>Non-fiction – "Letter to a Christian Nation"

>Sam Harris, the author of this book, is also the author of End Of Faith”. “Letter to a Christian Nation” is Sam Harris’s reply to critics of the first book. As he says in the introduction the responses he received were not only threatening him with hell, but also with bodily harm. He says that “The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians“. The purpose of the letter is to challenge some of the Christian beliefs and to expose the hypocrisy of the believers.

The book makes many references to the Bible and to some of the doctrines and ask why they are not followed to the letter? For example, the Bible says that homesexuals should be stoned. But it also says that anyone who does work on the Sabbath must be stoned too. You don’t have to believe me, check Leviticus.

For me this book clarified the method for figuring out what is and what is not moral. The fundamental idea is that moral acts will lead to relieve of suffering of others and immoral ones will cause others to suffer. For instance, being against distribution of condoms in Africa leads to more deaths from AIDs and to more suffering, so it is an immoral act. Now, as you know, the Catholic Church stands strongly against birth control and as a result of this stance many suffer and die.

Other sections of the book “pick on” various Christian beliefs. I know the author’s goal was to expose the hypocrisy, but to me it felt as though you stuble into an ugly family secret that should not be exposed to all. Some of the points are almost too easy to make – for example, Jesus said that to gain entrance into Heaven you should sell all you possessions and give the money to the poor. I know many Christians, some who are quite devout, yet none of them did this.

Sam Harris also blames religious fervor for much of the violence in the world (after all it was not atheists who flew airplanes into WTC). However, I don’t believe that absence of religion would necessarily lead to less violence as the author seems to imply.

If you are interested in challenging Christians in verbal arguments, this book provides quite a bit of amunition. However, I thought that Danniel Dennett’s “Braking the Spell” was a much more interesting book about religions.


>Non-fiction – "102 Minutes"

>The full title of this book is “102 Minutes: The untold story of the fight to survive inside the twin towers” and it’s authors are Jim Swyer and Kevin Flynn. The book describes the experiences of people who were in the two World Trade Center towers on September 11th.

Some of the stories told in the book are well known. For example, I have read and seen some films on how Brian Clark helped Stanley Praimnath get out of the 81 floor on WTC 2, shortly after the second plane hit. Other descriptions I was reading for the first time.

The book contains some drawings and details of the damage done to the buildings. From these it is obvious that in the first tower all escape routes were cut off for the people who were above the impact zone. In the second tower one staircase survived and it was used by a handful of people for escape from above the impact zone. More people might have escaped if they had known about the route. However, the advice they got from 911 operators was to stay put and wait for the firemen.

One section of the book describes how the NY City building codes were relaxed in the late sixties, just in time for the WTC construction. So, for example, WTC had only three staircases as compared to six that are present in the Empire State building. Furthermore, the older buildings were required to have a hardened staircase – “fire tower” – but this requirement was dropped for newer buildings.

Parts of the book are very sad as they include the conversations that people trapped in the building had with their families, when they began to realize that there was no way out. Suprizingly a handful of people survived the building collapse, including two policemen who were a subject of a recent movie.

I felt a little eerie reading the book, as I was downtown Manhattan and I witnessed the second crash and I saw the first building collapse. It was quite a surreal day – as I was close enough to see everything, but I was in no danger. As I was reading the book I kept remembering what I was doing at a specific time…