Books in Brief

Andrea Szalanski


Divine Fury: A History of Genius, by Darrin M. McMahon (New York: Basic Books, 2013, ISBN hardcover 978-0-465-00325-9 and e-book 978-0-465-06991-0). 352 pp. Hardcover US$29.99 and CAN $34.50.

An intellectual historian gives the first comprehensive account of the concept of genius, from Socrates to Napoleon to Einstein and beyond. In the course of analyzing the democratization, disappearance, and potential rebirth of the genius figure, McMahon discusses the beginning of the idea of genius (in the eighteenth century, when increased skepticism about religion allowed people to take full credit for their creativity), the kind of power attributed to geniuses, “evil” geniuses, and the future of the genius concept, which began to wane after World War II.

Brave Genius: A Scientist, a Philosopher, and Their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize, by Sean B. Carroll (New York: Random House, 2013, ISBN hardcover 978-0-307-95233-2 and e-book 978-0-307-95235-6). 576 pp. Hardcover US$28 and CAN$33.

The author draws on a wealth of previously unknown and unpublished material to tell the story of two men—Jacques Monod and Albert Camus—who overcame the adversities presented by World War to pursue the study of the meaning of existence, one on the molecular level and the other on the philosophical level. After the German invasion and occupation of France, both men joined the French resistance and rose to dangerous leadership roles. Following the war, they championed freedom and opposed the Soviet regime, leading Monod to become involved in smuggling refugees. In the years following, Camus turned to writing to explore how one finds meaning in life. Monod researched the workings of genes to explore how complex human beings develop from single eggs.

Matter and Consciousness, by Paul M. Churchland (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2013, ISBN 978-0-262-519-58-8). Preface, index, figures. 288 pp. Softcover $25.00.

The author, professor emeritus in the Depart­ment of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, presents a concise and contemporary overview of the philosophical issues regarding the mind and the main theories and positions that have been proposed to solve them. He makes the case for the relevance of theoretical and experimental results in neuroscience, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence to the philosophy of mind. This is the third edition of the book; the changes range from references to the iPhone’s “Siri” to expanded discussions of the work of contemporary philosophers, including David Chalmers, John Searle, and Thomas Nagel. Churchland also describes new research in evolution, genetics, visual neuroscience, and other areas and argues that the philosophical significance of the new findings lie in the support they tend to give to the reductive and eliminative versions of materialism. Churchland’s other books include The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul, and Neurophilosophy at Work.

Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility, edited by Gregg D. Caruso (Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2013, ISBN harDcover 978-0-7391-7731-0 and e-book 978-0-7391-7732-7). Refer­ences and index. 324 pp. Hardcover $85.00.

In recent years, many philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists have either expressed doubt or outright denial of the existence of free will and/or moral responsibility. The contributors, who include Susan Blackmore and Thomas W. Clark, investigate the philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism and their implications.

Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumran­ian, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2013, ISBN hardcover 978-1-61614-759-4 and e-book 978-1-61614-760-0). Appendices. 463 pp. Hardcover $32.00 and e-book $15.99.

The influence of well-known religious writings such as the Jewish Torah and the Christian Gospels on the Qur’an is accepted by scholars. The author of this anthology has assembled articles that illuminate other, little-known sources. The contributors examine the connections between the Qur’an and pre-Islamic poetry and the Muslim doctrines and ideas found in the writings of the Ebionites (a Jewish Christian sect of the second to fourth centuries), as well as the influence of Coptic Christian literature on Muhammad’s traditional biography.

Crescent Moon Rising: The Islamic Trans­formation of America, by Paul L. Williams (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2013, ISBN softcover 978-1-61614-636-8 and e-book 978-1-61614-637-5). Endnotes and index. 367 pp. Softcover $20.00.

Forty years ago, Muslims in America were a statistically insignificant minority, numbering fewer than one thousand individuals. Today, Islam is the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in America, with more than six million adherents. Journalist Williams examines this rise and its implications. In the first half of the book, he traces the beginnings of Islam in the United States, in particular the rise and influence of the Nation of Islam among African Americans. In the second half, he considers statistical studies of American Muslims regarding age groups, family size, professional affiliations, annual income, and religious and political commitments. He also examines some disturbing developments, such as the ties of many American mosques to Saudi benefactors who promote an ultra-orthodox, anti-Western agenda, the recruitment of ex-convicts for Muslim paramilitary training, and the ties of even moderate Muslims to political radicals.

—Andrea Szalanski, Free Inquiry managing editor

Andrea Szalanski

Free Inquiry Managing Editor


Brief book reviews from the February/March 2015 issue of Free Inquiry.

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