"The Turbulent Universe" by Paul Kurtz (2013)
Some warning signs...
1. Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature, wrote the blurb on the back cover of this book.
2. The author uses Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, as a reference.
3. The author is a professor of Philosophy, and the term "universe" is used in its more philosophical sense, not the physical sense that we would usually employ.
4. Several YouTube debates feature the author, and in these debates he makes extremely general points which are easily proven, and often strays from the topic of discussion.
But anyway I bought it, so I felt an obligation to read it. I try to approach every book with an open mind, and the four warning signs mentioned above may have been - I hoped - misleading.
But they weren't. The Turbulent Universe is one great big mess of a book, written by a champion of secular humanism. It veers between academic disciplines, it offers personal anecdotes that make little sense, and it generally fails to make a point.
You know a book is bad when you're 200 pages in and you STILL have no idea what it's about. The author spends so much time dredging up questionable observations on cosmology, history, and other subjects that by page 200 my mind was reeling, and I just wanted the book to be over. I thought at first that it was just over my head, or that I wasn't paying enough attention, or both. But no, it really is a disorganized mess.
Reading this book was a lot like being back in undergraduate school, and attending a lecture given by a new professor who doesn't quite know what he or she is doing. Any number of "facts" are brought in to prove his or her thesis, but the manner in which this professor argues his or her point defeats the purpose. By the end of the lecture everyone's exhausted, and no one has the patience to hear the argument to its conclusion.
And this is a shame, because the last section of this book, the Grand Finale, is really very good. Taken on its own merits, it's an excellent argument for secular humanism, and for living life to its fullest. Unfortunately the rest of this book is composed of half understood theories and idle conjecture, none of it enlightening for anyone who's earned an undergraduate degree in any subject.
Oh well. At least it's not long. At 251 pages, it was far more palatable than the above-mentioned Better Angels of Our Nature. It also made me think that Paul Kurtz, 85 years old when he wrote The Turbulent Universe, may have written much better, long before. Sad to say, he passed away before this book saw publication, and his presence of mind may have been affected by health concerns.
I'm sure he would have been an interesting guy to talk to, but I can't recommend this book.