The Salem Witch Trials: Book Review
History , Psychology , Religion , Sociology / October 14, 2016

The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege, by Marilynne K. Roach is the ultimate guide to the most famous case of mass hysteria in American history. This tome, weighing in at an impressive 690 pages, contains anything worth knowing about Salem. I already owned several books about the witch trials before I bought The Salem Witch Trials, but this is probably the only book about Salem that I need to own. I imagine that my obsession with Salem probably began in elementary school when my class read a book called The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The idea of witchcraft, rather real or imagined, right in the only outpost of civilization in the dark and dangerous American wilderness simply fascinated me.  I am addicted to the TV show Salem and desperately want to travel there some day to experience Salem in person. The Salem Witch Trials chronicles essentially every word and action that scholars are aware of from the time before, during, and after the trials in one convenient (although heavy) resource. The book is written in a diary form, in which all of the news that pertains to each day is listed and quoted, often directly from primary sources. It is absolutely fascinating to be reading the words…

Mythology: Book Review
History , Religion / October 10, 2016

Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies is a ginormous collection of mythology from all around the world.  The book is beautifully illustrated with so many pictures and captions that I felt like I was wandering through an ancient museum at times.  There is also no shortage of content here since the book is over 500 pages of coffee table style size and format.  Any mythophile (I am pretty sure I just made that word up) or legendophile (I definitely just made that word up) will be impressed with the book’s look and heft. Thankfully, Mythology: Myths, Legends and Fantasies faithfully represents mythology without any sanitation or apology.  Inside this tome’s pages, we find the ancient tales of Thor flattening giants with Mjölnir, Hera taking horrible revenge on the unfortunate (and often unwilling) victims of Zeus’ legendary philandering, and Osiris’ murder/dismemberment at the hands of Seth.  The stories are summarized in an easy to read prose style, but the readers intelligence and ability to handle the content on his/her own terms are respected by the many authors of this anthology. As I expected, the more commonly read mythologies of the Greeks and Romans are covered in impressive detail.  The well known tales of these mythologies, such as…

Going Clear: Book Review
Religion / October 10, 2016

Thanks to Tom Cruise, basically everyone in America is aware of the Church of Scientology.  Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief demystifies the Church of Scientology and exposes the true nature of the organization.  As a nerd, I am disappointed to report that the organization seemingly has almost nothing to do with real science.  Still, what kind of nerd doesn’t enjoy a little science fiction? I know that many people ridicule the Church of Scientology for propagating beliefs that seem completely absurd, such as the idea that Xenu, the leader of the “Galactic Confederacy,” is the ruler of the universe.  However, it really is not fair to critique any religion based on these sorts of views.  Imagine that you are explaining your own religion (whatever it might be) to someone who has never heard of it before.  All faiths are filled with claims that seem strange to people who are not culturally familiar with them.  Thankfully, Lawrence Wright’s criticism of the Church of Scientology has more to do with the eccentricities of its founder and the human rights abuses that had reportedly occurred within the organization. Lafayette Ronald Hubbard’s biography takes up a great deal of Wright’s book because it…

The Screwtape Letters: Book Review
Literature , Religion / October 10, 2016

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis is as classic as it is difficult to define. Although C. S. Lewis is normally credited with writing The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters is far more subtle and thought-provoking for adult readers.  While Lewis’ book could be categorized as fiction, it also reads as an apology (meaning reasoned defense) of the Christian religion. Comprised of a series of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew demon, Wormwood, The Screwtape Letters read like a series of lessons in the art of temptation.  Screwtape is attempting to instruct his nephew so that Wormwood can successfully guide his human target (referred to as the Patient) toward the devil rather than God.  Wormwood has all of the arts of a demon (deception, seduction, doubt, etc.) at his disposal, and he attempts to throw as many obstacles in the Patient’s path as possible. C. S. Lewis’ style is masterfully ironic and witty.  The voice that he creates as Screwtape, despite the fact that he is a senior demon, is full of a wary sort of humor.  Even more humorous is the fact that Wormwood quickly proves to be an incompetent screw-up who will surely fail without his uncle’s advice.  I cannot help but…

The God Delusion: Book Review
Religion , Science / October 10, 2016

I am very glad I read this book, although I must point out at the beginning that I do not agree with Richard Dawkins in his preference for atheism.  However, I have to thank Dawkins for this book because it really and truly made me think. and I respect his obvious intelligence (although at times his tone is a bit condescending, which is a shame.) *Before I go any further with this review, I want to get the obligatory apology for discussing religion and/or plea for mercy out of the way.* In all seriousness, it is very difficult for people to control their emotions when it comes to religious topics, and I recognize that.  However, I am a “truth-seeker” in the sense that I am always questioning my beliefs and reading about the beliefs of others.  One thing that I have learned is that it is not healthy to sit on your beliefs without questioning. Questioning is what ultimately leads us to greater understanding and truth, whether we end up changing or beliefs or solidifying them. Questioning is not the same as abandoning. Now that my public service announcement is done, let us return to the book review! Dawkins really rests his…