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Rowland Nelken (Nottingham, England, UK)

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Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog! (Penguin Popular Classics)
Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog! (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Jerome K. Jerome
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Men Behaving Badly in the 1880s, 22 Sept. 2009
Very little of note happens in this book, yet it is utterly compelling. I was intrigued to discover that the author had originally intended to write a tourist's historical guide to a stretch of the River Thames. The meat was to be the historical significance of, say, Runnymede and Windsor, together with scenic description. A little of that remains.

At the centre are three city clerks taking afew days out from the office. The book is a celebration of friendship. The men are terrible boatmen. They upset many other river users. They exchange long winded anecdotes about previous trips of their own or of their friends. Their attempts at catering are woeful and their nights cramped and uncomfortable. The jaunt, however, leaves them, as it was designed to do, eminently refreshed and invigorated as they return to London for a night out at the theatre, wearing still their now rather rank and damp clothes.

There is slapstick, but there is also tragedy. Memorable in particular, was the floating corpse of a young woman. The narrator told of her despair at being jilted; at being left with the shame of unmarried motherhod and consequent banishment from home.

The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest
The Book of Revelation and the Work of the Priest
by Rudolf Steiner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.95

4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How can anyone take this book seriously?, 19 Sept. 2009
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The most peculiar aspect of this peculiar book is that it continues in print, and not purely as a work of historical interest, such as might be the case with a manual of witches' spells or an alchemist's handbook.

Rudolf Steiner created the 'discipline' of 'Anthroposophy', a so called spiritual science, which bears no relation whatever to 'science' as it is generally understood. Indeed it is nothing more than a whimsical invention of Steiner himself, requiring no empirical evidence, no hypotheses and no proofs by experiment.

How else could someone solemnly declare that the author of the Book of Revelation, when envisioning the angel with the fiery feet, was foretelling the advent of Jan Masaryk? He is also unequivocal that the sixth angel's trumpet was sounded in the 1840s.

This book's success and continued appeal and the continued existence of the ridiculous invention of 'Anthroposophy' tell us much about human credulity. They also speak volumes about the tremendous charisma that Rudolf Steiner must have radiated. In his day he drew a global following; he was successful in raising finance for a worldwide network of very successful schools which continue to flourish.

The schools may be fine, so long as they do not teach what is in this book. The ready market for gobbledegook, earnestly delivered, and received without question, is, however, quite disturbing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2012 3:41 PM BST

Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist
by James Lovelock
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A misunderstood scientist, 16 Sept. 2009
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Before reading this book I had heard of James Lovelock only as someone whom 'serious' people dismissed as irrelevant. Richard Dawkins trashed him and his gaia idea as such obvious nonsense that no explanation of its absurdity was necessary. An acquaintance parroted what I gather to be part of the creed of his particular 'green' cult. His 'green faith' gave him the freedom to reject Lovelock as useless purely on account of his advocacy of nuclear power. I do not know how much of Lovelock's work Dawkins had studied. My acquaintance, however, was never shy of voicing authoritative opinions on works he had never read.

There is certainly something of the old codger in this book. Selective education (Lovelock went to grammar school) and a training as an industrial chemist whilst studying for a degree at evening classes, were, he thought, a far better preparation for a life in science than that acquired by today's graduate whippersnappers.

Although a man of his time, his greatness lies in being able to see above it. Yes, like many intellectuals of his generation he felt drawn to socialism, but realised its limitations in his maturity. Indeed, a rigid socialist system would have made it virtually impossible for him to become a freelance, free thinking, independent scientist. Academic specialisation too, may have prevented his seeing the obvious connections between physics, chemistry and biology which led to the Gaia hypothesis.

In essence 'Gaia' is the realisation that living creatures not only adapt over generations to their environment; they also adapt the environment itself. Like so many innovative ideas it seems so obvious in hindsight. What are coal and limestone but the fossilised remains of organisms, to which remains subsequent life has itself to adapt?

The only irksome Lovelock trait I found was his 'Paradise Lost to Regained' attitude. He waxes ridiculously sentimental about the rural England of his youth and the idealised village community where he set up his first married home. It seems odd that such a broad ranging mind could not see how intensely man made is rural England, even the pre combine harvester, big fields, commuter village England of his boyhood. Indeed, as a prosperous commuting research scientist, he was part of the 'wrecking' mechanism he despised. The interaction of organic life with environment, the essence of Gaia, is convincing. The notion that we are heading for doom unless we radically change is not so persuasive.

A previous reviewer found his admiration for a fellow chemist, one Margaret Thatcher, a contradiction. Lovelock, however, was justified in sharing her impatience with statism, especially when a strike in the NHS caused him unnecessary medical complications.

The book is an inspiration to any scientist who lacks expensive resources. Cheap home made gadgets can provide many tools for research. There is much to learn from this man and this book. Other reviewers have mentioned how difficult he is to categorize. That is the essential charm of this work.

I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing
I'm Perfect, You're Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah's Witness Upbringing
by Kyria Abrahams
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarity salvaged from horror, 6 Sept. 2009
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The Jehovah's Witnesses are no ordinary Christian sect. They are a state within a state and their state is a model of totalitarianism. Although they depend on nation states for schools, medical services, roads and the rest, they have convinced themselves that they, and they alone, have been appointed by Jehovah God as his sole earthly representatives.

Members are obsessively reminded that the world beyond their meeting halls and literature is the province of Satan and will, any time now, be destroyed in a terrifying orgy of destruction. The only escape is to become a full member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and to devote all one's time, beyond that required to earn a living, in the service of Jehovah's organisation. This involves regular, carefully monitored and supervised door knocking. Every JW doorknocker mouths a script identical to that dictated by the New York bosses.

Bearing the above in mind, it is hardly surprising that this ghastly outfit leaves a trail of psychological wreckage in its wake. Escape is difficult; it requires a complete deprogramming session of a mind which has been, often for decades, under the absolute control of this detestable cult. Members are ordered to shun as 'apostates' all who choose to leave, even if they are close friends and family.

A huge number of apostates of this minority cult have published their impressions of the JW life. Most are suffused with anger at years wasted in the service of a lie. Kyria Abrahams is obviously angry, but she uses the weapon of comedy to denigrate this disgusting organisation. Dictators often relish anger; ridicule can infuriate the pompous and self righteous. Should any JW boss read this book, they would hopefully cringe inwardly at being portrayed as slaves to such absurdity as is their ever changing doctrine and collection of declared 'Truths'.

Kyria describes how she breaks the JW Christmas taboo by attending a fiend's party and reflects what a shame it is that Jehovah will kill all these nice people at the imminent Battle of Armageddon. She has the strength even to reflect on the comedy of a disastrous, quasi arranged, marriage to a believing JW 'brother'.

This book has already proved a popular read with ex JWs such as myself. Hopefully it will overcome the censorious attitudes of the JW establishment, who frown on all literature not written by their members. I would like to call this book a 'must read' for all those still trapped within JWdom, as well as those currently tempted to join by the cleverly programmed promises of Paradise.

With any luck it may be the catalyst for escape for several still suffering under the cruel constraints of this evil outfit.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 14, 2012 7:32 PM GMT

Opening the Door to Jehovah's Witnesses
Opening the Door to Jehovah's Witnesses
by Trevor Willis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.95

15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another escape story from this foul cult, and most clearly told., 4 Sept. 2009
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Trevor Willis is not only a disillusioned and angry ex Jehovah's Witness - there are countless thousands of us - he is also an excellent writer.

Reading this book reinforced my rage against this cruel, self righteous cult. Mr. Willis shows his obvious intelligence by his writing style alone. The world hating, life denying JWs had so captured his youthful mind, that he left school at the earliest opportunity to earn a basic part time living as a window cleaner. That left him plenty of 'free' time to do the Society's bidding.

Like that of every Jehovah's Witness, Trevor's life was consumed in 'spreading the Good News of the Kingdom'. In Witness speak, that means knocking on doors whereby to brainwash others as he had been brainwashed.

This book explains how the organisation has developed since its late 19th century origins in America. It has assumed the role of Jehovah God's sole representative on Earth, and spends most of its time and energy decrying the rest of Christendom as the work of Satan.

The methods by which the JW HQ in New York separate their congregation from the rest of humanity are carefully explained. They have an iron discipline and a ferocious sanction against any member who dares disbelieve, disobey or question. They have bludgeoned their members' minds most efficiently. They are told that Jehovah will kill, at the imminent Battle of Armageddon, all those who do not toe their ever changing line. The members either jump into line, or as thousands continue to do, leave the organisation.

Leaving very often means forsaking friends and family and creating an entirely new life. JW demands are so rigid and time consuming; their propaganda against the whole of society outside their mean little world so effective, that a committed JW will have no remaining ties in the 'doomed and wicked world'.

This is a brilliant guide for outsiders, and would be invaluable for anyone still trapped within. Unlike most good books, however, I would like to think there will be few more like it. When that disgusting organisation folds, as it deserves, there will be no more need to warn the world against it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 13, 2012 3:23 PM BST

Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life
by Joseph Ratzinger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.95

4 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A most absurd book by a very important person, 3 Sept. 2009
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If you are seeking a book which seeks to prove that there is truth behind a long held figment of the imagination, this is definitely worth reading. 'Eschatology', the study of the 'Last Things' i.e. Death, Judgement, Resurrection, Heaven and Hell is based not on evidence, hypotheses subjected to experiment or, indeed, any research whatever. The notions stem purely from selections of Biblical verses, written down often as a result of prophetic visions and trances.

When these 'sources' prove inadequate as they sometimes do for this writer - 'Pure Biblicism does not get us very far'- he writes at one stage, Joseph Ratzinger makes up suitable things on the spot. What would any reasonable person make of the following 'conclusions'? - a. Human beings live on 'with the Lord' even before the resurrection - b. This living is not yet identical with the Resurrection which comes only at ''at the end of days'' which will be the full breaking in of God's Lordship over the world'

These ramblings of a deranged mind, no matter how correct and 'educated' the language, would not matter were the author not the Pope - he who proclaims himself to be Jesus' own unique earthly rep.

So long as such peculiar works are venerated, there will continue to be a strong case for a new 'Age of Enlightenment'. Religious obscurantism is wreaking enough global havoc with its current, (hopefully temporary) revival.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2011 7:00 PM BST

The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars
by Patrick Hennessey
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An honest and convincing account, 3 Sept. 2009
I have never come under fire, but place every faith in Patrick Hennessey's description of the sensation. I was at Sandhurst in the 1970s, and the author conveyed the sheer weirdness of that experience with alarming accuracy. The mind bending tedium, squalor, exhaustion and bad tempers, those dominant features of infantry exercises on English heaths and Welsh hills, evoked so many memories, dormant now for more than three decades. Like Hennessey, I was often puzzled as to how the training might relate to any job an infantry officer might later be charged with.

The author was refreshingly honest too, when describing the job itself, notably in Afghanistan during 2007. Objectively, everyone knows that war is obscene, disgusting and best avoided. That a fire fight can be a thrilling experience seems like owning up to being a sado masochist. Hennessey had established his credit with this reader through his Sandhurst accounts. I can take on trust, therefore, his disturbing descriptions of combat.

Memoirs from WW1 invariably point to the difficulty, or even impossibility, of outsiders understanding the experience, and the paradox of longing for the longed for leave to end. That way the writer can rejoin the only community that does understand; namely the comrades back at the front.

Hennessy's experience was no differrent 90 years on. I could go on; so much rings true. The irritation at journalists and politicians; the clean pressed combat uniforms of those far from combat back at base...I cannot imagine a better account of the war that is currently being fought, and may, we are told, last for decades.

God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Case yet for Atheism, 2 Sept. 2009
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I rarely read a book at one sitting. This book was an exception. Before reading it I had heard it described as 'a rant'. It is nothing of the sort. Hitchens is aware that religions have attempted to answer our desire to understand our origins, our relationship with the rest of the natural world and to establish some rules and codes for civilised living.

He concludes that the religious have long ago had their say, and, since the advent of reasoned enquiry in ancient Greece, have nothing more to offer. Their creeds, or 'frozen philosophy' are now an obstruction to enlightenment, and very often cruel and dangerous.

He tackles all the reservations usually expressed when a post religious society is contemplated, and demolishes each one. We do not need a supposed God given code to act decently towards each other. Revulsion at cruelty, responsibility for defenceless children, for example, are innate and instinctive.

Divine codes on animal husbandry, dress, diet and sex have long been superseded by subsequent study and understanding. As to the origins and destiny of life on earth and the nature of the universe, religions have been an impediment now for centuries.

Hitchens recognises, amongst religious individuals, however, much that is admirable, from his pious spinster junior school teacher with her well informed 'nature walks', to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few German clergymen to speak against Hitler.

Regarding Hitler and Stalin, often pointed out by the religious as examples of the cruelty that arises when religion is forsaken, he notes both the Catholic collusion with the Nazis as well as the Messianic aspects of Lenin and Stalin.

His language is careful and measured. When religious leaders come up with 'piffle' and 'tripe', however, he is not too demure to label them exactly thus.

The Bible: The Biography
The Bible: The Biography
by Karen Armstrong
Edition: Paperback

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unconvincing apologist, 1 Sept. 2009
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For many years I was a fan of Karen Armstrong. She appeared to have an understanding of the mindset of the religious fundamentalist,as well as a nature essentially humane. What is more she writes beautifully. Style is not lacking here; I read this book eagerly and quickly.

The book, however, lacks authority. She falls into the common trap of trying to convince herself, and thus her readers, that textual literalism or 'fundamentalism' is a recent phenomenon. 'The ancients' whoever they might have been, she asserts, had a much more subtle appreciation of myth and metaphor than, say, the Jehovah's Witnesses, one of many malign fundamentalist cults, whose cruel doctrines overshadowed my childhood.

She is mistaken. Christian fundamentalism arose in early 20th century America in response to scepticism, not least amongst Christians, about the historical veracity of the six day creation, the Virgin Birth and all the myriad fantasies which make up the Old and New Testaments. Prior to the late 18th century the Bible as history needed no defenders. It was all but universally accepted throughout Christendom. Has Karen Armstrong never read Josephus? The Creation and Flood are as real to him as the Herods and Caesars of his own day.

She declares that Isaac Newton ignored the Bible. The greater part of Newton's work was Biblical exegesis. He believed the Book implicitly. As an eloquent Biblical apologist, Karen Armstrong is fine. I fear she may have been beguiled by the charm of most Jews and Christians that she has met on a personal level. She is unwilling to confront the difficult truth that many of the evils perpetrated by those who claim to live by the Bible cannot be blamed on its misinterpretation. The fault lies in its absurdly exalted status.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2010 6:11 PM BST

Apocalyptic Spirituality (CWS): Treatises and Letters by Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Derl, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans and Savonarola (Classics of Western Spirituality (Paperback))
Apocalyptic Spirituality (CWS): Treatises and Letters by Lactantius, Adso of Montier-en-Derl, Joachim of Fiore, the Spiritual Franciscans and Savonarola (Classics of Western Spirituality (Paperback))
by Bernard McGinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystics and Visionaries., 31 Aug. 2009
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The Bible is an incidental part of modern British life, even for churchgoers. Earnest evangelists may be a growing phenomenon, but even they may be surprised at the attitude to Biblical prophecy expressed by Joachim of Fiore, Savonarola, Adso and the Spiritual Franciscans, who here speak in their own words.

All these 'prophets' know their Bible inside out. They are convinced that their own actions were foreseen by the Biblical prophets of old. God's plan for the ages is all. If nothing else this book makes clear the divisions and splits within the Catholic Church which long preceded the Reformation.

There is no question, though that the Roman Church is God's Kingdom on earth and that Saracens and Orthodox will, in the great plan of the ages, be brought to heal. The same goes for errant Popes and corrupt clergy. The visions of an Earthly Paradise and a restored Christian Jerusalem are concrete and real to all these writers.

This book demonstrates how the one true, unchanging, Apostolic Church of Rome, is a very different animal from its Mediaeval incarnation, whatever its claims to continuity.

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