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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Archive 2010

  1. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein (Pantheon) After Cass Seltzer’s book becomes a surprise best seller, he’s dubbed “the atheist with a soul” and becomes a celebrity. He wins over the stunning Lucinda Mandelbaum, “the goddess of game theory,” and loses himself in a spiritually expansive infatuation. A former girlfriend appears: an anthropologist who invites him to join in her quest for immortality through biochemistry. And he is haunted by reminders of the two people who ignited his passion to understand religion: his mentor and professor—a renowned literary scholar with a suspicious obsession with messianism—and an angelic six-year-old mathematical genius who is heir to the leadership of a Hasidic sect. Each encounter reinforces Cass’s theory that the religious impulse spills over into life at large. More

    Arguing about Gods by Graham Robert Oppy (Cambridge University Press)  examines contemporary arguments for and against the existence of God. He shows that none of these arguments is powerful enough to change the minds of reasonable participants in debates on the question of the existence of God. His conclusion is supported by detailed analyses of the contemporary arguments, as well as by the development of a theory about the purpose of arguments, and the criteria that should be used in judging whether or not arguments are successful. Oppy discusses the work of a wide array of philosophers, including Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Kant, Hume, and, more recently, Plantinga, Dembski, White, Dawkins, Bergman, Gale, and Pruss. More

  2. Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Volume One: Historical Introduction to the Return of the Gods by Kenneth Dean, Zheng Zhenman (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Volume 23, 1: Brill Academic)

    Ritual Alliances of the Putian Plain Volume 2: A Survey of Village Temples and Ritual Activities by Kenneth Dean, Zheng Zhenman (Handbook of Oriental Studies/Handbuch Der Orientalistik, Volume 23, 2: Brill Academic) Making ingenious use of a wide variety of sources, and old as well as modern technical resources, Kenneth Dean and Zheng Zhenman here set a new standard for an histoire totale for a coherently well-defined cultural region in China. At the same time, these books deal in-depth with the ongoing negotiation of modernity in Chinese village rituals. This study will no doubt become a major advance in the descriptive and theoretically integrative account of religious practice. All those interested in contemporary China, Chinese religion, ritual and modernity, regional history, Chinese popular culture, Daoism and local cults, and comparative religion and globalization.

    Over the past thirty years, local popular religion has been revived and re-invented in the villages of the irrigated alluvial plain of Putian, Fujian, China. Volume 1 provides a historical introduction to the formation of 153 regional ritual alliances made up of 724 villages. Early popular cults, Ming lineages, Qing multi-village alliances, late Qing spirit-medium associations, 20th  century state attacks on local religion, and the role of Overseas Chinese and local communities in rebuilding the temple networks are discussed. Volume 2 surveys the current population, lineages, temples, gods, and annual rituals of these villages. Maps of each ritual alliance, the distribution of major cults and lineages, are included. More

  3. Living in Poverty: Developmental Poetics of Cultural Realities by Ana Cecília S Bastos and Elaine P Rabinovich (Advances in Cultural Psychology: Information Age Publishing ) covers the results of investigation of social realities and their public representation in Brazilian poor communities, with a particular emphasis on the use of cultural tools to survive and create psychological and social novelty under conditions of severe poverty. A relevant part of it brings together the multi-faceted evidence of a decade of research concentrated in two particular low-income areas in the city of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Other studies conducted in other Brazilian areas and in Cali, Colombia are included.
    In contrast to most representations of poverty in the social sciences which create a "calamity story" of the lives of poor people, the coverage in this book is meant to balance the focus on harsh realities with the cultural-psychological resiliency of individuals and families under poverty. More

  4. Narrating Islam: Interpretations of the Muslim World in European Texts  edited by Gerdien Jonker, Shiraz Thobani(Library of Modern Middle East Studies: Tauris Academic) In Narrating Islam we deal with pedagogic representations of religious, cultural and ethnic groups, founded on long and embedded histories of alterity, as they have evolved in Europe and neighbouring regions. The project came into being through a series of conferences and workshops that explored the history and spread of narratives on Islam and Muslims as they are told in school textbooks and as promoted or sanctioned by policy frameworks, national historiographies and the popular media in different regions of Europe and surrounding zones. Contributors come from universities and research institutes as far apart as Kazan on the Middle Volga, Pristine in Albania, Bari, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Rabat, London and Braunschweig, each adding a piece to the kaleidoscope that makes up the narratives on Islam in Europe and nearby regions. More 

  5. The Idea of Writing: Play and Complexity edited by Alex de Voogt, Irving Finkel (Brill Academic) The Idea of Writing is an exploration of the versatility of writing systems. From ancient Egyptian, Cuneiform and Meroitic writing to Chinese, Maya and Maldivian script, the authors examine the problems and possibilities of polysemy, representing loanwords and the problems of adapting a writing system to another language. The playful and artistic use of writing, including a contribution on writing dance, further illustrates the intricacies of the systems. This collection of articles aims to highlight the complexity of writing systems rather than to provide a first introduction. The different academic traditions in which these writing systems have been studied use linguistic, socio-historical and philological approaches that give complementary insights into the complex phenomena. More

  6. Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Contexts & Coherence edited by Darrell L. Bock, Robert L. Webb (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament / Scientific Research on the New Testament: Mohr Siebeck) Using a carefully defined approach to historical Jesus studies and historical method, this collection of essays examines twelve key events in the life of Jesus that were part of a decade-long collaborative research project. Each essay examines the case for the event's authenticity and then explores the social and cultural background to the event to provide an under-standing of the event's historical significance. The first six events are related to the public ministry context of Jesus, mostly associated with his Galilean ministry, while latter six events involve his final days in Jerusalem. The final essay closes with suggestions about how these events cohere and what they can tell us about what Jesus did. More

  7. Photographing Fashion by Richard Lester (Antique Collectors' Club, Ltd) For almost forty years, one of Britain's most important photographic archives has remained unseen. Commissioned for the Sunday Times under the legendary editorship of Ernestine Carter, the hundreds of images include some of the finest photo-shoots of the sixties. More

  8. The Letters of Marsilio Ficino Volume 8  by Marsilio Ficino, edited, translated by Clement Salaman (Shepheard-Walwyn)

    This volume casts a new light on Marsilio Ficino, an extraordinary Renaissance man. Sometimes he has been thought of as an ivory-tower philosopher, who retired from the hurly-burly of life to contemplate God in the seclusion of his academy. It is true that he was a man of devotion; but when the need was there he could be a highly effective man of action. We see him using his significant influence in Florence and beyond to defend his philosophy against opposition from the Church. In this he was successful.

    The collected letters were first printed in Venice in 1495. This may have been because the fundamentalist priest Savonarola and the party opposed to the Medici, Ficino's patrons, were then powerful in Florence - Lorenzo's son and heir, Piero, had been expelled the previous year. Some material that would have been in this book on chronological grounds may also have been excluded for the same reason. This material has been included here in the Appendix together with some letters to Ficino and prefaces added to his work published at this time. More

  9. The Neuroscience of Religious Experience by Patrick McNamara (Cambridge University Press) Recent technical advances in the life and medical sciences have revolutionized our understanding of the brain, while the emerging disciplines of social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience continue to reveal the connections of the higher cognitive functions and emotional states associated with religious experience to underlying brain states. At the same time, a host of developing theories in psychology and anthropology posit evolutionary explanations for the ubiquity and persistence of religious beliefs and the reports of religious experiences across human cultures, while gesturing toward physical bases for these behaviors. What is missing from this literature is a strong voice speaking to these behavioral and social scientists - as well as to the intellectually curious in the religious studies community - from the perspective of a brain scientist. More

  10. Athanasius Kirchers Theatre of the World: The Life and Work of the Last Man to Search for Universal Knowledge by Joscelyn Godwin (Inner Traditions) Linguist, archaeologist, and exceptional scholar, Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) was the last true Renaissance man.  By profession a Jesuit priest, he made himself an authority on almost every subject under the sun.  To Kircher the entire world was a glorious manifestation of God, and his exploration was both a scientific quest and a religious experience.  His works on Egyptology (he is credited with being the first Egyptologist), music, optics, magnetism, geology, and comparative religion were the definitive tests of their time--and yet they represent only a part of his vast range of knowledge.  A Christian Hermeticist in the mold of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, his work also examined alchemy, the Kabbalah, and the Egyptian Mystery tradition exemplified by Hermes Trismegistus.  Kircher was the first to map ocean currents; the first to offer a comprehensive theory of vulcanism; the first to compile an encyclopedia on China, a dictionary of Coptic, a book dedicated solely to acoustics; the first to construct a machine for coding messages and another for composing music.  His museum in Rome was among the most famous "cabinets of curiosities," visited by everybody in the intellectual world. More

  11. Handbook of Optics Third Edition, 5 Volume Set by Optical Society of America (McGraw-Hill Professional) The most comprehensive and up-to-date optics resource available

    Prepared under the auspices of the Optical Society of America, the five carefully architected and cross-referenced volumes of the Handbook of Optics, Third Edition, contain everything a student, scientist, or engineer requires to actively work in the field. From the design of complex optical systems to world-class research and development methods, this definitive publication provides unparalleled access to the fundamentals of the discipline and its greatest minds.

    Individual chapters are written by the world's most renowned experts who explain, illustrate, and solve the entire field of optics. Each volume contains a complete chapter listing for the entire Handbook, extensive chapter glossaries, and a wealth of references. This pioneering work offers unprecedented coverage of optics data, techniques, and applications.

    • Volume I covers geometrical and physical optics, polarized light, components, and instruments.
    • Volume II covers design, fabrications, testing, sources, detectors, radiometry, and photometry.
    • Volume III, all in full color, covers vision and vision optics.
    • Volume IV covers optical properties of materials, nonlinear optics, and quantum optics.
    • Volume V covers atmospheric optics, modulators, fiber optics, and x-ray and neutron optics.

  12. The Orpehus Myth and the Powers of Music by Vladimir Marchenkov (Interplay: Music in Interdisciplinary Dialogue: Pendragon) examines the key turning points in the history of the Orpheus myth as factors that shaped, and continues to shape, our conceptions of music's powers. From its beginnings in archaic Antiquity to the latest major opera based on it, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been used by poets, philosophers, and musicians to express an increasingly complex set of ideas about what music can do. The study follows three threads in the myth's history: changes in form, cultural status, and the resulting visions of the powers of song.
    The most spectacular change in form is the role played by Eurydice who evolves from a generic, voiceless type into a rich music-philosophical symbol. Equally fascinating is the entangled issue of Orpheus's success and failure. In terms of cultural status, the story remains a genuine myth—even alongside its non-mythical forms—until the early modern period. Modernity problematizes the existence of myth but its mythophobia becomes a symptom of its own profound irrationality. Accordingly, the powers of music evolve from mythic omnipotence to screaming contradictions that demand, but fail to achieve, resolution. From Monteverdi and Striggio-to Birtwistle and Zinovieff, composers and librettists turn to Orpheus and Eurydice to express their sense of music's place in human existence. The undulating tapestry of their strikingly diverse answers points to the need to rethink, once again, the fundamentals of our musical culture.

  13. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume I: The Middle Ages through The Eighteenth Century Fourth Edition, edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar (Pearson Education)
    Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volume II, The Romantics to the 20th Century and Beyond Fourth Edition, edited by David Damrosch, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Christopher Baswell, and Clare Carroll (Pearson Education) With its first edition, The Longman Anthology of British Literature created a new paradigm for anthologies. Responding to major shifts in literary studies over the past thirty years, it became the first collection to pay detailed attention to the contexts within which these classic works of British literature were created and to highlight the full cultural diversity of the British isles. For the first time, canonical authors mingled with newly visible writers; English accents were heard next to Anglo-Norman, Welsh, and Scottish ones; female and male voices were set in dialogue; literature from the British Isles was integrated with post-colonial writing; and major works were complemented with shorter pieces and "perspectives" groupings that brought literary, social, cultural, and historical issues vividly to life. More

  14. William Blake and Religion: A New Critical View by Magnus Ankarsjö (McFarland) Over the last ten years the field of Blake studies has profited from new discoveries about Blake's life and work. This book examines the effect that Blake's mother's recently discovered Moravianism has had on our understanding of his poetry, and gives special attention to Moravianism and Swedenborgianism and their relation to his sexual politics. This is accomplished by a close reading of Blake's poetry, which examines in detail the subjects of religion, sex, and the attempted colonization of Africa by a Swedenborgian utopian group. More

    Blake’s Margins: An Interpretive Study of the Annotations by Hazard Adam (McFarland) Known for his prophetic and imaginative works of poetry, painting, and printmaking, William Blake was also a prolific reader and annotator of other writers' works. This is the first work of criticism to consider Blake's annotations in their entirety, and it covers such topics as art, poetry, theology, madness and philosophy, as well as the authors Lavater, Swedenborg, Bacon, Spurzheim, Berkeley, and Wordsworth, among others. More

  15. Renaissance and Rebirth: Reincarnation in Early Modern Italian Kabbalah by Brian Ogren (Studies in Jewish History and Culture: Brill Academic) Metempsychosis was a prominent element in Renaissance conceptualizations of the human being, the universe, and the place of the human person in the universe. A variety concepts emerged in debates about metempsychosis: human to human reincarnation, human to vegetal, human to animal, and human to angelic transmigration. As a complex and changing doctrine, metempsychosis gives us a well-placed window for viewing the complex and dynamic contours of Jewish thought in late fifteenth century Italy; as such, it enables us to evaluate Jewish thought in relation to non-Jewish Italian developments. This book addresses the problematic question of the roles and achievements of Jews who lived in Italy in the development of Renaissance culture in its Jewish and its Christian dimensions. More

  16. Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People by Emily Pilloton,  Foreword by Allan Chochinov (Metropolis Books) In January of 2008, with a thousand dollars, a laptop and an outsized conviction that design can change the world, rising San Francisco-based product designer and activist Emily Pilloton launched Project H Design, a radical non-profit that supports, inspires and delivers life-improving humanitarian product design. "We need to go beyond 'going green' and to enlist a new generation of design activists," she wrote in an influential manifesto. "We need big hearts, bigger business sense and the bravery to take action now."
    Featuring more than 100 contemporary design products and systems--safer baby bottles, a high-tech waterless washing machine, low-cost prosthetics for landmine victims, Braille-based Lego-style building blocks for blind children, wheelchairs for rugged conditions, sugarcane charcoal, universal composting systems, DIY soccer balls--that are as fascinating as they are revolutionary, this exceptionally smart, friendly and well-designed volume makes the case for design as a tool to solve some of the world's biggest social problems in beautiful, sustainable and engaging ways--for global citizens in the developing world and in more developed economies alike. Particularly at a time when the weight of climate change, global poverty and population growth are impossible to ignore, Pilloton challenges designers to be changemakers instead of "stuff creators." Urgent and optimistic, a compendium and a call to action, Design Revolution is easily the most exciting design publication to come out this year. More

  17. Sacred Tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an As Literature and Culture  by Roberta Sterman Sabbath (Biblical Interpretation Series: Brill Academic) Contemporary sacred text scholarship has been stimulated by a number of intersecting trends: a surging interest in religion, sacred texts, and inspirational issues; burgeoning developments in and applications of literary theories; intensifying academic focus on diverse cultures whether for education or scholarship. Although much has been written individually about Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an, no collection combines an examination of all three. Sacred Tropes interweaves Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an essays. Contributors collectively and also often individually use mixed literary approaches instead of the older single theory strategy. Appropriate for classroom or research, the essays utilize a variety of literary theoretical lenses including environmental, cultural studies, gender, psychoanalytic, ideological, economic, historicism, law, and rhetorical criticisms through which to examine these sacred works. More


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