Science, Evolution and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine (Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-309-10586-6) 70 pp. Paper $12.95.
This handy book is intended as a resource for people caught up in controversies over evolution and creationism, particularly in public schools. It defines evolution as “a core concept in biology that is based both in the study of past life forms and in the study of the relatedness and diversity of present-day organisms.” It concludes that “science and religion are different ways of understanding the world. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of each to contribute to a better future.” Intended for a wide audience, this book will be found useful by parents, students, teachers, and school administrators.
Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America’s Founding Fathers, by Gary Kowalski (New York: Bluebridge, 2008, ISBN 978-1-933346-09-0) 215 pp. Cloth $22.00.
Contrary to the wild claims of today’s “theocons,” the United States was not founded as a “Christian nation.” As Kowalski shows, the principal founders—Franklin, Paine, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison—were Enlightenment Deists, men who “believed in religious liberty and were almost fanatically opposed to fanaticism.” They “believed in reason and in the power of unfettered inquiry to cast off ignorance and prejudice” and “favored fact-based arguments and testable hypotheses, trusting in the five senses more than the four evangelists or five books of Moses.” I would give this book five stars.
Who Decides: The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States, NARAL Pro-Choice America (Washington, D.C.: NARAL Pro-Choice America, 2008, no ISBN number) 92 pp. Paper, free.
This important, useful book is an up-to-date encyclopedic compendium of readily accessible information about literally every facet of state legislation regarding reproductive choice, broken down by states. The states are graded and ranked on the basis of state laws and accessibility of reproductive healthcare services. Although the book is available at no charge, I would suggest that readers make a donation to help cover the publisher’s costs.
Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terrorism, by Michael Burleigh (New York: HarperCollins, 2007, ISBN 978-0-06-058095-7) 557 pp. Cloth $27.05.
Reviewing this book in the National Catholic Reporter, Darrell Turner writes that it “reads as though it was written by several authors from different audiences.” I concur. British historian Burleigh’s ponderous opus brims with facts, is sometimes entertaining, quite often exasperating, generally provocative. He usefully makes the case that fascism, Nazism, and Leninism/Stalinism are “best understood as political religions,” as Tony Judt put it in a Times review. On the other hand, while Burleigh is somewhat critical of the Catholic church’s involvement in European politics, he overlooks the influence of the Catholic and other churches on centuries of anti-Semitism and political instability and backwardness prior to the twentieth century.