Book Review, Classics, Non-Fiction

Age of Reason – Thomas Paine

 
 
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Just finished reading Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason"

 
What can I say?
 
That a book written more than 200 years ago could find so much resonance today is something that is needs to be read to be believed
 
Thomas Paine was a man who was so far ahead of his time that he would be called far ahead of his time today!!
 
Thomas_Paine_(cropped) (1) The moral courage and the personal integrity that exemplified his entire life marks his written work. Age of Reason was a book that caused such an explosion in its time that it did two things – immortalized him for posterity and condemned him during his lifetime.
 
Yet at the end of his life, when he was dying a painful death, deserted by friends and shunned by people who had hailed him a hero once, he stuck to what he had believed in and displayed the same sense of sarcastic humour that he showed in his work. A life lived as written
 
Age of Reason is an all out attack on the system of organized religion – more specifically Christianity, this being the religion that Paine encountered in England, France and America, the places where he lived and fought all his life. Paine was a brilliant pamphleteer and so was used to laying out his ideas concisely and clearly without using any dense logic or arguments. He uses the same technique in his writings.
 
Reading this, even 200 years later, feels like a stirring call to arms. And the fact that a large part of this book was written and completed at a time when Thomas Paine was under the belief that he could be executed anytime makes you appreciate the book more…
 
There are two important aspects of the book that stands out – the material of the book and the way it is written
 
The material of the book is based on a simple premise – Organized religion is a sham at best and dangerous at worst. This is because the purpose of organized religion is to make us act contrary to our innermost feelings, filling our head with impossible and fantastic things that has no basis in reality. The only true religion is that of Deism and the true bible is Nature.
 
Because, as Paine explains so beautifully, God has anyway given us an abundance of miracles in everything around us, in existence itself. Why do we need foolish miracles or religion? This was the first time that material like this was published in a direct and plainly written attack, even though the thoughts on which Paine based his work had been around for some time – in the work of David Hume and Spinoza for example.
 
The book is divided into two parts – the first is a general discussion on religion and on Paine's personal beliefs. This is where he puts forward his most compelling and beautiful arguments for the religion of the mind and the heart. He explains what he feels and why he feels so. The second part deals directly with Christianity. Deals is a wrong word actually. Rips apart is perhaps more appropriate. Paine takes some of the implied and maybe even cherished beliefs of Christians and literally rips them to shred…
 
Which brings me to the fascinating way the book is written. He is attacking organized religion in open field, which at that time was immensely powerful and controlled almost every aspect of life. Yet, he never uses any circular arguments, does not hide behind any one else and or any other theory. His attacks are straight to the point and argued so logically and beautifully that the modern reader will still find the reasoning fascinating, no matter how many Richard Dawkins he may have read.
 
When he is attacking Christianity, he maintains his good quality acerbic humour to mock the beliefs and at the same time gives irrefutable proof of why he considers the beliefs to be wrong. He picks up different aspects of Christianity – the bible and its different books, the299283333_7316acf53f characters of Moses, Joshua, Jesus and the significant events on which Christianity is based – most importantly the resurrection of Jesus. This was written to make perfect sense to a complete layman on the street. And this it does brilliantly!!!
 
The style has a wonderful sense of a person who is simply trying to wake up the reader to things which seem painfully apparent once explained…
 
This is a book that I hope I will be revisiting many a times. The book that has inspired people from Mark Twain to Christopher Hitchens is not something that can be digested in one reading…
 
This a book that cannot be reviewed enough, Instead I will leave the reader of this post with some of the sentences in the book that are so powerful and beautiful that they need to be read again and again…
 
Quotes from “Age of Reason”…Read below…
 
 

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“You will do me the justice to remember, that I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”

 

“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy”

 

“My own mind is my own church.”

 

“But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself”

 

“Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.”

 

“It is a contradiction in terms and ideas, to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication—after this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner; for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him”

 

“The more unnatural anything is, the more it is capable of becoming the object of dismal admiration.”

 

“THE WORD OF GOD IS THE CREATION WE BEHOLD and it is in this word, which no human invention can counterfeit or alter, that God speaketh universally to man”

 

“and, therefore, the only idea we can have of serving God, is that of contributing to the happiness of the living creation that God has made. This cannot be done by retiring ourselves from the society of the world and spending a recluse life in selfish devotion.”

 

“As mystery answered all general purposes, miracle followed as an occasional auxiliary. The former served to bewilder the mind, the latter to puzzle the senses. The one was the lingo, the other the legerdemain. And, in the second place, it is degrading the Almighty into the character of a showman, playing tricks to amuse and make the people stare and wonder.”

 

“Upon the whole, mystery, miracle, and prophecy are appendages that belong to fabulous and not to true religion. They are the means by which so many Lo, heres! and Lo, theres! have been spread about the world, and religion been made into a trade”

 

“It is certain that, in one point, all the nations of the earth and all religions agree—all believe in a God; the things in which they disagree, are the redundancies annexed to that belief; and, therefore, if ever a universal religion should prevail, it will not be by believing anything new, but in getting rid of redundancies”

 

“Speaking for myself, if I had no other evidence that the Bible is fabulous than the sacrifice I must make to believe it to be true, that alone would be sufficient to determine my choice”

 

“Divided love is never happy.for it is impossible to derive happiness from the company of those whom we deprive of happiness.”

 

“To be happy in old age, it is necessary that we accustom ourselves to objects that can accompany the mind all the way through life, and that we take the rest as good in their day. The mere man of pleasure is miserable in old age, and the mere drudge in business is but little better; whereas, natural philosophy, mathematical and mechanical science, are a continual source of tranquil pleasure, and in spite of the gloomy dogmas of priests and of superstition, the study of these things is the true theology; it teaches man to know and to admire the Creator, for the principles of science are in the creation, and are unchangeable and of divine origin”

 

“for when we cease to have an object, we become like an invalid in a hospital waiting for death”

“Can we suppose it is consistent with the wisdom of the Almighty, to commit himself and his will to man upon such precarious means as these, or that it is consistent we should pin our faith upon such uncertainties? We cannot make, nor alter, nor even imitate so much as one blade of grass that he has made, and yet we can make or alter words of God as easily as words of man

 

“But all other arguments apart, the consciousness of existence is the only conceivable idea we can have of another life, and the continuance of that consciousness is immortality. The consciousness of existence, or the knowing that we exist, is not necessarily confined to the same form, nor to the same matter, even in this life”

 

“credulity, however, is not a crime, but it becomes criminal by resisting conviction.”

 

“but when it is said, as in the Testament, “If a man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;” it is assassinating the dignity of forbearance, and sinking man into a spaniel.Those who preach this doctrine of loving their enemies are in general the greatest persecutors, and they act consistently by so doing”

“And is not the evidence that this creation holds out to our senses infinitely stronger than anything we can read in a book that any impostor might make and call the word of God? As for morality, the knowledge of it exists in every man’s conscience”

 

“Religion, by such means, becomes a thing of form, instead of fact—of notion, instead of principles; morality is banished to make room for an imaginary thing called faith”

 

“certain as I am, that when opinions are free, either in matters of government or religion, truth will finally and powerfully prevail.”

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Drama, English Movies

Dogpound Shuffle directed by Jeffrey Bloom

10876919_det Before writing a review of the movie, a little note on how damn difficult it is to find it!!!
 
I first saw this movie when I was somewhere around class IX or even earlier. Like so many gems, it was coming at an odd time – late afternoon or so and I just chanced to see it after it had already begun. I remember being mesmerized by the simple yet touching story about a man and his quest to free his dog. I found out the name later (from one of those TV guides that I used to pore over). I think I saw it once more but I am not sure…
 
The movie stayed with me for all these years as one of those childhood movies that you saw but which you want to see again. The internet age came and the download speed slowly increased so now we are now able to download videos effortlessly where we could download images painfully ten years ago.
 
This movie however remained elusive even after extensive searching. There were other hard to find movies that I eventually pounced upon – like “Silent Night”, “The Scarlet and the Black” etc but this one wasmoodysouldogpoundshuffle182 tough. Real tough…
 
So I get into these fits of energy when a notion seizes me and I keep searching for whatever catches my fancy like a maniac. The “Dogpound Shuffle” mania kept hitting me every second year. And this time I was ready to buy from Amazon if necessary.
 
But wonder of wonders!!! Amazon has only a VHS tape of the movie (obviously used!!). I mean, VHS? After having reeled a bit from this sort of a letdown from the god of online shopping, I searched like a maniac for any torrent that might even give me 1Kbps speed!!!
 
And just when I had almost given up, I found it!!! Where? In a DVD lending website based in India – 70mm!!! I had to kick myself more than a dozen times before I could actually believe that a movie that the awesome power of Internet and Amazon combined was not able to deliver was lying nonchalantly in a DVD lending library that is just a phone call away!! Irony of modern technology, no less!!! Anyway, so  thats how I got this movie…Phew!!!
 
index So about the movie. I watched it after almost 12 years and it still  retained the magic that I had felt then. The story of an old tap dancer who teams up with a failed prizefighter who plays harmonica to raise money to free his dog from the Dogpound is a story that O Henry could have been proud of.
 
It has all the qualities of an excellent short story – You get fleeting glimpses into the lives of the characters but all the story is told in action, in the dialogues and the story is one which is lived in present. And like the best of stories, this is about relationships between people – in this case between people who start off being together to survive, in order to gain something from the other and end up forming a kinship that is difficult to put a name to.
 
It has a old literature feel that gives it a certain feeling of old romance – of two drifters finding friendship and purpose in and from each other, in a story that is beautiful and touching in its message of friendship. This is a movie that gives off a warm snug feeling and leaves you wetfilm-dogpoundshuffle-eyed and laughing at the same time…
 
Its quite a wonder to me how this movie is not at all popular as it should be – a sentiment echoed, as I found, on Amazon and Imdb.com. This is a movie for all ages and for the whole family…
 
Well, I dont really care about others but I do know this – this is one movie I am making multiple copies of. This is a movie that is rare in every sense of the world…
 
I wish I could tell you to go and see it…Unless you get it from 70mm, good luck to you in the whole wide world!!!
 

 
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shakespeare Bill Bryson
Book Review, Historical, Non-Fiction

Shakespeare written by Bill Bryson

bill_bryson_shakespeare Bill Bryson is the official Mr Know-it-all. And here he comes up with a book on Shakespeare, a man who generates as much controversy about himself as he does praise for his work…

Now, a book that tries to bring the Bard forward as a historical figure would suffer from a serious problem – the book cant be more than a few pages long!!! There is almost no authentic historical records of the man, save for a few fragmentary information – court records and such…

What the book does well is in bringing both humour and historical background to the theme. Bryson has a catchy style of writing and that helps the subject along as there is not much material to put flesh on the characters of the era.

We are introduced to the world that Shakespeare inhabited – a world of growing English imperialism, the golden age of Elizabeth and the golden age of English theatre but a world where life expectancy hovered around the mid-thirties, where plague was the scrouge that was all too common and the world in general was a place where you would sooner die of starvation than of any wars, which were all too frequent as well…

As Bryson notes wryly, the greatest achievement of Shakespeare wasshakespeare91 not that he wrote his plays but that he survived at all!!!

Great men are as much a product of their talents as much as they are of their times, usually even more so…Shakespeare born a hundred years earlier or later would have in all probability died an unknown death – previously due to lack of any avenues to show his talents, later due to the closure of all theatres owing a wave of fundamentalism (Puritanism). Shakespeare was indeed lucky…

In more ways than one, as we see. Many of the works of his contemporaries are now lost, men who were considered at par or greater in talent than Shakespeare in his time. His work was preserved by the diligent efforts of two men to whom history owes profound thanks.

We are taken on a tour of Shakespeares life, from his childhood to adulthood to his death. The problem is that much of its conjecture and not hard facts. Record keeping was a science that developed after the Bard’s days. We dont know how he really looked like (there are conflicting portraits), we dont know how he spent his days, what his likes and dislikes were, whom he really married, what his relationships were, his influence in his works, his views on the things around him – nothing to put a shape to him. We dont really even know in what orders his plays were written!!! We do know however that Shakespeare and his friends were terrific plagiarists!!!

globe With all that handicaps, its a wonder that Bryson is able to hold our attention for so long. Except for a brief part of the book, near the end part where the book drags under the weight of excessive details, the book is interesting. You get a feel of the world that produced the ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ and you get an idea what kind of a man Shakespeare might have been…

‘Romeo and Juliet’ was dismissed as too melodramatic in its time by some critics. History is kind to those whose work survive!!! Bryson also devotes time to talk about some of the fanatical researchers, thanks to whom we know what little we know of the Bard.

As for the controversies, Bryson is a believer and hence a defender of the faith. So dont expect an objective argument. That comes at the very end of the book and is not the central theme, so Bryson is obviously confident that the man existed in all his glory.

So, if you are not looking to get the meat of the controversy, and just looking to have a good tale told to you, a tale that reads like a historical mystery, then go for this book.

Its an enjoyable read…Bryson scores again!!!

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