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Finished A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Karen Amstrong. Armstrong excels in the art of story telling. In this book, she weaves the threads of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic history into a coherent story.

I learned from this book that all three of these faiths influenced each other throughout their development, and all three have constantly changing ideas of God. Each tradition struggles with the idea of a single, ultimate God. Certain questions come up again and again, changing the way that God and the tenants of the faith are understood.

Is God universal or linked to a particular group? Is God only good or does he also encompass evil? Is God a subjective concept or an external reality? Each religious tradition has periodically struggled with these questions. As the world changed, new issues became important and the answers to those questions changed. Not surprisingly, this makes for a lot of information, but Armstrong handles it nicely.

This book is not completely without bias. She does not manipulate history to conform to her beliefs (well, as far as I know), but she does make it clear which positions she has greater sympathy for. Partially because of her deep knowledge of many different religious traditions, she tends to be sympathetic towards ideas which point to a universal, transcendent deity and less sympathetic towards ideas which encourage division and exclusivity.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
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One more book summary and then you will be safe from them for at least a week!

Home: A short history of an idea )
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ABC has a story about an upcoming documentary on some of the very first computer programmers. The documentary is "Invisible Computers: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers" (more info here) and is about the 6 women who helped to program the ENIAC during World War II. Somehow, we had forgotten about these women. Hurrah for rediscovering them!
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Finished E = MC2: A biography of the world's most famous equation by David Bodanis. Bodanis describes the history of the science leading up to Einstein's research and the related work that came after it. Emphasis on the word history here. While Bodanis does try to give the reader an intuition of the science (probably in ways that would make a real scientist cringe on occasion), it is not really his focus. The real focus is the story of the equation and the people involved in its history. While Bodanis does take some liberties speculating on the feelings and motivations of some of the participants, the book is full of interesting things that I did not know about the scientists. Also, by focusing on the equation, the reader gets to see a scientific history sliced in a unique and intriguing way. Altogether, a good fluffy science book.
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An article criticizing Japanese changes to their history text books. The changes are related to WWII and soften some of the horrors that happened during the war. While, given my very limited knowledge, I agree that the history is being revised to make it reflect the actions of the Japanese military is a less negative light, I do not agree with the almost holier-than-thou criticism. Every country revises history, and everyone, including the winners probably committed some atrocities during war. The difference is that the winners are able to get away without mentioning the atrocities at all in their text books.
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Finish A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft's main thesis, which was quite radical for the time, was that women should be educated towards ends other than catching a husband. Quite a good idea, I think. She argued that for women to be good wives and mothers they needed to have their reason trained and their body healthy; apparently simperring delicate women are not terribly useful, as much as the men may have liked them. This book was very difficult to read; sometimes Wollstonecraft seems to wander away from her point, and I am not sure that she always makes it back. However, it is an interesting book if you are interested in the history of feminism. It is also interesting if you are interested in Victorian literature since the period about which Wollstonecraft is writing is round about then.
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Finished 1776 by David McCullough. Yay for story-like history! The book managed to just miss going into enough detail about the boring bits of battles to bore me. Instead, there were lots of bits about people. But yes, good book. Fun read.
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Time for another one of Erika's exciting book reviews!

Today I finished America's Women: 400 Years of Doll, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins. Collins describes the lives of American women from the colonial days to the near present. She describes on the lives of normal women as well as the lives of the women remembered by history. She tells how women dealt with household duties on covered wagons and discusses of the phenomenon "going steady" increased premarital sex. There are stories of how women came together to abolish slavery while denying free colored women membership in their societies. By giving all of these perspectives, Collins avoids painting women as perfect.

One criticism: Collins seems to sometimes gives too little credit to the role of men. However, since she does this by omission, not by belittling men, I suspect that it is just because there was a lot to fit in the book and history from the perspective of men can be found in other places.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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