SWL Humanists Book Group
18th September ‘The Death of Truth’, Michiko Kakutani
We live in a time when the very idea of objective truth is mocked and discounted by the US President. Discredited conspiracy theories and ideologies have resurfaced, proven science is once more up for debate, and Russian propaganda floods our screens. The wisdom of the crowd has usurped research and expertise, and we are each left clinging to the beliefs that best confirm our biases. How did truth become an endangered species? This decline began decades ago, and in The Death of Truth, former New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani takes a penetrating look at the cultural forces that contributed to this gathering storm. In social media and literature, television, academia, and political campaigns, Kakutani identifies the trends – originating on both the right and the left – that have combined to elevate subjectivity over factuality, science, and common values. And she returns us to the words of the great critics of authoritarianism, writers like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, whose work is newly and eerily relevant. (208 pages)
16th October ‘Frankenstein’, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Shelley not only tells a terrifying tale, she raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? (288 pages)
Members’ Suggestions for future reading
‘The Red Notebook’, Antoine Laurain
Heroic bookseller Laurent Letellier comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street. There’s nothing in the bag to indicate who it belongs to, although there’s all sorts of other things in it. Laurent feels a strong impulse to find the owner and tries to puzzle together who she might be from the contents of the bag. Especially a red notebook with her jottings, which really makes him want to meet her. Without even a name to go on, and only a few of her possessions to help him, how is he to find one woman in a city of millions?
(The Red Notebook has already been sold in twelve different languages.
Antoine Laurain was born in Paris. He is the author of five novels, including The President’s Hat). (159 pages
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
The classic novel of a post-literate future, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ stands alongside Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity. (159 pages)
‘Poverty Safari’, Darren McGarvey
People from deprived communities all around Britain feel misunderstood and unheard. Darren McGarvey, aka ‘Loki’ gives voice to their feelings and concerns, and the anger that is spilling over. Anger he says we will have to get used to, unless things change.
McGarvey invites you to come on a Safari of sorts. A Poverty Safari. But not the sort where the indigenous species is surveyed from a safe distance for a time, before the window on the community closes and everyone gradually forgets about it. (223 pages).
‘The Brain: The Story of You’, David Eagleman
Locked in the silence and darkness of your skull, your brain fashions the rich narratives of your reality and your identity. Join renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman for a journey into the questions at the mysterious heart of our existence. What is reality? Who are “you”? How do you make decisions? Why does your brain need other people? How is technology poised to change what it means to be human? In the course of his investigations, Eagleman guides us through the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and the search for immortality. Strap in for a whistle-stop tour into the inner cosmos. In the infinitely dense tangle of billions of brain cells and their trillions of connections, something emerges that you might not have expected to see in there: you.
This is the story of how your life shapes your brain, and how your brain shapes your life. (224 pages)
‘The First Iron Lady: A Life of Caroline of Ansbac’, Matthew Dennison
History has forgotten Caroline of Ansbach, yet in her lifetime she was compared frequently to Elizabeth I and considered by some as ‘the cleverest queen consort Britain ever had’. Caroline is credited with hastening the Enlightenment to Britain through her sponsorship of red-hot debates about science, religion, philosophy and the nature of the universe. (302 pages)
‘The Blue Flower’, Penelope Fitzgerald
This is the story of Friedrich von Hardenberg–Fritz, to his intimates–a young man of the late 18th century who is destined to become one of Germany’s great romantic poets. In just over 200 pages, Fitzgerald creates a complete world of family, friends and lovers, but also an exhilarating evocation of the romantic era in all its political turmoil, intellectual voracity, and moral ambiguity. Described as her best book, The Blue Flower was her last. (226 pages)