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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Angels & Demons - Dan Brown There's this argument you sometimes see, that Richard Dawkins spends a bit of time discussing in The God Delusion. Perhaps religion is all nonsense, it goes; but, when you consider how much great art it has inspired, surely that, on its own, is justification enough. Dawkins, you won't be surprised to hear, doesn't buy this, and thinks that people like Dante, Michelangelo and Hesse would have done great stuff even if they hadn't been inspired by the Church. He goes so far as to say that maybe they did in spite of the Church. I can see both sides of this, and I don't feel completely convinced either way. But let's get to the actual point.

So, a couple of days ago, I was watching the movie of Angels and Demons. (The waterboarding hadn't worked out, and my interrogators were becoming a little desperate). Now, most likely it was aftereffects from the electric shocks and the attack dogs, but I couldn't help thinking that some parts of this film were rather good. The art direction and cinematography seemed well done; there were some excellent shots, which I'm still seeing clearly in front of me. I was particularly impressed by the beautifully composed scene in which Tom Hanks runs up a huge spiral staircase, overtaking a stately procession of red-robed cardinals; the anti-matter explosion at the end, with its Blake-like echoes of God speaking from the heavens, was also impressive. And Hanks, who just seemed to be thinking about his paycheck in The Da Vinci Code, had perhaps been stung by the negative reviews. This time, I thought he did a fine job. To my surprise, I actually started finding his interpretation of Professor Langdon interesting.

Then it hit me. What a clever trick, and what an insidious post in that ongoing debate about Art and Religion! Here you had some people who, in fact, were quite gifted artists, and who could have done all kinds of things. What they were doing, though, was working on a film based on a mediocre religious book with a creaky treasure-hunt plot and wooden dialogue. Despite the problems they were faced with, they'd found some interesting and worthwhile angles. Maybe Dan Brown wasn't all bad. And, similarly... well, he'd really got me. Compared to this vicious, under-the-belt attach, Dawkins's comments seemed extremely moderate.

No wonder Catholics don't much like Mr. Brown. I can't say I'm capable of enjoying his prose style; but, as a piece of conceptual art, I was forced to admire the passion and ingenuity. Three stars!