It's that time of year again to look at the top books published in 2012, rate them, and consider their value as Christmas presents. This year the field covers Mysticism, Spirituality, Science and Literature. Here are my top five:
1. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, by Dr Eben Alexander.Top of the chart must be neurosurgeon, Dr Eben Alexander's eye-popping account of the meningitis bugs that ate the human part of his brain and what happened after that. “My near-death experience … took place not while my cortex was malfunctioning, but while it was simply off. … According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.” He made a full recovery and wrote a fascinating account of his experiences when, according to science, he should have been dead. A must-read for anyone interested in the field, whether mysticism or neuroscience.
* * * * * 2. QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.This is a fine book, immensely readable and admirably covering the ground. At the end, Susan Cain homes-in on the story of Stephen Wozniak, whom you will not have heard of if you are not a nerd. He was the true founder of Apple Computers — now with a world-beating market capitalisation of $600bn — only teaming up with Steve Jobs after he had designed and built by hand the first prototype of a modern personal computer with keyboard and screen. It was a seminal moment, and he did it at home in his bedroom. Typical.
* * * * * 3. The Lion's World by Rowan Williams, outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury.The Lion’s World examines C.S Lewis’s children’s book series about Narnia, a mythical world that only youngsters can see at first, but which develops into a broad metaphor for a field of action, an alternative world, dominated by the Christlike Aslan, a giant lion. The books have their own slightly dotty charm which must be experienced not read about. As indeed does The Lion’s World, which I won’t labour too much. If you know Narnia and like the sound of this, I heartily recommend it.
* * * * * 4. War of the Worldviews: Science vs SpiritualityDeepak Chopra is a top-notch member of the aristocracy of writers on spirituality. His many insightful books over the years have covered topics as diverse as health, wealth, immortality and spiritual laws for parents. As a medical doctor he is also very much at home writing about science. War of the Worldviews: Science vs Spirituality is co-authored with cosmologist Leonard Mlodinow, who also co-wrote The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking. Under a series of topics, each author has written a short essay, bouncing ideas off each other. It’s an exhilarating read.
* * * * * 5. The Science Delusion, by Dr Rupert SheldrakeThe biologist, Dr Rupert Sheldrake in his new book, explains the process of memory with the term morphic resonance. He points out that Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiments on the conditioning of dogs, proved that this conditioning “could survive massive surgical damage to the brain”, showing that it was not brain-dependent. Clearly, memories are not made of wired circuits within the skull, but have a non-local source more akin to telepathy than is conventionally understood. This extended mind, as Sheldrake terms it, is surrounding us at all times. We have built-in receptors to filter much of it out, but are mostly unaware of how this works. A worthy book and a fine read. John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Recent Related Articles
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Theology has never been my favourite branch of knowledge. It keeps too much distance from the thing it is trying to describe, with the result that it often misses the target altogether. It's like a series of stepping stones over a fast-moving stream. When you have crossed a few times, the stream becomes secondary to the crossing, and the stones define your knowledge of it. The living stream is the reality that is too fluid to be retained by the mind. Theology is for academics who write books to demonstrate their knowledge, piling up pernickety footnotes as a brag list of what they have read. God? ... do be sensible, young man! Cynicism is often at the heart of theology, which has become a field for arm wrestling, not the thirst for experience that will validate the intuition. So what are we to make of Rowan Williams's latest book: The Lion's World, which contains the following passage: How do you make fresh what is thought to be familiar, so familiar that it doesn't have to be thought about? ... a world in which the strangeness of the Christian story is encountered for what it is, not as part of a familiar eccentricity of behaviour called religion. Phew! The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury seems more than a little demob happy. And he continues along this fruitful line: ... the real possibility of joy beyond imagining, the fact that the world we think we know is soaked through with symbolic meaning and intelligent energy. [My emphasis] I like the phrase "soaked through" -- it expresses it so well. I should add that Dr Williams has, in the past, been "accused" of writing densely obstruse books on such subjects as, Dostoevsky and Teresa of Avila. The Lion's World examines C.S Lewis's children's book series about Narnia, a mythical world that only youngsters can see at first, but which develops into a broad metaphor for a field of action, an alternative world, dominated by the Christlike Aslan, a giant lion. The books and films are too well known, I think, to be described further here. Besides, they have their own slightly dotty charm which must be experienced not read about. As indeed does The Lion's World, which I won't labour too much. If you know Narnia and like the sound of this, I heartily recommend it. Williams amusingly quotes Lewis on Freudian psychoanalysis: "If Theism had done nothing else for me, I should still be thankful that it cured me of the timewasting and foolish practice of keeping a diary." Self-obsession is a major impediment to spiritual progress, specifically because the emphasis is on the thinker not the divine. Self forgetfulness is the essence of the mystical path. Lewis knew that, and it is an unusual characteristic for one who hovers around the hill-tops of theological discourse. However, the author of Mere Christianity was bound to break out of the magic circle at some point. It was Lewis who rather wonderfully pointed out that, "there are no ordinary people, it is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit." It is our purpose to reveal God to one another. Politics pokes its nose in fleetingly: "Human rules are neither here nor there, and they are commonly used for unjust purposes; Lewis is enough of a Tory anarchist to be very sceptical of most schemes for human happiness," writes the Archbishop. Is there just a hint of fellow-feeling there? That would be a departure for the lord of Greenham Common. Might we see a different Rowan emerging from his new Chair at Cambridge University, or will he become lost in the groves of academe, a fate that C.S. Lewis avoided at Oxford? Time, as ever, will tell. Ultimately, he writes: "What is devilish ... is the illusion that we can somehow control this reality by denying it. There is no other stream. The way to life or reconciliation or forgiveness or renewal is always a path through what is there ... And I might add ... staring you in the face. John Evans ... who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers. Spiritual Mystics in the Modern World is coming soon.
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