Review by Brendan Donaghy -- Mythic Worlds and the One Y...

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Brendan Donaghy
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Review by Brendan Donaghy -- Mythic Worlds and the One Y...

Post by Brendan Donaghy » 01 May 2019, 13:15

[Following is a volunteer review of "Mythic Worlds and the One You Can Believe In" by Harold Toliver.]
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3 out of 4 stars
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Mythic Worlds and the One You Can Believe In is written by Harold Toliver, an award-winning American academic and writer. In the first few pages of this book, Toliver highlights the fact that an estimated one hundred and sixty million people died as a result of conflicts in the twentieth century alone. He argues that many of these wars can be attributed to ‘errors in perception, to the propaganda that encouraged them, and to fervent beliefs contradicted by the natural continuum.’ His book, he informs us, is an effort to dismantle some of these ‘harmful myths of the commonwealth and blind faith partisanship.’

In the first section of the book, the author examines what he terms the ‘myths of origin’ that are told about the universe and humankind. He seeks to determine what is actual, what is hypothetical, and what is completely false by comparing these stories with what science and common experience say about the natural world. The second section considers ways in which the development of language may have contributed to the simultaneous development of humankind’s capacity to construct narrative and legend. Section three looks at how enhanced knowledge of the universe has succeeded in detaching humanity from some of its myths. Finally, the fourth section looks at how myths have been used to galvanize groups and populations into taking collective action, including the use of warfare.

There are some interesting arguments made in this book. I was convinced by the author’s debunking of the idea, perpetuated by notable thinkers like John Ruskin, that the evolutionary narrative is dedicated to progress. Toliver provides several examples to show that evolution ‘produces many imperfect things not on the way to anything better.’ Similarly, he argues cogently that myths and ideas which induce groupthink can be both beneficial and dangerous: beneficial because that which makes people think alike develops their coordination and cooperation; dangerous because such uniformity of thinking is often used to promote imperialistic conquest.

Too often, however, these interesting arguments get buried under a wealth of detail. At times, it seems as if the author is attempting to strengthen his arguments by using the whole of human history and culture as supporting evidence. There are thirty pages of references at the end of this book, with everyone from Aeschylus to Zoroaster getting a mention. The works of mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, and writers from every era are examined and discussed. World religions and mythologies are explored. Language development from earliest times to the present day is outlined and analyzed. Historical figures such as General Custer and Adolf Hitler make cameo appearances. Contemporary culture also gets a mention, when recent movies are used to support a particular point. The result of all this detail, in my opinion, is that often the point the writer is trying to make gets lost under a mountain of citation, disputation, and erudition. As the point gets lost, so too does the reader.

This book will not appeal to people of faith, as the author consigns religious belief to the category of unhelpful myth. He does not give us an anti-religious polemic in the style of Richard Dawkins, but he is quite clear about his thoughts on this score. He writes: ‘That a supreme being is watching one’s every move and keeping score is still a surprisingly contagious idea in moral philosophy disconnected from the evolution of humankind.’ The book may also offend supporters of the Republican Party in the United States, as the likes of George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Trump are all mentioned disparagingly.

The book is professionally produced. I picked up fewer than ten typographical errors, although it has to be said that the author is perhaps too sparing in his use of commas. For the most part, the book is polished and well-written. I enjoyed some of the points put forward by the writer, but I found this a tough book to read overall. Other people may take a different view. Those who enjoy academic debates and have no problem picking their way through abstruse, arcane arguments may find this book more to their liking.

I would give Mythic Worlds and the One You Can Believe In three out of four stars.

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Post by juliusotieno02 » 14 May 2019, 06:25

I'm currently reading this book. Your review is very nice and detailed. The author's arguments are what i may call "valid arguments" since most of it is backed-up by references and evidence. This book is complex and full of philosophical views. I have to say you nailed it! Your review is superb! Thumps up!
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Brendan Donaghy
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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 14 May 2019, 07:50

juliusotieno02 wrote:
14 May 2019, 06:25
I'm currently reading this book. Your review is very nice and detailed. The author's arguments are what i may call "valid arguments" since most of it is backed-up by references and evidence. This book is complex and full of philosophical views. I have to say you nailed it! Your review is superb! Thumps up!
It's most definitely a very challenging book to read, but there are some interesting and valid arguments in there. Many thanks for your kind comments!

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Post by jeminah28 » 15 May 2019, 01:49

It sounds that this book has a wide range of topics and mostly opinionated. Thanks.
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Brendan Donaghy
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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 15 May 2019, 04:36

jeminah28 wrote:
15 May 2019, 01:49
It sounds that this book has a wide range of topics and mostly opinionated. Thanks.
Thank you for your comments!

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Post by allbooked+ » 15 May 2019, 07:34

Thank you for a very thorough review. I do not care for authors that use disparaging remarks to make their point (unhelpful myth?!) as things can certainly be stated better for either side of your belief.

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Post by ButterscotchCherrie » 15 May 2019, 08:57

I enjoyed reading your thorough and balanced review. It's a shame the author had to cite everything (from Aeschylus to Zoroaster and from Custer to Hitler) to prove his points! Nothing wrong with admitting that not everything fits a pattern, IMHO.

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Post by Ellylion » 15 May 2019, 10:47

It's a really tough book to read. I gave it up lately, although it raises very interesting questions. I got overwhelmed with all the details from so many fields of science and not only the author brings as evidence, as you mentioned above.
Thank you for a great review!

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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 15 May 2019, 14:09

allbooked+ wrote:
15 May 2019, 07:34
Thank you for a very thorough review. I do not care for authors that use disparaging remarks to make their point (unhelpful myth?!) as things can certainly be stated better for either side of your belief.
Thanks very much for your comment!

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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 15 May 2019, 14:11

ButterscotchCherrie wrote:
15 May 2019, 08:57
I enjoyed reading your thorough and balanced review. It's a shame the author had to cite everything (from Aeschylus to Zoroaster and from Custer to Hitler) to prove his points! Nothing wrong with admitting that not everything fits a pattern, IMHO.
I think a more tightly focused approach might have helped get his points across a bit better. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 15 May 2019, 14:13

Ellylion wrote:
15 May 2019, 10:47
It's a really tough book to read. I gave it up lately, although it raises very interesting questions. I got overwhelmed with all the details from so many fields of science and not only the author brings as evidence, as you mentioned above.
Thank you for a great review!
It's a very difficult book to get through. I think it leaves the reader feeling totally overwhelmed by the amount of detail contained in it. Thank you for commenting!

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Post by Uinto » 17 May 2019, 08:24

Thanks for your review. As pointed out in your review, I agree academic reads tend to be laborious and hard to decipher. Still, I only seem to gather that the author only talks about myths. But I could be wrong.

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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 17 May 2019, 12:01

Uinto wrote:
17 May 2019, 08:24
Thanks for your review. As pointed out in your review, I agree academic reads tend to be laborious and hard to decipher. Still, I only seem to gather that the author only talks about myths. But I could be wrong.
Thank you so much for taking time to comment!

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Post by Cotwani » 19 May 2019, 06:21

The result of all this detail, in my opinion, is that often the point the writer is trying to make gets lost under a mountain of citation, disputation, and erudition. As the point gets lost, so too does the reader.
Congratulations for toughing this one out. I would have gotten too lost to get the well-balanced perspective. I am still wondering what solution the author actually offers. Thanks for the thorough review.
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Brendan Donaghy
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Post by Brendan Donaghy » 19 May 2019, 06:56

Cotwani wrote:
19 May 2019, 06:21
The result of all this detail, in my opinion, is that often the point the writer is trying to make gets lost under a mountain of citation, disputation, and erudition. As the point gets lost, so too does the reader.
Congratulations for toughing this one out. I would have gotten too lost to get the well-balanced perspective. I am still wondering what solution the author actually offers. Thanks for the thorough review.
Not sure if his objective in writing the book was to offer a solution as such. I think the book is more about shining a light on how the 'stories' we tell ourselves to explain the universe and the human condition have grown up. Also, perhaps, on why these stories persist to this day, even when they go against what science teaches us about the natural world. Many thanks for your comments!

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