Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Quotable Darwin

Fans of Janet Browne's epic two-volume biography of Charles Darwin will not want to miss her new book, The Quotable Darwin (Princeton University Press), which features a broad selection of Darwin's personal and professional observations on life, liberty, and of course science.

Read more at Forbes...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A New Galileo Book...

...which I reviewed recently at Forbes. I met Fr. Scotti at Portsmouth Abbey School some years back, and am happy I was able to help him bring his book to the attention of the folks at Ignatius.

Friday, February 17, 2017

David Bentley Hart on the limits of natural law theory


"In abstraction from specific religious or metaphysical traditions, there really is very little that natural law theory can meaningfully say about the relative worthiness of the employments of the will. There are, of course, generally observable facts about the characteristics of our humanity (the desire for life and happiness, the capacity for allegiance and affinity, the spontaneity of affection for one’s family) and about the things that usually conduce to the fulfillment of innate human needs (health, a well-ordered family and polity, sufficient food, aesthetic bliss, a sense of spiritual mystery, leisure, and so forth); and if we all lived in a Platonic or Aristotelian or Christian intellectual world, in which everyone presumed some necessary moral analogy between the teleology of nature and the proper objects of the will, it would be fairly easy to connect these facts to moral prescriptions in ways that our society would find persuasive. We do not live in such a world, however." 

--From his 'Back Page' essay in the March 2013 issue of First Things.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Melancholy Choice


If men are compelled to make the melancholy choice between atheism and superstition, the scientist, as Bacon pointed out long ago, would be compelled to choose atheism, but the poet would be compelled to choose superstition, for even superstition, by its very confusion of values, gives his imagination more scope than a dogmatic denial of imaginative infinity does. But the loftiest religion, no less than the grossest superstition, comes to the poet, qua poet, only as the spirits came to Yeats, to give him metaphors for poetry.

-- Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism (second essay, p. 125)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Is there 'Life' in the Movies?

Abortion is not the topic of many movies, and good films that handle the issue well are few and far between. For this month’s theme, I decided to rewind and take a look at a few features that tell a compelling story about women faced with unexpected pregnancies, and how it affects their lives and families. 

The British seem to have the edge on American filmmakers here, but let’s start with the U.S. (Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading at New Boston Post

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Catch Up for Thanksgiving, 2015.

Some recent posts:

My review of the film, Spotlight, about the Boston Globe's investigation of the clerical abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

My Forbes post on Canadian researcher Timothy Kieffer and his lab's breakthrough on a stem cell therapy for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes.

And my plug for the History Channel's Einstein documentary, Secrets of Einstein's Brain, in which I appeared briefly, along with Michio Kaku, Paul Davies and Michel Janssen, among others. The film is available on iTunes for a few bucks to download.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Monsieur le Duc, Meet Mr. Bond...

I should not have been surprised to learn that Ian Fleming's Bond series of novels was inspired by Dennis Wheatley's earlier success with the Duke de Richlieu and his intrepid team of adventurers. The Forbidden Territory came out in 1933, featuring the Duke and Simon Aaron on a perilous journey into Soviet Russia to rescue their friend Rex van Ryn. While the next turn, The Devil Rides Out, turned to the supernatural, Wheatley wrote other espionage adventures and they were popular. A list of all his novels gives you an idea of where his imagination roamed.

Ballantine Books' 1971 edition of Wheatley's famous novel


But by the time Fleming came along with Bond, I imagine readers were ready for more sex and violence, but what amuses me is the similarity in their writing styles and their sensibilities.

1959 edition of Ian Fleming's James Bond novel

The casual, upper middle class racism stands out. Also the casual drinking. In Devil Rides Out, for example, Rex makes more than a few mid-day cocktails for Tanith and himself during a stopover at the Duke's 'cottage' on their trek across the English countryside. No worries about drunk driving in those days, apparently.  

Interesting that, although he blazed the trail in a sense, Wheatley saw none of the success of his books translated into film the way Fleming did with Bond, even though he outlived Fleming.  The Devil Rides Out remains the most famous of the four films based on his books--and in spite of its still impressive production design, as Christopher Lee often lamented, from the get-go the film suffered from unforgivably low-budget visual effects.