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J. Brown (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
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Sleepfaring: A journey through the science of sleep
Sleepfaring: A journey through the science of sleep
by Jim Horne
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview of the Science of Sleep, 16 Aug 2010
When I saw this book, I knew I just had to get it to while away the long, dark, wee hours of the night. Although "Sleepfaring" is actually a serious look at the science of sleep, it is written with a dry wit which provides an amazing amount of material without appearing as information overload. From explaining that some animals go to sleep with half of their brain at a time (dolphins) to describing the (self-inflicted!) effects of sleep-deprivation on someone who stayed awake for 11 days (264 hours!), this book is a treasure trove for boring the pants off everyone at your next party with all sorts of weird and wonderful sleep-related trivia. Moreover, as sleep scientists discovered, quite a number of participants in sleep-deprivation experiments "passed through periods of giddiness and silly laughter, like addled drunks, when their behaviour became uninhibited" [p.80]. So, when you've had a few too many glasses of sauvignon blanc at that party, you can afterwards explain away all of your obstreperous and rambunctious conduct to manifesting the symptoms of chronic insomnia! At least, that's my new excuse and I'm sticking to it!

Horne takes you through various types of sleep experiments; what REM and non-REM sleep are; what alpha, beta, theta, and delta waves really are; the effects of sleepiness on driving - i.e., don't do it!; the body clock or circadian rhythm; how to beat jetlag; dreams; how much sleep we really need and insomnia (I didn't think he was terribly sympathetic to sufferers - i.e., they're really just stress-pots, rather unfair); sleep apnoea; sleep in children and much more.

The Important Stuff

Disappointingly, no new wonderful insights are offered into the causes or treatment of insomnia beyond the usual suggestions:
- try to deal with stress and worries during the waking day - i.e., before you go to bed;
- the bedroom should be a place for relaxation and sleep only, not a workplace;
- hide the alarm clock, for you only need to know when to get up, not to be worrying and fretting about how little sleep you seem to be getting and making the whole problem worse;
- when you wake up/can't get over - give up, get up, and go into a different room and do a jigsaw puzzle. Apparently, this is better and more engaging for the mind than passive activities like reading or watching tv and thus more likely to make you sleepy. Repeat if necessary. This was a new suggestion to me;
- Have a warm bath before bed. Apparently, our body temperature drops slightly in preparation for sleep and after a bath, our bodies overcompensate by trying to rid themselves of excess heat which aids in our preparation for bed.
- The most harsh way to try to reset the body clock is through a drastic sleep restriction programme. E.g., most people sleep an average of 7-7.5 hours a night. Thus, ideally we wish to sleep between midnight and 7am. Therefore, on the first night we subtract an hour from each end of the spectrum - in other words, go to bed at 1am and get up at 6am. Even should you only get three hours sleep that night, you'll know that you'll have built up sleep pressure for the following night. Eventually, this is changed to midnight and getting up at 7am. If you rigidly stick to this program, your body clock will reset itself. Just remember, no naps during the day. Getting as much sunlight as possible during the day helps get your body acclimatized to daytime wakefulness. (I've tried this, and it wasn't exactly successful - I just ended up an exhausted wreck and zombie - maybe it'll work for you.)

Anyway, if you're interested in a journey through the science of sleep, you'll enjoy this book. Well worth reading. 7/10

Originally posted at "Introspective Cogitations".


Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus
Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus
by N. T. Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bringing our Pain to the Foot of the Cross, 23 Mar 2008
During Easter 2007, Tom Wright gave a series of sermons to the church at Easington Colliery. This is a community that had been totally dependent on its coal mine for most of its jobs, and hence the economic life of the area. Devastating consequences followed when the pit was closed. Some 15 years later, the community finds itself at a place of pain, distress, anguish and bitterness. Not enough work, no affordable housing, the radical decline of social cohesion caused by the loss of the community's central locus. Add to this the ravages of our times; drugs, alcohol, and crime, and you have an area struggling to keep its head above water. It is into this situation that Wright brings the story of Jesus.

Following the last week of Jesus' life, with its pain, sorrow and ultimate joy, Wright interweaves the story of Easington (and with it, our own stories of pain). Deftly, he brings his scholarship to bear, with a pastor's heart and concern for those to whom he ministers. Ultimately, God's great story of redemption which culminates in the cross and resurrection, gives us the hope to leave behind our own pain at the foot of the cross and to look forward to the new heavens and new earth in which we will follow after Jesus into full-embodied resurrection life. The challenge for Easington, as for us, is to live between Good Friday and Easter Day - we live in the light of what God has done in Christ and in the light of what we know is to come - Jesus' resurrection has made that glorious future certain. Thus, Wright urges us to bring comfort to those in pain and the healing of forgiveness, and the hope of a better future.

This proved a wonderful little book for my own Lenten reflections. Real people and a real situation was woven into the story of Jesus and God's love for the world. A world full of pain, but for which there is an answer.


The Cross and the Colliery
The Cross and the Colliery
by Tom Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.57

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bringing our Pain to the Foot of the Cross, 23 Mar 2008
During Easter 2007, Tom Wright gave a series of sermons to the church at Easington Colliery. This is a community that had been totally dependent on its coal mine for most of its jobs, and hence the economic life of the area. Devastating consequences followed when the pit was closed. Some 15 years later, the community finds itself at a place of pain, distress, anguish and bitterness. Not enough work, no affordable housing, the radical decline of social cohesion caused by the loss of the community's central locus. Add to this the ravages of our times; drugs, alcohol, and crime, and you have an area struggling to keep its head above water. It is into this situation that Wright brings the story of Jesus.

Following the last week of Jesus' life, with its pain, sorrow and ultimate joy, Wright interweaves the story of Easington (and with it, our own stories of pain). He deftly brings his scholarship to bear, with a pastor's heart and concern for those to whom he ministers. Ultimately, God's great story of redemption which culminates in the cross and resurrection, gives us the hope to leave behind our own pain at the foot of the cross and to look forward to the new heavens and new earth in which we will follow after Jesus into full-embodied resurrection life. The challenge for Easington, as for us, is to live between Good Friday and Easter Day - we live in the light of what God has done in Christ and in the light of what we know is to come - Jesus' resurrection has made that glorious future certain. Thus, Wright urges us to bring comfort to those in pain and the healing of forgiveness, and the hope of a better future.

This proved a wonderful little book for my own Lenten reflections. Real people and a real situation was woven into the story of Jesus and God's love for the world. A world full of pain, but for which there is an answer.


The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths
The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths
by David Robertson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

79 of 98 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading, 15 Mar 2008
David Robertson is a Scottish Presbyterian who ministers in Dundee. Having read Dawkins 'God Delusion' he decided to respond with a series of letters addressing the major themes of the book. These include letters addressing: the notion that atheists are the truly enlightened, intelligent ones; the impossibility of true beauty without God; the myth of atheist tolerance and rationality; the myth of a cruel Old Testament God; the false dichotomy Dawkins creates between science and religion; the "who made God?" argument; the nonsense that all religion is inherently evil; the myth of morality within an atheistic worldview; the myth of an immoral bible, and; the charge of child abuse.

Where to start? The first half of the book is definitely less persuasive than the latter. One might conjecture that Robertson's understandable irritation with Dawkins slides off into sarcasm and thus dents the force of his presentation. Seriously critiquing Dawkins view of "multiverses" could have been achieved without mockery. Even if, especially at this point, one does think that Dawkins might deserve a dose of his own medicine. Further, the brevity he must deal with each topic to fit his chosen format (short letters), inevitably leads to some shortcuts in his arguments. For example, Robertson doesn't really address some of the real moral problems from reading the Old Testament. This is an area he really should have spent considerably more time on, as it's something one hears more and more often. His letter on this, frankly, comes across as assertion rather than explanation for how Christians view this problematic material. It lacks substance and wanders off into preaching/proclamation rather than tackling the difficulties. This was the most disappointing chapter in the book.

Nonetheless, things pick up considerably in the second half of the book. The tone changes, becoming less polemical, and far more compellingly argued. Indeed, the strongest letters cover the basis for morality without God and whether religion is really the source of all evil. Here Robertson takes Dawkins to task for his continual oversimplification, ad hominem polemics, failure to express what Christians actually believe rather than his straw-man caricatures, and his genuine failure to engage informed and erudite Christian tradition. To say one does not need to know about spaghetti monsters is surely effective and clever rhetoric, but is simply a strategy of evasion, an utter cop out to avoid being challenged by the best of Christian thought. The latter half of the book also pushes Dawkins to consider the outcome of his polemics and where it might lead, especially in view of the irresponsible charge of child abuse.

Overall, Robertson's book is well worth reading, if only for the latter half of the book, which is passionately expressed, critically on target, and better representative of the concerns about the underlying philosophy Dawkins holds. Moral relativity and the drive of the selfish gene unchecked by the good, loving, and holy God revealed in the face of Jesus, are more likely to lead to 'might is right' and 'the ends justify the means' than 'care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in your midst' and 'love your neighbour'.

Perhaps some day, when the heat has gone out of the current polemics, Robertson will write a much more lengthy and detailed response. If he does, I'd be glad to read it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 14, 2009 10:59 PM BST


Praying with the Church: Developing a Daily Rhythm for Devotional Life
Praying with the Church: Developing a Daily Rhythm for Devotional Life
by Scot McKnight
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.40

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, Helpful Introduction to Set Times of Prayer, 24 Jun 2006
As one who is originally from a very low church background, I appreciated what McKnight was trying to achieve with this little book - to demonstrate the value of regular fixed hours of prayer by using a traditional prayer book. He suggests that not only should we maintain our own "spontaneous" prayers, but that by using the traditional set prayers of various traditions, we can learn to pray with the Church - not alone within the church, but with it.

The first part of the book deals with Jesus in prayer and the wider Jewish tradition. Also, how having fixed hours of prayer helps to reorientate our lives around a sacred rhythm. We should no longer shape our day around breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or before work, work, and after work, but around our times of prayer. Thus, we centre our daily lives around our communion with God, and after the pattern of Jesus' own praxis.

The second part of the book introduces us to each of the major prayer books of the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Anglican traditions. He gives a useful sketch of what each entails and how they might be profitably used based on his own experience.

This was a short, helpful little book for those new to prayer books and set times of prayer. I've even been persuaded to go out and buy a copy of the Book of Common Prayer (the Anglican one). I'll use it for a few months and then maybe give an update on how I've found my journey. The only complaint I have is that it is punctuated by personal testimonies of the value others have found since taking up set times of prayer. It's not that I object to this at all, but it was a bit overdone - there wasn't any need for quite so many. Nonetheless, 7/10.


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