Book Review: ‘Enlightenment Now’ and why the end is not nigh

Updated 27 June 2018
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Book Review: ‘Enlightenment Now’ and why the end is not nigh

BEIRUT: Canadian-American cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has something to get off his chest and he does so on the very first page of his recently published book, “Enlightenment Now.” The author lashes out against anyone harboring a gloomy vision of the world today, writing: “In the pages that follow, I will show that this bleak assessment of the state of the world is wrong. And not just a little wrong — wrong, wrong, flat-earth wrong, couldn’t-be-more wrong.”

This book is an “attempt to restate the ideals of the Enlightenment,” an epoch when the author claims that reason, science and humanism were revered.

Bill Gates called it his “new favorite book of all time” and described it in his blog as “a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better.”

In the book, Pinker urges readers to swipe left on the end-is-nigh headlines that flood our smartphones and instead follow the data. He manages to show that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge and happiness are on the rise across the world and posits that reason and science are to be thanked for the positive progress.

However, the book is not without its critics.

Writing for Vox, Aaron R. Hanlon, a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge, says that the author bases his arguments on a misinterpretation of Enlightenment scholars.

“It turns out that Enlightenment thinkers themselves… had very different ideas from Pinker himself about progress. David A. Bell, a Princeton historian of Enlightenment France, has observed (in The Nation publication) that ‘since (Pinker) does not engage in any serious analysis of Enlightenment authors, he avoids having to contend seriously with the awkward fact that by far the most popular of them, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was a fierce critic of most forms of progress” if it was driven by reason, as Rousseau believed that the cost would be moral degradation. 

 Although the author does seem to rely on quantitative data to back some fantastical arguments — and it can be said that he brushes aside legitimate criticism--- — he is the first to admit that “we will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.”

 


BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

Updated 17 July 2018
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BOOK REVIEW: Nine Palestinian refugees tell Shatila’s stories in this innovative book

  • “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut

CHICAGO: A novel born in extraordinary circumstances, “Shatila Stories” is a collaborative work of fiction written by nine refugees from the Shatila camp in Beirut that was commissioned by Peirene Press.

The authors, ranging from the ages of 20 to 43, captivate the reader by painting a picture of muddied walkways, crumbling walls and desperate faces.

From beginning to end, the phenomenal words of Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbaqi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud and Hiba Mareb take the reader on a powerful journey. 

“Shatila Stories” begins with the character of Reham, who is leaving Damascus for Beirut. She and her family look to Shatila as a refuge from the strife at the Yarmouk camp in Syria. Reham’s story is embedded in spirituality and faith, a strength that drives many of the book’s characters. After Reham, the reader is told the story of Jafra, named after the revolutionary Palestinian fighter who was killed in an airstrike in 1976. 

Evil lurks within the boundaries of the Shatila camp — children are exploited, disease is rampant and the methods used to safeguard residents are sometimes more harmful than helpful.

The writers have done a brilliant job of conveying the constricted yet vibrant lives led by many in the camp, as they wander alleyways that are “narrow yet wide enough to hold a thousand stories.”

The effort to publish nine refugee writers began with Mieke Ziervogel, publisher of Peirene Press, who journeyed from London to Beirut with editor Suhir Helal after getting in contact with an NGO that runs a community center in the camp. 

After handpicking the writers during a three-day workshop, the manuscripts were received and translator Nasha Gowanlock got to work. It was a Herculean effort that reminds us that storytelling may be an art, but everyone has a story to tell.