this book I think I've got what I was looking for. The book is written by two core members of the Catalyst team. They obviously know exactly what they are talking about and lead the reader confidently through the complexities of Catalyst.

Catalyst, like other well-known web frameworks like Django or Ruby on Rails, uses the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern. This book doesn't assume that you are already familiar with this pattern and chapter 1 explains the underlying concepts in some detail. It also takes time to compare the Catalyst way of doing things with CGI applications and to compare Catalyst itself with other Perl frameworks like CGI::Application and Jifty.

Chapter 2 gets you started by discussing how to install Catalyst. This can be difficult as Catalyst requires a large number of other Perl libraries to be installed, and this section explains the easiest way to do with by using Perl's built-in features. This chapter also contains an introduction to Object Oriented programming in Perl using Moose. This is indicative of the authors' dedication to promoting modern Perl best practices and it's a topic I shall return to later.

Chapter 3 moves on to writing a simple application in Catalyst. Once again the authors' interest in best practices is evident as the application is not only written using Moose, but also has a comprehensive test suite. The application built in this chapter is pretty simple and some corners are cut in order to get something written as quickly as possible. These shortcomings are addressed at some length in chapter 4 where the application is rewritten in order to make it easier to maintain and extend.

Having written an application using Catalyst's built-in development web server, you will next need to deploy it. Chapter 5 takes a detailed look at your options for deploying Catalyst applications on a range of popular web servers.

The next two chapters look at two important parts of the Catalyst framework. Chapter 6 looks at database models, concentrating on the use of DBIx::Class - the most popular database abstraction layer used with Catalyst (and, indeed, with Perl itself). Chapter 7 looks at Catalyst's dispatch model - how a Catalyst application decides which of its method need to be called to respond to a given request. In earlier chapters I felt that some of the details of the dispatch model had been rather skimmed over, but this chapter more than makes up for that.

Chapter 8 looks at another vital part of modern web applications - that of authentication and authorisation. Catalyst has a number of plugins which makes these activities as easy as I have seen in any web framework. Chapter 9 looks at web services - both how to consume external services in your application and how to make a web service API available to users of your application. The latter becomes ridiculously easy with Catalyst.

If there is something that you don't think that Catalyst can do for you, then you'll find Chapter 10 useful as it examines a number of ways to extend Catalyst's behaviour. There are already dozens of add-ons and plugins available for Catalyst, but this chapter gives clear instructions on how to add to this collection.

Chapter 11 is a useful cookbook of recipes that will help you be more efficient in your use of Catalyst. Some of them solve common problems that you'll come across when writing applications but another, more interesting, section talks about ways to just become a more efficient developer. Many of these (for example, using Perl::Tidy and Perl::Critic) are general development techniques that aren't specific to Catalyst. Finally, chapter 13 looks at Reaction, which is a higher level framework which is based on Catalyst.

One of the problems with writing books about a project like Catalyst is that in the early days of a project, things can change very quickly. Sometimes so quickly that a book is out of date before it is published. I think that Catalyst has now settled down from the intense development cycles of the last few years, so this book will be relevant to Catalyst users for quite some time.

I'm convinced that Catalyst will be a useful tool to add to my collection and that this book will be very useful while I'm getting myself up to speed with writing applications with Catalyst. It's also very likely to be useful as a reference long after I'm familiar with how Catalyst works. If you're looking at writing a web application and are looking for a framework to use then this book should convince you to add Catalyst to the list of possibilities that you consider.

If you're a Catalyst user or a potential Catalyst user then you don't really need me to tell me that this book will be well worth buying. But there's another group of people who I would highly recommend this book to - and that's everyone who is currently programming in Perl, even if you never go near web developement or Catalyst. The reason for this seemeingly bizarre recommendation is easy to explain. Perl has been changing a lot over the last five years. The basic syntax remains (mostly) the same, but a number of new tools have been introduced that every Perl programmers should be looking at. Perl books don't get published as frequently as they used to and this is (as far as I know) the only book which emphasises new Perl tools like Moose and DBIx::Class. There is a whole new Perl movement out there called Modern (or Enlightened) Perl and this book is the best introduction to this movement currently in print.

The application development methods discussed by the authors of this book are the ones which will define good Perl development practice in the coming years. If you have any interest in how you should be developing Perl applications then you should be buying this book.


Apache 2 Pocket Reference: For Apache Programmers & Administrators: For Apache Programmers and Administrators (Pocket Reference (O'Reilly))
Apache 2 Pocket Reference: For Apache Programmers & Administrators: For Apache Programmers and Administrators (Pocket Reference (O'Reilly))
by Andrew Ford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Have a Permanent Spot on My Desk, 1 Jan. 2009
There's no question that Apache powers the World Wide Wide. It runs over half of the world's web sites. If you work in the web industry then there's every chance that you'll have to deal with Apache at some point. Like many people, I don't consider myself a webmaster, but I run several web sites using Apache so I need to know how to get the most out of it.

Over the years, I have bought several books about Apache. They tend to get read once and then left to gather dust on the bookshelf. I never really need an in-depth knowledge of Apache, but I often need to know all about the one feature that I need to solve my current problem. Usually this involves a lot of Googling, but now I think I'll have this book on my desk and it will safe me a lot of time.

This book does exactly what the title implies. It is a complete (but concise) reference to Apace. In particular, most of the book is taken up with descriptions of Apache's myriad configuration options. This material all uses a standard layout which makes it easy to find and understand exactly the information that you need. One particularly nice touch is a key at the top of each entry telling you which contexts a configuration option can be used in. Never again will I have an excuse for putting an option in a .htaccess file when it only works in a direcotry context.

There is a lot of information packed into this small book. No space is wasted cramming the data in. But it's not too dense to be unusable. The information is always clear and easy to follow.

If you're a part-time Apache webmaster like me, then I think you'll find this book very useful.


Google Apps Hacks
Google Apps Hacks
by Philipp Lenssen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview of Google Apps, 1 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Google Apps Hacks (Paperback)
I should confess that this book wasn't what I thought it was. I was interested in reading it because I misread the title. I thought it was about the Google App Engine - which is a technology that I really want to spend some time investigating. But it wasn't about the Google App engine, it was about Google Apps - the set of online applications that Google have been introducing over the last few years.

That misunderstanding meant that I had to adjust my expectations of the book somewhat. Instead of a book aimed at developers explaining the inner detail of a technology, I got a book which was firmly aimed at end users.

I don't often read computer books aimed at end users. I find that I'm not in the target audience. Unless an application is very complex then I like to think that I can work out how to use it without resorting to manuals. Of course that means that I often end up using only a small fraction of the functionality of an application.

The Google application set is no exception to this rule. I've been using many of the Google applications for some time. In particular I've started to write a lot of documents and spreadsheets using Google Docs, the online office suite which is intended as a replacement for Microsoft Office. I tend to work on several different computers so having my documents available on a web site means that the latest version is available to me on any computer.

Google Docs is one of the most widely-used parts of the Google application set and it's a good place for this book to start. The first four chapters present an over view of the applications and then one chapter each concentrating on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. As expected I found that I already knew most of what was described in the early parts of the chapters, but I found myself saying "oh, that's useful" quite a lot towards the ends of the chapters as I read about features that I hadn't come across before. For example, I had no idea that the spreadsheet application was able to access data from external web sites and extract information which can be used in your calculations. I'm sure I'll find that useful in the future.

The next chapter talks about what is probably the best-known Google application - Gmail (or, as it's known in the UK, GoogleMail). I have a Gmail account, but currently I only use it for a couple of high-volume mailing lists. I certainly learned a lot about Gmail and I'll probably start using it a bit more now. This chapter, however, demonstrated the obvious problem about using a book to learn about this products - improvements to the Google applications appear frequently and some of the information in the book is already slightly out of date.

Subsequent chapters go into other parts of the Google application set in a similar level of detail. Google Calendar, iGoogle (the customisable Google homepage) and Google Reader all get a chapter to themselves. Then we have a few chapters that cover multiple projects. There's a chapter on Picassa and YouTube, one on Google Maps, Google Earth and SketchUp (the last of which I had never heard of) and one on Blogger. The final chapter is about tracking the success of your sites using Google Analytics. In just about every chapter I learned something that will be useful to be.

All in all, I found this book well worth reading and I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in making better use of the Google applications. There are only two caveats that you should consider. Firstly, there's the fact that it's a very wide-ranging book and I think that few people would use all of the applications and therefore find all of the chapters useful. Secondly, as I mentioned above, all of the Google applications are being updated and improved at an incredible rate, so this is definitely going to be a book with a rather short shelf life.


Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics
by Brian Clifton
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended, 18 May 2008
I've been running Google Analytics on a number of web sites since it was first released in 2005. I've got a lot of good information out of it, but I've always suspected that I'm not using it to its full potential. Having read this book I now have a much better idea of what I'm missing and, more importantly, how I can put that right.

Brian Clifton has written a really useful guide to getting the most benefit out of Google's free web analytics system. He is, of course, well-placed to do that as he leads the Google Analytics team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Part one is a good overview of web analytics is. Chapter one explains what web analytics is and what you can get out of it. Chapter two goes into more detail about the method that people use to analyse their web site traffic and chapter three introduces Google Analytics and explains where it fits into the web analytics landscape.

Part two gives an introduction to using Google Analytics. Chapter four looks at the interface to Google Analytics. This chapter gives the reader a good free for the interactivity of the Google Analytics interface. It's this interactivity that makes Google Analytics far easier to use than many of its competitors. Chapter five looks in more depth at ten of the reports that the system generates. By the end of this chapter I was already learning new little tips about the system.

Part three is about implementing Google Analytics on your web site. chapter six shows you how to tag your web pages so they are included in your reports. This is about as far as my Google Analytics knowledge goes. So chapter seven introduces ways to customise the Google Javascript code in order to have more control over what data is recorded, it was all new (and very interesting). For example, the chapter has techniques for measuring page load time and tracking outgoing links. Chapter eight is all about Google Analytics best practices and is full of the kinds of tips that only an expert in using the tool would be able to share with you. Having read this chapter I configured up some of my sites to track search queries and set up more goals on my sites. Chapter nine is called "Google Analytics Hacks" and is a really useful cookbook of tips and techniques for getting even more out of Google Analytics. Top of my list of things to implement from this chapter is to add tracking to all of my error pages.

The sections we've discussed so far have all been about generating as much useful data about your web site traffic as possible. But, of course, huge piles of data don't do you any good at all unless you can make some sense of the data and then act on your findings. This is what part four is about. Chapter ten offers some useful hints on how to make sense of all of the data you have collected. Clifton looks at a web site from a number of points of view (sales, marketing, web content creator and webmaster) and for each of them suggests a number of key performance indicators that will be of interest to them. He then shows how to construct these KPIs out of the data that Google Analytics has captured. Chapter eleven moves on to the next stage and looks a number of real-world examples where data from Google Analytics can be used to identify poor performance from areas of a web site and suggests ways to improve matters.

I'm no web analytics expert and, to be honest, some of the stuff in part four made my eyes glaze over a little. But my company doesn't rely on its web site for income so I've never had to worry about the number of visitors I get or how long they spend on the site. Web analytics has really just been a hobby for me. If I was in a company where those kinds of things were important, then I feel confident that this book would be the right one to turn to in order to learn more. This book certainly goes into more depth when talking about both the technical side of Google Analytics and how to interpret the data than any other book I've read on the subject.

This book has taught me a lot of new and interesting things about Google Analytics and I feel sure that I'll be going back to it in the future when I need to know more. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to get the most out of their Google Analytics installation.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 21, 2010 9:50 AM BST


Catalyst: Accelerating Perl Web Application Development
Catalyst: Accelerating Perl Web Application Development
by Jonathan Rockway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing, 25 Feb. 2008
Catalyst is a flexible and powerful framework for writing web-based applications in Perl. But with power and flexibility you'll always get a certain amount of complexity and on the occasions that I have looked at Catalyst for a project, the complexity has got the better of me and I've always turned to a less complex (and therefore less flexible and powerful) system. I knew that Catalyst was something that I should take the time to learn, but it always seemed like such a daunting task.

For that reason, I was really looking forward to reading this book. I'm the kind of person who learns best from reading a book and I hoped that with a few tube rides reading this book, coupled with a few practical sessions in front of the computer, I'd soon have Catalyst. I'm sorry to report that having read the book, Catalyst is almost as confusing to me now as it was before.

I don't think that much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the author. Jonathan Rockway is a member of the core Catalyst development team. I've read his blog and his contributions to various mailing lists. He obviously knows his stuff. I think he's been badly let down by his editors.

The problems are at two levels. Firstly there are many typos and errors that should have been picked up at the copy-editing stage, and secondly (and more importantly) I don't think that enough thought has been put into the organisation of the book.

Let's start by looking at the typos. The problems start before the book really gets going. On the "About the Reviewers" page, each of the two reviewers gets a paragraph to say thank you to various people. For the first reviewer this is typeset as a blockquote, for the other it's a normal paragraph. You might think that it's too nit-picking to point this out, but I see it as an indication of either poor copyediting or as rushed production process. And neither of those options exactly inspires confidence in a book.

At other points, the typos are more serious. On page 32, it says "We'll also need two more CPAN modules for this chapter. These can be created using the following". An experienced Perl programmer will almost certainly mean that the author meant "installed" instead of "created", but a newcomer to the language might well find it confusing. There are also errors in code examples, so I strongly recommend keeping a close eye on the book's errata page.

All of these are simple enough errors that could have been put right with another couple of rounds of proofreading. There are, however, deeper issues that would be harder to fix.

The book takes the reader through a number of Catalyst projects of increasing complexity. But I don't think that anyone ever really sat down and planned how these projects work together to give a coherent introduction to Catalyst. A lot of the time it reads like a collection of completely unrelated articles about Catalyst. Good articles. Interesting articles. But completely unrelated to each other.

There are also important things missing from the book. The introduction to Model View Controller architecture is minimal to say the least. It might work to reconfirm what the reader already knows, but it certainly wouldn't be much use to someone who is coming to the concept completely new. The same is true of a lot of the Perl in book. Catalyst uses a lot of pretty advanced Perl syntax but none of it is explained in any detail. You can argue that a discussion of function attributes would be out of place here, but surely there's room for a mention of the right section of the Perl documentation.

In fact external references are almost completely missing from the book.There are no pointers to other books that might help you use Catalyst more effectively. If you look at all of the best Perl books, they have many references oto other Perl books and web sites. This book mentions the Catalyst web site and mailing list at the start, but that's about it.

The obvious rival to Catalyst is Ruby on Rails. And if you read books about Ruby on Rails, they are all friendly books which do all they can to draw the reader into their way of doing things. This book isn't going to convince anyone who isn't already a Perl programmer who understands MVC. I can't recommend this book to anyone outside of that group.


Perl Hacks: Tips & Tools for Programming, Debugging, and Surviving
Perl Hacks: Tips & Tools for Programming, Debugging, and Surviving
by Damian Conway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.46

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Compendium of Perl Tricks, 21 Nov. 2006
To be completely honest, this isn't the book I thought it was going to be. Most O'Reilly Hacks books start off pretty simply and in a few chapters take you to the further reaches of their subject area. Whilst this is a great way to quickly get a good taste of a particular topic, it has the occasional disadvantage that for subjects that you know well, the first couple of chapters can seem a bit basic. As I know Perl pretty well, I thought I would be on familiar ground for at least half of the book.

I was wrong.

Oh, it started off easily enough. Making use of various browser and command line tools to get easy access to Perl documentation, creating some useful shell aliases to cut down typing for your most common tasks. "Oh yes", I thought smugly to myself, "I know all that". But by about Hack 5 I was reading about little tweaks that I didn't know about. I'd start a hack thinking that I knew everything that the authors were going to cover and end up frustrated that I was on the tube and couldn't immediately try out the new trick I had just learnt.

It's really that kind of book. Pretty much everyone who reads it will pick up something that will it easier for them to get their job done (well, assuming that their job involves writing Perl code!) And, of course, looking at the list of authors, that's only to be expected. The three authors listed on the cover are three of the Perl communities most respected members. And the list of other contributers reads like a who's who of people who are doing interesting things with Perl - people whose use.perl journals are always interesting or whose posts on Perl Monks are worth reading before other people's. Luckily, it turns out that all these excellent programmers can also explain what they are doing (and why they are doing it) very clearly.

Like all books in the Hacks series, it's a little bitty. The hacks are organised into nine broad chapters, but the connections between hacks in the same chapter can sometimes be a bit hard to see. But I enjoyed that. In places it made the book a bit of a rollercoaster ride. You're never quite sure what is coming next, but you know it's going to be fun.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more apt the fairground analogy seems. When you ask Perl programmers what they like about Perl, you'll often hear "fun" mentioned near the top of the list. People use Perl because they enjoy it. And the authors' enjoyment of Perl really comes through in the book. It's obvious that they really wanted to show people the things that they thought were really cool.

Although I did learn useful tips from the earlier part of the book, it was really the last three chapters that were the most useful for me. Chapter 7, Developer Tricks, had a lot of useful things to say about testing, Chapter 8, Know Thy Code, contains a lot of information on using Perl to examine your Perl code and Chapter 9, Expand Your Perl Foo was a grab-bag of obscure (but still useful) Perl tricks.

So where does this book fit in to O'Reilly's Perl canon? I can't recommend it for beginners. But if you're a working Perl programmer with a couple of years' experience then I'd be very surprised if you didn't pick up something that will be useful to you. And don't worry about it overlapping with other books in your Perl library - offhand I can't think of anything in the book that has been covered in any previous Perl book.

All in all, this would make a very useful addition to your Perl library.


Perl In Easy Steps (In Easy Steps Series)
Perl In Easy Steps (In Easy Steps Series)
by Mike McGrath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid, 31 Oct. 2006
This is one of the worst Perl books out there. The author really has very little idea of the best way to write Perl programs. Oh, you'll certainly learn some Perl from the book and the sample programs work in the way the author says they will, but show the example code to any Perl programmer and they will either laugh or cry. The author ignores the "warnings" and "strict" modules which are extremely useful in any Perl program more than a few lines long and he doesn't seem to know about the CGI library which has been bundled with Perl since 1997 - he prefers to use his own (buggy!) CGI handling routines.

The Perl you will learn from this book is full of bad practices and makes Perl seem harder than it is. Please don't buy this book.


The God Delusion
The God Delusion
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Hardcover

46 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Should Read This Book, 12 Oct. 2006
This review is from: The God Delusion (Hardcover)
For the last few years, Richard Dawkins has been becoming more and more open and confrontational with his views on religion. A few of the essays in "A Devil's Chaplain" and this year's Channel Four documentary "The Root Of All Evil?" left no doubt as how he feels about the growing influence that the religious are having on society. And now he has produced a book on the subject.

And what a fabulous book it is. Dawkins pulls no punches in his criticism of organised religion and the book will (hopefully) be seen as a call to arms for atheists everywhere. The churches have had things their way for far too long and it's time we stood up to their medieval beliefs.

The core of the book is chapter four. Dawkins admits freely that it's impossible to prove the non-existance of a supernatural being, but he goes on to show that the existance of something like a god is very improbable. In the process he demolishes most of the common arguments in favour of god's existance.

The rest of the book isn't as important as chapter four, but it's still a very enjoyable read. It will arm you with useful facts to use in discussions with religious people. One of the most interesting sections for me was the one showing that the founding fathers of the USA never intended it to be a christian nation. Another section takes a very funny look at the ludicrous suggestion that the Old Testament of the christian bible can be used as a basis for any sensible moral system.

I know that Dawkins will largely be "preaching to the converted". It's unlikely that many religious people will read this book. But if you have any interest at all in the arguments against the existance of god or the huge damage that religion is doing to society, then you should really read this book.


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