Customer Review

42 of 56 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Epic, Epic Fail, 4 April 2011
This review is from: Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Imagine you are in a bookstore or are browsing Amazon book pages and you come across a book that aims to introduce you to vegetarianism. The book is published by a reputable academic publishing institution with a long list of similar highly regarded books to its name. You are intrigued. Maybe you are a vegetarian who has never really read up on vegetarianism from an academic perspective. Maybe you are interested in becoming a vegetarian and would like to know more about it. Maybe you have a vegetarian friend, colleague or a loved one and would like to know more about vegetarianism so you can better relate to their lifestyle. Or you could simply be a voracious reader who wants to keep himself well informed on all sorts of subjects. So you buy the book and start reading it, and after a few pages you discover that the book is really not about vegetarianism. Over 90% of the content of the book is dedicated to a polemic on why meat is bad for you, how terrible animal husbandry is, why you shouldn't eat meat, all sorts of dangerous diseases that you can acquire from eating meat, why all the supposedly good things about meat consumption are actually childish superstitions, why butchers are some of the most evil people imaginable, etc., etc. In addition, all the concrete examples of meat-eating avoid any mention of particularly unhealthy fatty red meats, and instead talk mostly about white meat and poultry. After a while you start screaming (hopefully only in your head): OK I GET IT, MEAT IS REALLY, REALLY BAD! COULD WE PLEASE NOW MOVE ONTO DISCUSSING VEGETARIANISM!

The above scenario is exactly what I went through while reading "Humanism: A Very Short Introduction." This book hardly provides any real concrete information on Humanism. The Wikipedia article on Humanism is way more informative. Instead, this short introduction uses almost all of its 141 pages on denouncing religion (and Christianity in particular), theism, God, and all the related topics. Furthermore, the arguments presented in that regard tend to be pretty shallow and familiar to almost anyone who has ever gotten any degree of formal education (of the form that many a college student has encountered in a late-night dorm discussion), the opposing viewpoints are presented in the most straw-man fashion imaginable, on many occasions the author is either intellectually or factually dishonest, and at least two instances he engages in a thinly veiled ad-hominem attacks. The book is written as a polemic, and not as an academic survey that is intended for general audience.

I have read over hundred and sixty of these very short introduction books. For the most part they are really impressive, in terms of both the content and the presentation. I have written an Amazon review for about half of the very short introduction books that I have read, and most of them I have given either four or five stars. So far I have only given a one-star rating to one book, and that was because the book was particularly vague and uninformative. However, even that book for the most part stuck to the topic that it was dealing with. "Humanism," on the other hand, missed its purported topic in the most spectacular way imaginable. If a student of mine turned in a paper that was so off the topic I would have given him or her and automatic F. It is incomprehensible that the editors at the Oxford University Press had such a colossal failure of judgment. I intend to read the upcoming volumes in this series, but I certainly hope that I don't come across books like this one again.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Aug 2011 14:22:56 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Aug 2011 14:25:40 BDT
pauljimmyn says:
Stephen Law certainly has his own bias. I agree there was too much of an anti Christian polemic and it really didn't belong in this book or wasn't particularly well thought out. Law is not the only guilty party, if you read Susan Blackmore and her very short introduction on consciousness, it is just as bad. This series will get a reputation if the authors just use them as an invitation to vent their spleens on any subject that irritastes them. I agree the Very Short Intro series is in the whole very useful.
I am not sure this book deserved 1 star, I thought there was enough about Humanism to give you an overview. My problem is with Humanism as a whole, I think we can make an ism out of anything and I am not sure being reasonable and rational entiltles you to one.

Posted on 1 Nov 2011 21:56:07 GMT
I've not read the book although I do know people who are enthusiastic about it. I'll admit I'm using an ad-hominem attack myself here but I do have doubts about following the judgement of someone who entitles a book review "epic fail".

Posted on 15 Dec 2011 10:56:14 GMT
Terry Tozer says:
ummm, OK, can anyone recommend a much better book, with more depth on Humanism - please? ta :-)

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Sep 2012 21:21:58 BDT
DeeGee says:
I can certainly recommend a short essay by the late Professor Sir Hermann Bondi, A Humanist Outlook, which explains his view of Humanism. I don't think you need look further than his writings to understand it.

Posted on 26 May 2014 19:59:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 May 2014 20:01:53 BDT
I'm just curious to know how someone could read all those Short Introductions (and a whole load of other stuff) and still have time for students. I wonder if Dr. Bojan Tunguz would enlighten us. (I'm guessing he has no TV - and quite right too - but I'm guessing he doesn't read journals*, which I find essential - if only for their book reviews!)

* OK, he takes Foreign Affairs. Curiouser and curiouser!
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