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Noteworthy books

Notable Books | Four notable nonfiction hardbacks reviewed by Susan Olasky

Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right

Content: Former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg has gained new life as a right-wing polemicist. In this third book he continues to take swipes at the political left-and occasionally at those on the right who have lost their way.

Gist: Most of the chapters appear to be drawn from columns of the past several years-that equals old news better discussed elsewhere. This book will update those who haven't heard about doctored photos from last year's war in Lebanon, or the media bias on 60 Minutes.

Religious Literacy

Content: Stephen Prothero lays out the importance of having a basic understanding of world religions. He explains why Americans used to be religiously literate (especially about Christianity), describes the demise of this basic understanding, and outlines a way back.

Gist: This slender volume offers both compelling history and a dictionary of terms that Americans should know to better understand literature, politics, and social movements. He advocates the teaching of the Bible in schools, not in a devotional way but because religion is important.

God Is Not Great

Content: Christopher Hitchens spews scorn for Christians and others, arguing that "religion poisons everything." Typical sentences: "It goes without saying than none of the gruesome, disordered events described in Exodus ever took place." Or, "One knew, of course, that the whole racket of American evangelism was just that: a heartless con."

Gist: If this is the best atheists can do, don't be alarmed. Folks in the middle will not believe that every religious belief and person is poisonous, especially as Christians engage in numerous works of compassion.

Everything Conceivable

Content: Most Americans have no idea what's meant by assisted reproduction. Liza Mundy uses stories, statistics, and interviews to lead the reader through this changing reproductive landscape.

Gist: Mundy gets people to talk frankly about what used to be private and simple: how to make babies. Through advances in medical technology gay men, lesbians, and infertile persons can and do conceive, with the help of surrogates, and egg and sperm donors. Mundy, who favors legal abortion, raises concerns about some of the practices she describes.

Spotlight

It's possible to come away from reading Liza Mundy's Everything Conceivable thinking that we live in both the best and worst of times. For men like Rob Ginis, father of two and a paraplegic, it is the best of times. He has two children he wouldn't otherwise have because an Irish veterinarian invented a way to help paralyzed men produce sperm. For babies B and D, two of four 11-week-old unborn babies conceived through in vitro fertilization, it is the worst of times. They were killed by an injection of potassium chloride because their mother wanted only twins; they were both healthy but also easy to reach by their medical poisoner, and one was the "wrong" gender.

It's a Wild West field where every physician and scientist does what is right in his own eyes. Mundy's position on abortion will bother many readers, but she has done a fine job of reporting and raising important questions: "Doctors were making up the rules as they went along. There was no medical playbook here. There were no government guidelines. What was normal? What was wrong? Who knew?"

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