Books

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I read the Koran in 1997. It was a real trial to get through it. Mohammed was basically a small time warlord, and the only reason he ever gave for people following his version of the faith was that God said so. If you don't believe in God and you are looking for any other sort of wisdom in this book, I am afraid you will be dissappointed. High points include the part where he says to beat your wife if she is disobedient, or the bit where he says that God has revealed to him he can sleep with pretty much any women he desires, but no one else can. The whole tone he takes as well is disturbing, people who don't believe aren't worth talking to, they are "deaf dumb and blind", and you certainly shouldn't be friends with "people of the book" as he refers to Christians and Jews. I found it really hard to finish the Koran, if people are interested in learning about the Muslim culture which contributed so much to world culture for a thousand years, I would skip the Koran and find a good book on Islam instead. Maybe I just didn't get it but when I had finished my main thought was exactly the same as when I tried to read the Old Testament, "there is no wisdom in this book".

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"Why we behave the way we do". There are many ways in which people behave that have been shown by numerous studies to be detrimental to the human condition. Being harsh in disciplining children and distant in their emotional relationships with them was a trait the fathers of Nazi leaders exhibited. Being unconditionally rewarding of a child, whilst a better extreme than the other, is also shown to bring up children with poor emotional self control. Many studies have shown the best way of bringing up emotionally mature children is consistent, well thought out light discipline, from a loving parent interested in their child. In fact it was exactly the sort of people bought up in homes where problems were talked over, rather than resolved by violence, that were more likely to help Jewish people fleeing from the Nazis despite great personal risk to themselves. It is in the application of these sorts of studies that many hopes for a better world lie, studies which show deep human tendencies that are difficult to see in the subjective opinions of our normal day. Psychology has so much to offer us as a society, we can be more intelligent about the way we work towards many goals that we seek. We know what is wrong with the world, poverty, violence, environmental degradation and the barbaric treatment of animals, what we need to know is how to get every else to look up from their self obsessive lives just long enough to help us solve these problems. This is where this sort of book comes in, the path to changing the world passes inexorably through the human mind.

This is one of the most influential books I have ever read. I can't even find a decent link to it on the web, so no chance of anyone buying a copy, and I am unlikely to lend it either. It would be wrong to think that this is merely a book about Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, it ranges far deeper than that. It was meant to be a companion to his other book called Great Philosophers of the West, and he seems to have tried to cover everything else of major note in this book. It starts out talking about some of the oldest (then) known philosophy that of ancient Egypt, looking at songs and poems with interesting insights familiar to modern man. It moves on to Babylonia, Israel and then settles down to specific religions, in order Zoroastarianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Hindu Systems, the Chinese Sages and Mohammed. He doesn't just talk about them, he thinks about them, he inspires you to think about them. It's interesting that many of the best books I have read are dedicated to peoples children, this one his son. I can imagine any intelligent western father would be pleased to share with his son the knowledge that people in other places and times, were thinking deeply and beautifully. We often forget that other parts of the world had advanced civilizations, whilst our forefathers were still hunter gatherers, this book is an antidote to our western centred ways of thought. It is such a pity this book isn't widely published, I've read other similar books but they just weren't anywhere near as good. If you are interested you will just have to come over to my place and read it.

I don't want to say too much about this book. I really enjoyed reading it, I read a lot of technical books, a lot of other hard to read books, and I found this just a perfect breather in between them.

The main message that stands out to me from the book, is that there are many ways to "enlightenment", which I guess I would define as a contentment with your place in the world whilst engaging with the problems of the world at the same time.

I wouldn't read this book without first having an understanding of what Buddhism has to say, so What the Buddha Taught which I reviewed earlier, would be a good precursor to this classic.

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