Armin Navabi – Why There Is No God – Simple Responses to 20 Common Arguments for the Existence of God

Click here to buy the bookAs a youth in Iran, Armin Navabi was advised that if a Muslim boy died before the age of fifteen, God, in his infinite benevolence, would ensure that he went to heaven. Terrified that he would miss his step and fall into divine disfavour, Armin threw himself out of a window when he was fourteen, hoping to cash in on this guarantee. Happily he did not perish, although he spent many months in a wheelchair. This gave him a good deal of time to think, and the end point of his reflections was atheism.

Later he founded Atheist Republic, a non-profit organisation aimed at creating a worldwide community of atheists, and with the purpose of joining in the controversy that is raging these days about the status of religion in general. Why There Is No God is his primer for new participants in the debate. It is a good-natured book offering twenty arguments for the existence of God and adumbrating the atheist responses to them.

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Nicholas Wapshott – The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

Click here to buy the bookSenator Burton K Wheeler put the question best: If the war in Europe was America’s war, why was she not fighting it? It was the vital question of its day. Should America join the European war or not?

There are various approaches to history where wars are concerned. One is military history – who shot whom. Much more interesting is the political intrigue – who came out on top, and how.

After the Great War, there was a strong, not to say, dominant strain of isolationism, a huge apprehension of the dangers of getting into another European war.

The isolationists were a mixed bunch, comprising principled constitutionalists liberals, and American Firsters, through to appeasers, defeatists, anti-semites, and outright fascist sympathisers. The cast includes Charles Lindbergh, Joseph Kennedy, Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Father Coughlin, not to mention the politicians including Wheeler. The broad outline of the story is fairly well known, and has been tackled piecemeal by other historians, but it takes Nicholas Wapshott to tell the full sweeping story in beautiful lucidity of how Roosevelt subtly dealt with each of his opponents and transformed public opinion, and in fact, triumphantly, came out on top. I spoke with him on the eve of publication.

 

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Toby Litt – Lifelike

Click here to buy the bookIf your taste runs to the dead-pan, you could do worse than read Toby Litt. By turns funny, scabrous, touching, serious, playful and obsessive, his twelfth book, Life-like is presented with an absolutely straight face. How are you supposed to take this? Are you intended to laugh? Is it OK to be aroused? Does that passage really belong in this book? Toby never blinks.

Toby’s interest in form and experimentation is well-established, and so this book is neither properly a novel nor a simple story collection, with the focus flying apart from the starting point of the marriage of Agatha and Paddy, with whom we are familiar from Toby’s eighth book, Ghost Stories. Tim loved that novel, so he was very happy to come back to these characters, and, when it turned out that Toby wanted to play games in the new book, Tim was delighted to join in.

 

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Alwyn W turner – The Last Post

alwynturner-thelastpostNo Man’s Land is already littered with books on the Great War, and there will be many more hurled into the fray, but not many of them will be as original as this thoughtful and engaging treatment by the historian Alwyn W Turner. Ostensibly a history of the bugle call that came to symbolise the honour of a military death, it ranges very much more widely, taking in all the main symbols of remembrance (all associated with the First War rather than the Second) and serves also as a history of the development of social attitudes towards the soldier, and of public opinion in locating the significance of war.

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Christopher Fowler – Nyctophobia

Callie is Click here to buy the booka young woman with a bit of a past (and a mild case of nyctophobia), an adoring husband and a home filled with light … but where there is light there must also be darkness…

Christopher Fowler made his name with chiller fiction, and Nyctophobia is a splendid return to the genre. It takes a gleeful inventory of the elements of the ghost story, and finds new ways to creep up on you, and most importantly of all – it is scary. Tim spent the night he read it nervously going round his house turning all the lights on.

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Anne McCaffrey from the archive – Renegades of Pern

annemccaffreyrenegadesofpernAnne McCaffrey was the first woman to win the prestigious Hugo award for science fiction, and also the first woman to win a Nebula award. In her Dragonriders of Pern series she created one of the great fantasy novels sequence. It comprises more than thirty novels, most of which include dragons, and is notable for pioneering the inclusion of strong and effective women in science fiction.

Anne McCaffrey died in 2011 at the age of 85, but back in 1990 Tim had the great pleasure of meeting her to discuss the  fourteenth book in the series, Renegades of Pern. They got on like a house on fire.

 

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Margery Allingham’s Mr Campion’s Farewell: the Return of Albert Campion Completed by Mike Ripley

Click here to buy the bookIn Albert Campion, Margery Allingham created one of the timeless golden age detectives, often spoken of in the same breath as Lord Peter Wimsey and Inspector Alleyn. When she died in 1963 her husband and collaborator Philip Youngman Carter continued the series for two more books. A third was left incomplete. Well, we say incomplete. There was merely a fragment, four chapters kicking off a new Campion novel, but with no plot outline or notes for how it was supposed to continue.

Mike Ripley made his name with the brilliant comedy thriller ‘Angel’ series. In 2012 the Margery Allingham Society asked him to finish the incomplete Campion book, which he called Mr Campion’s Farewell.

Tim is a long-standing fan of Angel, and is easily persuaded to become a fan of Campion as well. For Tim, it was time to meet Campion in person, and also Ripley, believe it or not.

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George Cooper – Money, Blood and Revolution

Click here to buy the bookWho would you turn to if the discipline of economics was in a crisis and you were looking for a solution: Mr Spock or Captain Kirk? Mr Spock would work through the existing data with methodical rigour and implacable logic, while Captain Kirk would make an intuitive leap in the manner of Copernicus or Darwin, and show us an entirely new way of looking at the problem. In his book, Money, Blood and Revolution, George Cooper contends that what economics needs right now is a Captain Kirk, to provide a paradigm shift by simply taking a different perspective on the existing picture. Tim comes blundering in with all the insight and acuity of Nurse Chappell, but minus the miniskirt, to explore George’s vision of a simplified model of economic systems and the engine of prosperity.

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Humaira Shahid – Devotion and Defiance

Humaira Shahid might have had a gilded life, and no-one would have blamed her. She was born into the privileged classes of Pakistan, enjoyed a happy and liberal childhood, and married well into a newspaper dynasty. The important men in her life adored her and admired her and encouraged her to fulfil herself rather than take the subservient role imposed on many Pakistani women. She became an academic, teaching literature, and that might have been that. But Humaira’s personal life contained a series of heartbreaking tragedies, and as she participated in her husband’s journalistic activities, she gained a first-hand knowledge of dreadful injustice and suffering in Pakistan. Driven by a fiery passion she became, first a campaigning editor, and then a vocal member of the Assembly in Punjab Province.

Devotion And Defiance is Humaira’s account of the course of her career. It is a fascinating insight into the workings of Pakistani politics, a rallying call to arms on behalf of the oppressed and brutalised women of Pakistan, and also a touching memoir of her own life.

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Lawrence Block – The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

Bernie Rhodenbarr is the owner of an antiquarian bookshop in New York City. He is best friends with a lesbian who owns the nearby dog grooming parlour, and they eat lunch together every day. He is nearly friends with the local cop, Ray Kirshman, who regards him as an unofficial consultant. But most of all, Bernie is a burglar. When a man named Smith comes into the store and asks him to steal an original manuscript of an F Scott Fitzgerald story, Bernie finds himself embroiled in a couple of tangled webs, which he is uniquely qualified to untangle.

Lawrence Block is a past master at this kind of thing, weaving in to his fabric obsessive collectors, early American siversmithing, literary backstories, and, naturally, a juicy murder. Half the fun is seeing how he brings all these elements together for the finale, but the other half is the fluent writing that gets you there.

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