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review 2017-03-22 02:36
Autobiographies, Charles Darwin
Autobiographies: Charles Darwin (paper) - Sharon Messenger,Michael Neve,Charles Darwin

Reading this feels a bit voyeuristic, in that it was intended as a family document rather than a public one. It's short and not a very good biography; it talks in little detail about Darwin's life or character, whilst rambling about the personalities of various other contemporary scientists, Darwin's religious views and his own books. It's nevertheless of some interest and so short as to hardly allow for getting bogged down. It's nowhere near as fun as The Voyage of the Beagle or as important as On the Origin of Species, however.

 

It is probably most useful for the section on how developing his theory of evolution eroded his faith in literal interpretation of the Bible and eventually in Christianity altogether.

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review 2017-03-19 16:48
Einstein: His Life And Universe - Walter Isaacson

This is an incredibly well researched, detailed account of all aspects of Einstein's life, personal, scientific and political that I can highly recommend to anybody interested. I learned heaps I didn't know and had the record set straight on a number of points, mainly regarding Einstein's political views, how they changed over time and his level of support for setting up the Manhattan Project.

 

I read the book with a specific research agenda, which was to independently form an opinion as to whether Einstein was autistic, an idea not first suggested by me and not on the author's mind either. Conclusion: Yep, autisticker than an autistic person with autism.

 

Towards the end there is an account of how Einstein was affected by and responded to McCarthyism. He was opposed, seeing in it the oppression of free speech and free thought characteristic of both Fascism and Communism. The author takes the view that McCarthyism was a passing fad, doomed to fail in the long term because of the greatness of the American Constitution. I found this level of complacency offensive to all the victims of McCarthy, all the people who spoke up in defense of freedoms and all the people who defended the constitution legally.

 

On it's own the constitution is nothing; without those people willing to risk reputation, career, even liberty, would McCarthyism have been a "passing fad"? Given the current political situation, we need such people more than ever. You disappoint me in this, Isaacson. Einstein, who used his world famous name to stand up for moderation, tolerance and freedom of thought and speech, does not.

 

Still, overall an excellent book.

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review 2017-03-19 09:22
The Inkblots
The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing - Damion Searls

This title immediately interested me, even though I've always been skeptical about the Rorschach test. I've however never taken one, and I hold a degree in neither psychiatry nor psychology. But I'm a scientist, so the parts where Rorschach is optimizing his test (stating he needs many more subjects both healthy and diseases, blind interpretation of tests and a standardized form of scoring good and bad answers) were among my favorites, as it seemed quite far ahead of his time.

The book however, is more of a dual biography of Rorschach but especially his test. I liked the first part (also see above) which focused on Rorschach as he's developing his test. After his untimely death in the 1920s (which is only halfway through the book) the focus changes to what happened to the test afterwards.

This latter part had great trouble to hold my interest. It seemed to contain a series of always new people quarreling about who is the new Rorschach. It is here that the test starts to falter in the hands of people who all want to prove themselves (some trying to standardize it but resulting in over diagnosis of most everyone), although I was quite shocked to find out it can be used as evidence in court (since it is not an unquestioned test). This part is also filled with quite a lot of other test and terms from personality testing, not all of it is explained well enough that it is not confusing.

All in all, I really enjoyed the biography of Rorschach, I didn't quite like the one about his test as much.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Edelweiss for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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review 2017-03-18 20:00
Herald of the Midnight Cry
Herald of the Midnight Cry - Paul A. Gordon

The life and message of William Miller is one of the most important features in the history of Seventh-day Adventists.  Paul A. Gordon’s Herald of the Midnight Cry focuses not only on the life of William Miller but also on the 1844 movement that his message inspired, and from its disappointment rose the future leaders what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

 

The son of unbelieving Revolutionary War solider and a preacher’s daughter, William Miller’s childhood and early adult life was one of conflicting thoughts on God and religion.  Although his family’s home was a place for religious meetings, Miller’s questioning father had a profound impression on him as much as his mother’s faith.  Only after witnessing events on the battlefields of the War of 1812 did Miller turn to examining the Bible and then fully turning his life to Christ.  Once he did, Miller turned all his attention to the Bible at every spare moment and as a result realized that Christ’s Second Coming was coming soon, in “about 1843 or 1844”.  But Miller did not reveal his thoughts to anyone until he had reexamined his conclusions and thought of any objections that would be put forward, only then did he start sharing his finds with family and friends even though God pulled on his heart to spread the news.  Miller demurred as long as he could until God opened a door he could not avoid going through and beginning 10 years of preaching about the soon return of Christ and the need to gain a relationship with him.

 

Over the course of the next two-thirds of the little over 123 pages of Herald of the Midnight Cry, is focused on William Miller’s preaching and the general 1844 movement leading to the Great Disappointment and its aftermath.  Although Miller is the central actor in the events, other influential participants are focused on as well in spirts turning this short biography into a history book as well.  Yet this history is important for both Seventh-day Adventists and non-Adventists to understand the man central to the Millerite movement, who he was, and what he preached.

 

While the shortness of the overall book and the change from strict biography to a general history of the movement named after Miller counts against Herald of the Midnight Cry, I would be remiss by not at least endorsing this book for those wanting general information about the man and the movement.  While Paul A. Gordon’s book is neither the best biography of William Miler nor history of the Millerite movement as a whole, there are those longer and more detailed in subjects, his book is a good introduction to both for those curious and those wanting to wet their knowledge.

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review 2017-03-16 22:21
Podcast #38 is up!
John William McCormack: A Political Biography - Garrison Nelson

My thirty-eighth podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Garrison Nelson about his new biography of Speaker of the House John William McCormack (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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