Friday, August 01, 2008

Last night I finished Resistance by Owen Sheers.

Resistance is an alternate history novel, postulating a fairly standard alternative - what if Germany had won WWII? - but with a novel twist: the book is not set after the war, but during it. The D-Day invasion has failed and Germany has replied with an invasion of Britain. The novel deals with a small group of women, isolated after their husbands disappear to help out an anti-German insurgency, and their interactions with a small group of German soldiers who come to their remote valley on a special mission.

More of a sophisticated character study than the thriller one might expect from the description, Resistance is a well written debut novel, well worth checking out if you have the right expectations.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I just finished Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.

It made an interesting companion piece to With God On Our Side, the book on the Religious Right I read a while ago.

It is a pretty interesting book, about a topic that is not much discussed. I knew about the Deism of many of the Founding Fathers, and that they had pushed for a separation of church and state, but I didn't know that many of the Protestant sects at the time had also pushed for the separation due to worries about established religions acting against them. I also didn't know about some key figures, like Robert Ingersoll, who gave popular lectures all over the US in the 19th century even though he was a militant secularist.

There are some weaker parts of the book - Jacoby spends a lot of time talking about the abolitionist, suffragette and civil rights movements even though all three of those movements were not solely, or even primarily, secular movements. All three did involve secularists in one way or another, but that doesn't justify the depth she goes into. Another weak point is an odd omission - there is no discussion, or even mention, of Ayn Rand, probably the most popular and influential atheist philospher/author of the 20th century.