Science, Religion, and History group read thread
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A few of us are interested in started a reading group in which we will read 4ish non-fiction books a year within the general topic of science, religion, and history. Anybody is welcome to join. I thought it would be nice to take a vote on the next book we read and when we'll read it. The choices that have been proposed so far are:
The God Gene, by Dean H. Hamer
Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer
Rats, Lice and History, by Hans Zinsser
Pascal's Wager: The Man Who Played Dice with God, by James A Connor was also mentioned by someone, though we hadn't actually discussed it as a group read.
Any of these books we don't read now, we can always read later. :)
I thought if we are going to read 4 books a year, then 3 month breaks in between books seems logical. So May seems to be a good choice for the next group read. If that's not a good time, just say so!
May sounds good for the next book.
I'm definitely interested in Religion Explained since I've already started it and could use an excuse to pick it up again, but I'm open to other books as well.
At some point I think it would also be nice to read something about medieval Islamic science, to complement the perspective of God's Philosophers.
I decided to try creating a List for ideas. In theory we could vote there too, but I'm not sure how well that would work out because a bunch of other LT users could also vote even if they have no intention of doing the group read.
4: At some point I think it would also be nice to read something about medieval Islamic science
I decided to try creating a List for ideas.
Grrr, you're gonna drag me into the list business. :-)
Grrr, you're gonna drag me into the list business. :-)
I can't say I'd be sorry ;)
>8 drneutron: Thanks Jim!
>5 _Zoe_: Thanks for making the list Zoe. I assume it's just for keeping track of the books suggested and that I don't have to DO anything with it? (Like vote.) I agree that voting is probably best done on the thread because that way we can keep track of who's voting.
>4 _Zoe_: Do you have a Islamic science of the middle ages book in mind? We could try Science in Medieval Islam, or The Rise of Early Modern Science. I'm not sure which one would be the better choice. My only quibble is that The Rise of Early Modern Science seems to be about the interaction between Eastern and Western science and is meant to explain why the scientific revolution took place in the West despite the fact that the original discoveries were in the East. If we're looking for the "other point of view" we might get a more Eastern-centric story with Science in Medieval Islam.
It seems the general consensus is to start with Religion Explained in May and then move on to other suggestions later in the year?
Ok, I figured out how to use Zoe's list! Yea for me! I added a new suggestion Religion for Atheists. sibyx, qebo, and I are all interested in reading it. Thought I'd see if anyone else wanted to join in. If it's a no-go, then the three of us would have to schedule it on a non-SRH-group-read month. :)
It looks like Zoe's list has grown in the last couple of months. With people adding books and voting who probably are unaware of where this thread is.... :) But since all are welcome, I'll PM those people and tell them we've got a thread for Religion Explained.
And in case people have lost track of Zoe's list in this 13-messaged thread it's here .
13: Hi, I saw Zoe's list and starred this thread. I'll try to join in the May book, though I have a dismal record with group reads.
Hoping I'll be a better group reader in May than I have been in March and April... I do have the book. :-)
I have the book, too. I'm looking forward to it although things have gotten a bit hectic around here.
I just ordered it from the library, should be here by May 1. But I've got to get going on The Closing of the Western Mind until then.
Well, I'm still in the middle of God's Philosophers, heh. But it has a firm due date coming up in a couple of weeks, so hopefully I'll finish it by then. I think I'll have to skip The Gnostic Gospels for now, but I should be able to catch up on Religion Explained because I read part of it last year. I'm counting on qebo's detailed comments to bring me back up to speed :)
20: I've discovered, shockingly, that if I spend more time writing comments then I spend less time reading the book.
13: Re Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton TED Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0.html.
#23 Suz, no, but I own it (it's in the pile of Books My Husband Has Bought Me But Have Not Yet Been Read).
I've read The Great Transformation. Like all of Armstrong's stuff it had some interesting ideas, but it took a lot of time reading to get to them. My book club is reading her book reading Islam: A Short History this month. I know I need to get going on it.
I'm only about a hundred pages into Religion Explained.
I've given up on the Gnostic Gospels until I'm done with RE so I can keep a bit more current on the RE group read.
I've got The Great Transformation and I think I've read it--if so, it was B.L.T. (before Library Thing) and so I have no record of it. Her books are dense although fascinating, and I have read most of them.
I finished The Closing of the Western Mind and am slowly posting chapter summaries on my thread. I'm finding it not so much the antithesis of God's Philosophers as I was expecting.
Also need to post on Chapter 3 of Religion Explained.
Hey everyone...now that we have such a long list of books, I'm not sure how to progress into picking our next one. I think we have more books than people now. Anybody have an idea? Should we nominate a few and then vote? Should we all vote on the list of books, and choose the one with the highest number of votes?
I'd recommend a discussion here to narrow down the list and then maybe making a new list to vote if an clear "next book" doesn't emerge from the discussion.
To start the discussion: Rats, Lice and History sounds interesting, but I'm not sure how it ties in with the interest in religion.
I think we probably won't manage to hit all of religion, science, and history every time, but two of three would be fine.
That said, and given the expressed preference for non-European history, maybe we could go with one of the suggested books on Islamic science (or a similar one that's not yet on the list).
>33 MarthaJeanne: AH! MJ, you missed our God's Philosophers group read in February...sorry!
>28 aulsmith: Rats Lice and History is on there because when we originally started we weren't planning on making every book about religion. There were a few people interested in reading it. It fits two of the three categories. :)
I would be perfectly happy reading The Great Transformation...we could put it in our list if we don't read it next time. I really, really want to read Religion for Atheists, but I think we should go for a different theme next time, so I'll hang on to that nomination. :) We have three books on Islamic science on our list...therefore the nominations so far are:
The Rise of Early Modern Science (Islamic science)
Science in Medieval Islam (Islamic science)
Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Islamic Science)
The Great Transformation
Rats Lice and History (I think aulsmith nominated this despite doubt of it not being about religion?)
Is there anyone else who wants to nominate something?
But if you still wanted to read God's Philosophers, I'm sure you could get something out of the old discussion--and maybe even get it started again, and encourage me to finish the book at last! Heh.
I think the list will probably be better for accumulating ideas than for doing a strict vote, because it's hard to eliminate books once they're there--they'll sink to the bottom, but not go away. If we can't manage to agree on a book by consensus and want to go with voting, it might be better to do in-thread polls instead.
Vote: Do you want to read Book X for our next discussion?
Current tally: Yes 0, No 0, Undecided 2
If we did it that way, would it be ok to vote for more than one book, and just choose the book that has the most votes? Or do we want one vote per person?
>36 The_Hibernator: I'd say people could vote for however many books they wanted. The goal is just to find the book that the most people would be happy with, after all.
I just went down the list of touchstones and looked at which ones I owned but hadn't read yet. I'll have a look for the old topic and may start it in a few weeks. Does anyone know where that topic is?
I thought I'd point out that The Rise of Early Modern Science is quite expensive for those who don't have access to it in a library.
>38 MarthaJeanne: do you mean the thread for God's Philosophers? It's here.
>39 MarthaJeanne: Yes, it is. And there's not really a good option for a used book. Rats Lice and History is also expensive if bought new, but it has some pretty cheap used copies for sale on Barnes and Noble (and probably Amazon).
I'd be interested in reading The Great Transformation since I have it and it's on my list to read this year anyway. But for both those reasons, it may not matter whether this group reads it or not--however, I would participate in a group read.
40> Thank you. I've starred it, and I'll read it when I get around to reading the book.
I don't usually even look at used books, because so few of them are shipped from the UK, and receiving packages from the US is prohibitively expensive. We get charged high fees for taking them through customs. I've owned Rats, Lice and History for years, so I didn't bother looking up the price of that one. Must be about 20 years since I last read it.
I also have The Great Transformation and I"m now not sure if I've ever read it, so would be interested in a group read with it. It deals with Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece.
Are you folks talking about the Karen Armstrong Great Transformation (history of religion) or the Polanyi one (rise of market capitalism)? (Methinks the touchstones are acting up again).
Armstrong writes lively, interesting introductions. I personally am somewhat beyond the introductory stage in the areas she writes about, so I'd probably sit that one out, but it was very clear to me from the discussion of the Boyer that the people in this group are coming to this topic from many different backgrounds, so this sort of book might be an excellent one for people who have not read widely on Axial Age religious thought.
I'm also wondering, based on the reaction to the Boyer book, if a good introduction to basic anthropological thought on religion might be a good thing to read. I, unfortunately, don't know one.
I believe I fixed the touchstone in my list. Thanks for pointing that out. If we were looking for an introduction to anthropological thought on religion we could try this text: Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion, which doesn't appear to be too expensive in the US.
I'll skip The Great Transformation since I've already read it. For me it was a challenge to get through; not much to tie the various parts of the world together; lots of facts and dates and not many hows and whys. I'll happily lurk on the the thread if that's the book that gets chosen and see if the groups sees something I missed.
I'd also prefer not to do two anthropology/religion books back to back although aulsmith is spot on in how little I know about anthropology and the book Rachel suggested looks interesting.
I have never read Rats, Lice and History so I am interested in doing that one. I have the feeling that that one might be a quick read.
I'd also like to read something to do with Arabic science or other non-western science. Besides the ones already suggested, a tagmash produced House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization. I have no idea about it other than what it says here on LT and on Amazon but to me it looks interesting and is affordable.
On Mt TBR: Ornament of the World; How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.
From the list, I especially like: Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion A bit Amero-centric but perhaps a subject of interest to the international members?
_Zoe_'s idea to vote 'yes I'd participate, no I'm not interested' on each book suggested has worked well in other groups to find the books that the largest number of people will read.
Hmmm, brand new book out that sounds interesting:
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire by Tom Holland
at a very reasonable price.
Those all sound good, too...My plan was to let the nominations continue through the end of the week and then start out the vote. That'll give people plenty of time to reserve or purchase a copy of whatever we choose. So if anyone is procrastinating with their nominations, act soon! :)
The Rise of Early Modern Science PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE?
Science in Medieval Islam
Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science
In the Shadow of the Sword (New Release)
The Great Transformation
Rats Lice and History
Summer for the Gods
Ornament of the World
House of Wisdom
ETA: Remember, for this vote you can vote "yes" for any book that you would read in August. If we have a tie, we'll have to have a second vote and maybe have people only vote for one (since, logically, if everyone voted the same way for the second vote, we'd get the same result. :))
Vote: Do you want to read The Rise of Early Modern Science?
Current tally: Yes 4, No 3
Vote: Do you want to read Science in Medieval Islam?
Current tally: Yes 5, No 1
Vote: Do you want to read Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science?
Current tally: Yes 5, No 2
Vote: Do you want to read In the Shadow of the Sword?
Current tally: Yes 2, No 6
Vote: Do you want to read The Great Transformation
Current tally: Yes 3, No 4
Vote: Do you want to read Rats, Lice, and History
Current tally: Yes 5, No 2, Undecided 1
Vote: Do you want to read Summer for the Gods?
Current tally: Yes 4, No 2, Undecided 1
Vote: Do you want to read Ornament of the World
Current tally: Yes 4, No 3
Vote: Do you want to read House of Wisdom
Current tally: Yes 5, No 2, Undecided 1
The Rise of Early Modern Science: 448 pp., 2003, rating 4.7 (amazon), 4.39 (LT); $23.97, used $1975
Science in Medieval Islam: 282 pp., 1997, rating 4.7(Amazon) 4.25 (LT), $18.49, used $6.70
Pathfinders: 400 pp., 2012, no ratings yet on Amazon, 2 ratings on LT, a 2 and a 4; $8.89, Kindle $8.31
In the Shadow of the Sword: 544 pp., 2012, rating 3.0(Amazon), 3.93 (LT); $19.36, used $13.99, Kindle $14.99
The Great Transformation: 592 pp., 2007, rating 4.1(amazon), 3.95 (LT); $11.53
Rats, Lice and History: 332 pp., 2007, rating 4.2 (amazon), 4.2 (LT); $20.00, used $14.99
Summer for the Gods: 336 pp., 2006, rating 4.5 (amazon), 3.9 (LT); $11.32, used $4.97, Kindle $9.32
Ornament of the World: 352 pp., 2003, rating 3.9 (amazon), 3.71 (LT); $10.87, used $.01, Kindle $9.99
The House of Wisdom: 272 pp., 2010, rating 3.9 (amazon), 3.93 (LT); $7.20, used $6.72, Kindle $10.08
For the record, I voted against the two long ones (since I haven't actually finished *either* of our first two books yet!), and also Pathfinders because there weren't enough reviews/ratings to decide whether it would be good.
I voted undecided on Rats, Lice, and History because it was originally published so long ago, and on Summer of the Gods because the evolution debates are already more familiar to me than some of the other topics.
I wonder if at some point in the future we might want to come up with general guidelines concerning long works and expensive works. Something like, out of our four books each year, only one should be particularly long and only one should be particularly expensive, so that we can ensure a good participation rate for at least half of the books. I know it's premature to be thinking about this, but I figured I'd mention it anyway. I don't want to exclude long or expensive books entirely (especially since more scholarly work tends to be on the more expensive side), but I do want to promote participation.
Well, it looks like there's a preference this time for a book about Arabic science. :)
Ok, looks like we've got the vote narrowed down to three--all about Arabic science. At least we have a theme going! This time, I think it would be best for everyone to vote JUST for the book that they think is best. If there's a book you specifically don't want to read, use the no button. I think that'll narrow it down well enough. Does anyone object to that tactic?
ETA: Just realized that Rats, Lice, and History bumped up to tie as well. So don't get confused, I don't think it's about Arabic Science. ;)
Vote: Do you want to read Science in Medieval Islam
Current tally: Yes 2, No 1
Vote: Do you want to read Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (US Title: House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge)
Current tally: Yes 3, No 0
Vote: Do you want to read Rats, Lice, and History
Current tally: Yes 0, No 2
Vote: Do you want to read House of Wisdom
Current tally: Yes 0, No 2
My only concern is that by including three similar books about Arabic science and one that's very different, the very different one ends up with a big advantage. It might be better to do two rounds of polling, one asking us to decide between Rats, Lice, and History and any book about Arabic science, and then choosing a specific book if the latter option ends up winning. I tend to overthink these things, though ;)
Well, possibly that's true...I suspect that there are enough people in this group who are specifically interested in reading a book on Arabic science this time around, so Rats Lice and History is simply going to lose on this vote. But we COULD take that one out of the vote for now, I suppose. Anyone else have thoughts on that subject?
I know I'm equally happy reading Rats Lice and History or a book on Arabic science, but I voted for one on Arabic Science figuring my vote would count more since people seem so Arabic-science trended...so I totally see what you mean.
Btw, I do not understand why there are no reviews of Pathfinders on Amazon--it's certainly been out long enough to garner some--but here is a review from the Guardian with more info about it.
I'm not sure Pathfinders has been published in the US yet? That may be the issue. Of course, it can be purchased used from a few places in the US, so those of us in the US can still read it.
ETA: Though one problem may be that if a bunch of us try to buy from the 3 or 4 places in the US that sell the book they might run out of stock. ;) It looks like it's available on Kindle, though I have a Nook so that is useless to me!
Hmm. Is there any chance that al-Khalili's book was published under a different title in the US? This one came out in March 2011, which would be in keeping with a 2010 UK release. This might hopelessly confuse the voting, since it's also called The House of Wisdom. But the Pathfinders CK does list a German canonical title of "Im Haus der Weisheit: Die arabischen Wissenschaften als Fundament unserer Kultur"....
Ah, you have parsed it, Zoe. Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science is indeed the same book as The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, which is NOT the House of Wisdom we are voting on. I actually had to go to the Kindle free first chapter of each to confirm that they are identical, as it was impossible to do so from the descriptions. Its rating is 4.2, btw, on Amazon.
Thanks for checking that!
So there's now no need to reject Pathfinders on the grounds of being too obscure. Which is almost too bad, because it just makes the voting even harder....
Haha, yeah, that's the exact reason I was avoiding Pathfinders....
Well, it looks like Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (US Title: House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge) is the winner. Since Rats, Lice, and History was sort of the odd one out of our final vote, how about we automatically shortlist it for next time?
The next group read starts in August!
I've added it to my BD wishlist, so I should have bought it by then.
Just to be double sure -- this is the one by Jim Al-Khalili, correct?
I didn't vote as I am happy to read any of the above titles.
Yup, it's the Jim Al-Khalili one. LT must have gotten the memo and linked the US and UK titles, because both my touchstones go to the American title now! :)
ETA: Yeah, I would have read any of them too. :)
>81 The_Hibernator: Hehe, I did that :). It actually made me a bit nervous because it seemed like a very dramatic combination.
Ordered. So there goes my self-imposed book-buying limit for another month.
But I did check to see if I could borrow it from a library first (couldn't). I give myself points for trying, though. :-)
And....I found out I could search the library at the lab where I work through the state system. Very cool.
I haven't decided whether to go for library book or Nook book yet. :) Either way, I'm certain I'll get my hands on it.
It doesn't look like there was much participation in last month's group read. I still have the book but haven't finished it, myself. Is quarterly too often for these planned group reads, or was this just a bad month?
It's possible that quarterly is too much, but maybe people also have different ideas of what's intended. I had personally expected that the discussions would go on throughout the quarter, not that we'd all read and discuss the book in the first month and then it would be done.
I wonder whether we should set up more systematic sub-threads for groups of chapters so that people can discuss more easily as they go.
I think that August is probably a slow month. I also agree that more discussion might be generated with more structure. Quarterly certainly works well with me.
Zoe: I see noting wrong with keeping the discussion going for an entire quarter, though discussions often seem to die down after about a month or so from what I've seen. I'll finish the book at some point and probably post on the thread as I go along. :)
Ok, well, perhaps for the next month I can set up subthreads, if you think that will generate more discussion.
Does anybody want to nominate books for our next quarter (November)?
I think Rats, Lice, and History should be automatically nominated since it stood out on our last quarter's nominations because it was the only non- Arabic Science book. :) I also thought The Social Conquest of Earth might be interesting. It's the new book by Edward O. Wilson, who wrote the classic Sociobiology. It covers science and religion, so it fits in to our theme well. :)
I want to read The Social Conquest of Earth regardless.
Re the current book, I have it in a stack for soonish, but I need to dig out of a backlog of reviews, including an ER book.
Woops! I forgot about this despite the onslaught of nominations that were pouring forth. :p I'll try to make a more organized discussion thread next time, since our last selection kind of fizzled. :)
Rats, Lice, and History, by Hans Zinsser: 4.2 star rating on LT. It costs $28.44 (it's probably cheaper used).
The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson: This book was released in 2012 and has a 3.93 star rating on LT. It ranges in price from $9.78 - $16.93 depending on the format.
Would anybody else like to nominate? Is November going to be good for everyone? We can shift to December, if that is better....
Bumping, in case this got lost in all the bug fixing activity.
Both books look interesting to me. I'll second Zoe's idea that the three month period means you can start the book any time in that period and join the conversation when you have something to say.
Vote: Rats, Lice, and History
Current tally: Yes 1, No 0, Undecided 1
I have no problem with stretching the discussion out for the entire 3 months. I'd be happy to get the House of Wisdom discussion back up again, in fact. :)
You can vote for both of these books if you're just as happy reading either.
96: I'm still planning to read The House of Wisdom! We have through October, don't we?
>97 qebo: Yes, October. I probably ought to get cracking on that book as well. :)
Sorry to point this out...but this kind of makes me laugh. Did someone vote "no" to one of the books and "undecided" on the other? If so, would that person like to nominate another book? ;) There's still time!
Yes, I did. I own the one, but don't really want to reread it, and don't really want to buy the other. No ideas at the moment. I bought a large stack of theology books at Blackwell's last week (was that really only last week?) but nothing in this category jumped out at me. I'll probably just pass this time.
All the group read sounds great and I have soooooo overcommitted myself.
I haven't even started House of Wisdom and have several LTER books I need to read and review.
I think I'll do a fall catch up and will have to pass on these group reads until after the first of the year.
At the library book sale this week, I picked up an audiobook of Justinian's Flea: Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe. It sounds like it would fit perfectly into the interests of this group--but the reviews say it wanders. For me, that's OK. I am perfectly happy to read chapters about art and architecture as well as microbes.
>101 streamsong: Justinian's Flea looks good. You should nominate it next time around.
OK! So I'm going to close off the vote. We've got 3 for Social Conquest of Earth and one for Rats, Lice and History. Yes, it was I who gave the token vote for Rats, Lice, and History. I would like to read it, but it probably isn't a good choice for our group reads, I guess, because it is older and more expensive. :)
Sooo...we have through October to finish House of Wisdom, and then we'll have a discussion of The Social Conquest of Earth from November - January.
I'm going to take the easy way out and listen to the audiobook because I've over-committed myself for physical reads lately. But I'll borrow a hard-copy from the library so I can separate it into sections for discussion purposes...I'll make separate threads for those discussions and leave the main thread for discussion of the book on a whole (or spoiler-free discussion). Does that sound good to everyone?
As a side advertisement, let me point out that I'm trying to organize a group read of Chinua Achebe's new memoir about the Biafra war There was a Country. My plan is for December. I don't know how many people are interested, but at least I'll be reading it. Hopefully people will join me. :)
Rachel, when you read Rats, Lice and History, I'll try to read along with you. My PI and a couple people in my lab work on rickettsia. I'm even an author on a rickettsia paper from about twenty years ago. So seems like I should read the book .......
Rachel, thank you for pointing me here. I'm going to shoot for House of Wisdom as well. The Wilson book looks good too.
By way of introduction, I come more from the "religion" third of this thread's title. But that's only by specialty, not a polemic side I'm taking. I'm a student of theology.
Hey Everyone! Here's the group read thread for The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson
For any of you who are going to be joining in on the last month of discussion for The House of Wisdom (which I just began again today!), don't forget where the thread is!
Are people tired of the history of science for the time? Or would we be interested in supplementing the books we've read with a book that covers Indian and Chinese scientific development, or even going back to Ancient Greece?
ETA: or maybe we should get back to the religion aspect...
106: This person hasn't yet started The Social Conquest of Earth (it's a book I'm very eager to read but I need to clear the way) and isn't quite ready to think into next year. India would be interesting. A book I want to read but that's not available in paperback is Among the Creationists by Jason Rosenhouse.
Haha. Yeah, I suppose I'm jumping the gun a little bit since I haven't even bothered breaking the Social Conquest of Earth thread into multiple bits. :p
I'm still super far behind; I'm hoping to finish at least a couple of the previous books over the Christmas holidays....
But in theory, I'm definitely interested in a book on Indian and Chinese scientific development, and Greece as well. The Greeks and the Irrational is one that I've been meaning to read for ages, possibly more on the religion side of things.
That stimulating conversation about The Social Conquest of Earth reminded me that we hadn't chosen a book for February. Was anyone interested in nominating something? If you've gone dry on ideas remember that there's a list of books, for ideas.
Sorry I dropped the ball on that one, I have been so busy the last couple of months trying to move all my stuff to MN and find a sublettor and all that jazz.
Might I recommend Phil Zuckerman's Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion? Zuckerman, who teaches at Pitzer College, is one of the few "sociologists of irreligion" in America. I just listened to an interview with him on Point of Inquiry describing the contents of this book: why people leave religion, what the process of deconversion is like, etc.
By the way, the new 2013 group is up. If folk want to continue this into the new year, perhaps a new thread over there is in order?
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