12.1.17

Born-Again Pagan

Anthony T. Kronman. Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan. Yale University Press. (3 Jan 2017)

From the publisher's website: We live in an age of disenchantment. The number of self-professed “atheists” continues to grow. Yet many still feel an intense spiritual longing for a connection to what Aristotle called the “eternal and divine.” For those who do, but demand a God that is compatible with their modern ideals, a new theology is required. This is what Anthony Kronman offers here, in a book that leads its readers away from the inscrutable Creator of the Abrahamic religions toward a God whose inexhaustible and everlasting presence is that of the world itself.

Kronman defends an ancient conception of God, deepened and transformed by Christian belief—the born-again paganism on which modern science, art, and politics all vitally depend. Brilliantly surveying centuries of Western thought—from Plato to Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant, from Spinoza to Nietzsche, Darwin, and Freud, Kronman recovers and reclaims the God we need today.

7.1.17

History of Haunting

Leo Braudy. Haunted: On Ghosts, Witches, Vampires, Zombies, and Other Monsters of the Natural and Supernatural Worlds.  Yale University Press (3 Jan. 2017)

Leo Braudy, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, has won accolades for revealing the complex and constantly shifting history behind seemingly unchanging ideas of fame, war, and masculinity. Continuing his interest in the history of emotion, this book explores how fear has been shaped into images of monsters and monstrosity. From the Protestant Reformation to contemporary horror films and fiction, he explores four major types: the monster from nature (King Kong), the created monster (Frankenstein), the monster from within (Mr. Hyde), and the monster from the past (Dracula). Drawing upon deep historical and literary research, Braudy discusses the lasting presence of fearful imaginings in an age of scientific progress, viewing the detective genre as a rational riposte to the irrational world of the monstrous. Haunted is a compelling and incisive work by a writer at the height of his powers.

1.1.17

Quantum Gymnastics

Charles M. Wynn, Arthur W. Wiggins. Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends and Pseudoscience Begins OUP USA. (1 Jan. 2017)

Get the straight, scientific story on things like astrology, ghosts, spontaneous human combustion, psychic surgery, and ESP. You hear about these fantastic happenings every day on television and in the supermarket tabloids. Is any of this true or are they making it all up? While many people tune in just for laughs, plenty of readers believe their outrageous claims - often because they simply don't have a clear notion of what science really is. So how do you figure out what constitutes real science and what is nonsense?

Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction carefully deconstructs five examples of pseudoscience - UFOs, out-of-body experiences, astrology, creationism, and ESP - and gives easy recipes to test other dubious notions so that you can tell what lies in the realm of real science and what more properly deserves the tag of pseudoscience. This second edition of Quantum Leaps will include a brand new chapter on alternative medicine, up-to-date links for reliable sceptical websites, organisations and meetings, and a fully updated additional reading section.

18.12.16

Meeting Merlin

Elen Sentier. Pagan Portals - Merlin: Once and Future Wizard. Moon Books (9 Dec. 2016)

Bestselling author Elen Sentier looks at Merlin in history and mythology and considers his continuing relevance for people today. Best known as the wizard from the Arthurian stories, Merlin has been written about for well over 1000 years and is considered to be both a magical and historical figure. Over the centuries many people have had relationships with Merlin and in this book the author brings him to life for us once again in yet another way and from yet another perspective.

12.12.16

Spirits of Place

Ruth Heholt, Niamh Downing. Haunted Landscapes: Super-Nature and the Environment (Place, Memory, Affect) Rowman & Littlefield International (16 Nov. 2016)

Haunted Landscapes offers a fresh and innovative approach to contemporary debates about landscape and the supernatural. Landscapes are often uncanny spaces embroiled in the past; associated with absence, memory and nostalgia. Yet experiences of haunting must in some way always belong to the present: they must be felt. This collection of essays opens up new and compelling areas of debate around the concepts of haunting, affect and landscape.

Landscape studies, supernatural studies, haunting and memory are all rapidly growing fields of enquiry and this book synthesises ideas from several critical approaches - spectral, affective and spatial - to provide a new route into these subjects. Examining urban and rural landscapes, haunted domestic spaces, landscapes of trauma, and borderlands, this collection of essays is designed to cross disciplines and combine seemingly disparate academic approaches under the coherent locus of landscape and haunting. Presenting a timely intervention in some of the most pressing scholarly debates of our time, Haunted Landscapes offers an attractive array of essays that cover topics from Victorian times to the present.

6.12.16

Onward and Upward

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R.Hendrix. Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home on the Planets. Pantheon. (November 2016)

From the publisher's website: We are at the cusp of a golden age in space science, as increasingly more entrepreneurs—Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos—are seduced by the commercial potential of human access to space. But Beyond Earth does not offer another wide-eyed technology fantasy: instead, it is grounded not only in the human capacity for invention and the appeal of adventure but also in the bureaucratic, political, and scientific realities that present obstacles to space travel—realities that have hampered NASA’s efforts ever since the Challenger disaster.

In Beyond Earth, Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R.Hendrix offer groundbreaking research and argue persuasively that not Mars, but Titan—a moon of Saturn with a nitrogen atmosphere, a weather cycle, and an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy, where we will even be able to fly like birds in the minimal gravitational field—offers the most realistic and thrilling prospect of life without support from Earth.

5.12.16

Investigating the Penis Snatchers

Julien Bonhomme. The Sex Thieves: The Anthroplogy of a Rumor. University of Chicago Press. (November 2016)

While working in Africa, anthropologist Julien Bonhomme encountered an astonishing phenomenon: people being accused of stealing or shrinking the genitals of strangers on the simple occasion of a handshake on the street. As he soon discovered, these accusations can have dramatic outcomes: the “sex thieves” are often targeted by large crowds and publicly lynched. Moreover, such rumours are an extremely widespread practice, having affected almost half of the African continent since the 1970s. In this book, Bonhomme examines the story of the “penis snatcher,” asking larger questions about how to account for such a phenomenon—unique in its spatial and temporal scale—without falling prey to the clich√© of Africa as an exotic other.

Bonhomme argues that the public belief in sex thieves cannot be considered a superstition or form of mass hysteria. Rather, he brings to light multiple factors that explain the rumour's success and shows how the cultural dynamic can operate on a vast scale. Analogising the rumour on both transnational and local levels, he demonstrates how it arises from the ambiguities and dangers of anonymity, and thus that it reveals an occult flipside to everyday social interaction. Altogether, this book provides both richly ethnographic and theoretical understandings of urban sociality and the dynamics of human communication in contemporary Africa and beyond.