Spirituality and Religion
The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book's Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey by Margaret Leslie DavisWhat it's about: Gutenberg Bible #45 (printed by the man himself in the 1450s) and the compelling stories of some of the book's remarkable owners.
Don't miss: the dramatic story of Estelle Doheny, who brought the book to America; the book's role in the development of new technology to examine rare books without harming them.
Reviewers say: "a gripping, well-researched account of the importance of books as cultural artifacts" (Library Journal).
The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution by Christopher Hitchens et alWhat it is: a transcript of the viral, thought-provoking 2007 conversation between four leading figures of the modern atheist movement, with additional commentary on each chapter.
Featuring: author and scientist Richard Dawkins, journalist and author Christopher Hitchens (who died in 2011), philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris, cognitive scientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett.
Is it for you? The New Atheist movement is controversial (even among atheists), and polarizing figures like Dawkins pull no punches.
American Messiahs: False Prophets of a Damned Nation by Adam MorrisWhat it's about: the charismatic figures at the center of some of America's most famous (and infamous) fringe religious movements, from Cyrus Teed to Father Divine to Jim Jones.
Don't miss: the author's discussion of how the Puritans' cultural influence could be tied to the continual rise of messianic religious leaders in America.
You might also like: Captive by Catherine Oxenberg (which details the group NXIVM); Mitch Horowitz's Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Barbara Brown TaylorWhat it is: a thoughtful account of the author's experiences teaching an introductory religion class over the years and what she's learned from watching her students as they go through the course.
About the author: Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopal priest, professor at Piedmont College in Georgia, and author of other religious memoirs including Learning to Walk in the Dark and An Altar in the World.
Reviewers say: "Taylor effectively reminds us that religion...involves our deepest selves and is the fabric of our shared lives" (Library Journal).
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam HarrisWhat it is: a thought-provoking argument for secular meditation, with an exploration of the cognitive and emotional benefits that can be gained even outside of organized religion.
You might also like: Into the Magic Shop by James Doty and Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman; both of which explore the connections between the mind, body, and spirit.
Want a taste? "I am often asked what will replace organized religion. The answer, I believe, is nothing and everything."
Siddhartha's Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment by James KingslandWhat it's about: the modern neuroscience behind ancient Buddhist practice, using the story of Siddhartha Gautama's journey of spiritual development as a framework.
Read it for: the straightforward and concise writing style; the exploration of modern mindfulness-based psychotherapies and the research on their effectiveness.
You might also like: An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra or The Quantum and the Lotus by Matthieu Ricard, both of which explore Buddhism and modernity.
The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will by Kenneth MillerWhat it is: an engaging and upbeat assessment of commonly held yet erroneous beliefs about the evolution of the human brain, as philosophical as it is science-based.
What sets it apart: the deft handling of the emotionally charged topics, such as the divide between the spirit and science; the approachable and conversational tone.
About the author: Kenneth Miller is the author of Finding Darwin's God and a biology professor at Brown University.
Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search For The Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia by Michael ShermerWhat it's about: In this moving and accessible discussion of the afterlife, columnist Michael Shermer asks questions about why people have such strongly held beliefs about what happens after death.
Don't miss: the inclusion of topics like life extension and cryonics, which supports Shermer's assertion that science doesn't have all the answers yet either.
Try this next: Inventing Afterlives by Regina M. Janes; Glimpsing Heaven by Judy Bachrach.
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