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FreeThinkers Book Club Archive

A compassionate community of free religious thought, inviting all people to rest, grow, and serve the world.

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All Are Welcomed!

Westwood is a Unitarian Universalist Congregation that has been approved as a certified Freethinker congregation by the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association.

The Freethinker book club at Westwood is an inclusive group that welcomes people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ages, abilities and incomes to join in respectful discussion of the topics raised in the books we read.

The book titles are democratically selected by the members of the book club.

Selection of a particular book does not imply endorsement of the book’s perspective by Freethinker members or by the Westwood Congregation. 

Current Year 2023-24

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure - April 24, 2024

Something has been going wrong on many college campuses in the last few years. Speakers are shouted down. Students and professors say they are walking on eggshells and are afraid to speak honestly. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising—on campus as well as nationally. How did this happen?

First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt show how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths contradict basic psychological principles about well-being and ancient wisdom from many cultures.  Embracing these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. It makes it harder for them to become autonomous adults who are able to navigate the bumpy road of life.

Lukianoff and Haidt investigate the many social trends that have intersected to promote the spread of these untruths. They explore changes in childhood such as the rise of fearful parenting, the decline of unsupervised, child-directed play, and the new world of social media that has engulfed teenagers in the last decade. They examine changes on campus, including the corporatization of universities and the emergence of new ideas about identity and justice. They situate the conflicts on campus within the context of America’s rapidly rising political polarization and dysfunction.

This is a book for anyone who is confused by what is happening on college campuses today, or has children, or is concerned about the growing inability of Americans to live, work, and cooperate across party lines.

  • Author: Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
  • Reading Month: April 24, 2024
Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment - May 29, 2024

In 2014, Francis Fukuyama wrote that American institutions were in decay, as the state was progressively captured by powerful interest groups. Two years later, his predictions were borne out by the rise to power of a series of political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies threatened to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole.

Demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.

Identity is an urgent and necessary book―a sharp warning that unless we forge a universal understanding of human dignity, we will doom ourselves to continuing conflict.

  • Author: Francis Fukuyama
  • Reading Month: May 29, 2024

Books Read Thus Far 2023-24

From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life - March 27, 2024

The roadmap for finding purpose, meaning, and success as we age, from bestselling author, Harvard professor, and the Atlantic’s happiness columnist Arthur Brooks.

Many of us assume that the more successful we are, the less susceptible we become to the sense of professional and social irrelevance that often accompanies aging. But the truth is, the greater our achievements and our attachment to them, the more we notice our decline, and the more painful it is when it occurs.
What can we do, starting now, to make our older years a time of happiness, purpose, and yes, success?

At the height of his career at the age of 50, Arthur Brooks embarked on a seven-year journey to discover how to transform his future from one of disappointment over waning abilities into an opportunity for progress. From Strength to Strength is the result, a practical roadmap for the rest of your life.
Drawing on social science, philosophy, biography, theology, and eastern wisdom, as well as dozens of interviews with everyday men and women, Brooks shows us that true life success is well within our reach. By refocusing on certain priorities and habits that anyone can learn, such as deep wisdom, detachment from empty rewards, connection and service to others, and spiritual progress, we can set ourselves up for increased happiness.
Read this book and you, too, can go from strength to strength.

  • Author: Arthur C. Brooks
  • Reading Month: March 27, 2024
Giving the Devil His Due: Reflections of a Scientific Humanist - February 28, 2024

Who is the ‘Devil’? And what is he due? The Devil is anyone who disagrees with you. And what he is due is the right to speak his mind. He must have this for your own safety’s sake because his freedom is inextricably tied to your own. If he can be censored, why shouldn’t you be censored? If we put barriers up to silence ‘unpleasant’ ideas, what’s to stop the silencing of any discussion? This book is a full-throated defense of free speech and open inquiry in politics, science, and culture by the New York Times bestselling author and skeptic Michael Shermer. The new collection of essays and articles takes the Devil by the horns by tackling five key themes: free thought and free speech, politics and society, scientific humanism, religion, and the ideas of controversial intellectuals. For our own sake, we must give the Devil his due.

  • Author: Michael Shermer
  • Reading Month: February 28, 2024
Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian reserve, a white town and the road to reconciliation - January 21, 2024

A heart-rending true story about racism and reconciliation

Divided by a beautiful valley and 150 years of racism, the town of Rossburn and the Waywayseecappo Indian reserve have been neighbours nearly as long as Canada has been a country. Their story reflects much of what has gone wrong in relations between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. It also offers, in the end, an uncommon measure of hope.

Valley of the Birdtail is about how two communities became separate and unequal—and what it means for the rest of us. In Rossburn, once settled by Ukrainian immigrants who fled poverty and persecution, family income is near the national average and more than a third of adults have graduated from university. In Waywayseecappo, the average family lives below the national poverty line and less than a third of adults have graduated from high school, with many haunted by their time in residential schools.

This book follows multiple generations of two families, one white and one Indigenous, and weaves their lives into the larger story of Canada. It is a story of villains and heroes, irony and idealism, racism and reconciliation. Valley of the Birdtail has the ambition to change the way we think about our past and show a path to a better future.

  • Author: Andrew Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson
  • Reading Month: January 21, 2024
Einstein’s Dreams - November 29, 2023

A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, when he worked in a patent office in Switzerland. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.

Now translated into thirty languages, Einstein’s Dreams has inspired playwrights, dancers, musicians, and painters all over the world. In poetic vignettes, it explores the connections between science and art, the process of creativity, and ultimately the fragility of human existence.

  • Author: Alan Lightman
  • Reading Month: November 29, 2023
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements - October 25, 2023

The famous bestseller with “concise insight into what drives the mind of the fanatic and the dynamics of a mass movement” (Wall St. Journal) by Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Eric Hoffer, The True Believer is a landmark in the field of social psychology, and even more relevant today than ever before in history. Called a “brilliant and original inquiry” and “a genuine contribution to our social thought” by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The True Believer is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the machinations by which an individual becomes a fanatic.

  • Author: Eric Hoffer
  • Reading Month: October 25, 2023
The World Turned Upside Down: America, China, and the Struggle for Global Leadership - September 27, 2023

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, most experts expected the WTO rules and procedures to liberalize China and make it “a responsible stakeholder in the liberal world order.” But the experts made the wrong bet. China today is liberalizing neither economically nor politically but, if anything, becoming more authoritarian and mercantilist.

In this book, notably free of partisan posturing and inflammatory rhetoric, renowned globalization and Asia expert Clyde Prestowitz describes the key challenges posed by China and the strategies America and the Free World must adopt to meet them. He argues that these must be more sophisticated and more comprehensive than a narrowly targeted trade war. Rather, he urges strategies that the United States and its allies can use unilaterally without contravening international or domestic law.

  • Author: Clyde Prestowitz
  • Reading Month: September 27, 2023

Pitch a Book for Next Year’s FreeThinker Book Club

Make a Pitch for next year’s Freethinkers’ reads.  We hope each of us will come with a book to pitch for the coming year. If we meet the same  number of times next year as this year, we need to select 6 titles.We hope we will have more than 8 pitches ( pitch in eh!)

For your pitch – try to check access – public library, cost, audio and e-reader etc. It is really fun to read reviews (for and against) your pitch on Goodreads.com 

Of course it also helps to read the book, but as other nights- not necessary!

2022-2023
2021-2022
2020-2021
2019-2020
2016-2017
Five Little Indians

Taken from their families when they are very small and sent to a remote, church-run residential school, Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie are barely out of childhood when they are finally released after years of detention.

Alone and without any skills, support or families, the teens find their way to the seedy and foreign world of Downtown Eastside Vancouver, where they cling together, striving to find a place of safety and belonging in a world that doesn’t want them. The paths of the five friends cross and crisscross over the decades as they struggle to overcome, or at least forget, the trauma they endured during their years at the Mission.

Fuelled by rage and furious with God, Clara finds her way into the dangerous, highly charged world of the American Indian Movement. Maisie internalizes her pain and continually places herself in dangerous situations. Famous for his daring escapes from the school, Kenny can’t stop running and moves restlessly from job to job—through fishing grounds, orchards and logging camps—trying to outrun his memories and his addiction. Lucy finds peace in motherhood and nurtures a secret compulsive disorder as she waits for Kenny to return to the life they once hoped to share together. After almost beating one of his tormentors to death, Howie serves time in prison, then tries once again to re-enter society and begin life anew.

With compassion and insight, Five Little Indians chronicles the desperate quest of these residential school survivors to come to terms with their past and, ultimately, find a way forward.

  • Author Michelle Good
  • Reading Year May 31, 2023
Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible

In his provocative new book, evolutionary biologist Jerry A. Coyne lays out in clear, dispassionate detail why the toolkit of science, based on reason and empirical study, is reliable, while that of religion – including faith, dogma, and revelation – leads to incorrect, untestable, or conflicting conclusions. Coyne is responding to a national climate in which over half of Americans don’t believe in evolution (and congressmen deny global warming), and warns that religious prejudices and strictures in politics, education, medicine, and social policy are on the rise.

Extending the best-selling works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, he demolishes the claims of religion to provide verifiable “truth” by subjecting those claims to the same tests we use to establish truth in science. Coyne irrefutably demonstrates the grave harm – to individuals and to our planet – in mistaking faith for fact in making the most important decisions about the world we live in.

  • Author Jerry Coyne
  • Reading Year April 26, 2023
The Moral Landscape

Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape”. Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of “morality”; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.

  • Author Sam Harris
  • Reading Year March 29, 2023
The Ministry of the Future

From legendary science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a remarkable vision of climate change over the coming decades.

The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us – and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.

It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.

One of Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2020

“If I could get policymakers, and citizens, everywhere to read just one book this year, it would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.” (Ezra Klein)

“The best science fiction-nonfiction novel I’ve ever read.” (Jonathan Lethem, Vanity Fair)

  • Author Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Reading Year February 22, 2023
The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world.

Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you’re rather psychologically peculiar.

Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves―their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations―over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries?

In The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich draws on cutting-edge research in anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explore these questions and more. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition―laying the foundation for the modern world.

Provocative and engaging in both its broad scope and its surprising details, The WEIRDest People in the World explores how culture, institutions, and psychology shape one another, and explains what this means for both our most personal sense of who we are as individuals and also the large-scale social, political, and economic forces that drive human history.

  • Author Joseph Henrich
  • Reading Year January 25, 2023
Burning Questions

From cultural icon Margaret Atwood comes a brilliant collection of essays–funny, erudite, endlessly curious, uncannily prescient–which seek answers to Burning Questions such as:

Why do people everywhere, in all cultures, tell stories?
How much of yourself can you give away without evaporating?
How can we live on our planet?
Is it true? And is it fair?
What do zombies have to do with authoritarianism?

In over fifty pieces Atwood aims her prodigious intellect and impish humour at the world, and reports back to us on what she finds. This roller-coaster period brought the end of history, a financial crash, the rise of Trump, and a pandemic. From debt to tech, the climate crisis to freedom; from when to dispense advice to the young (answer: only when asked) to how to define granola, we have no better guide to the many and varied mysteries of our universe.

  • Author Margaret Atwood
  • Reading Year November 30, 2022
Rez Rules: My Indictment of Canada’s Systematic Racism Against Indigenous People

A common-sense blueprint for what the future of First Nations should look like as told through the fascinating life and legacy of a remarkable leader.

In 1984, at the age of twenty-four, Clarence Louie was elected Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band in the Okanagan Valley. Nineteen elections later, Chief Louie has led his community for nearly four decades. The story of how the Osoyoos Indian Band—“The Miracle in the Desert”—transformed from a Rez that once struggled with poverty into an economically independent people is well-known. Guided by his years growing up on the Rez, Chief Louie believes that economic and business independence are key to self-sufficiency, reconciliation, and justice for First Nations people.
In Rez Rules, Chief Louie writes about his youth in Osoyoos, from early mornings working  in the vineyards, to playing and coaching sports, and attending a largely white school in Oliver, B.C. He remembers enrolling in the “Native American Studies” program at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in 1979 and falling in love with First Nations history. Learning about the historic significance of treaties was life-changing. He recalls his first involvement in activism: participating in a treaty bundle run across the country before embarking on a path of leadership. He and his band have worked hard to achieve economic growth and record levels of employment. Inspired by his ancestors’ working culture, and by the young people on the reserve, Chief Louie continues to work for First Nations’ self-sufficiency and independence.

Direct and passionate, Chief Louie brings together wide-ranging subjects: life on the Rez, including Rez language and humour; per capita payments; the role of elected chiefs; the devastating impact of residential schools; the need to look to culture and ceremony for governance and guidance; the use of Indigenous names and logos by professional sports teams; his love for motorcycle honour rides; and what makes a good leader. He takes aim at systemic racism and examines the relationship between First Nations and colonial Canada and the United States, and sounds a call to action for First Nations to “Indian Up!” and “never forget our past.” Offering leadership lessons on and off the Rez, this memoir describes the fascinating life and legacy of a remarkable leader and provides a common-sense blueprint for the future of First Nations communities. In it, Chief Louie writes, “Damn, I’m lucky to be an Indian!”

  • Author Clarence Louie
  • Reading Year October 26, 2022
Irreversible Damage

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF 2021 BY THE TIMES AND THE SUNDAY TIMES

Until just a few years ago, gender dysphoria—severe discomfort in one’s biological sex—was vanishingly rare. It was typically found in less than .01 percent of the population, emerged in early childhood, and afflicted males almost exclusively.

But today whole groups of female friends in colleges, high schools, and even middle schools across the country are coming out as “transgender.” These are girls who had never experienced any discomfort in their biological sex until they heard a coming-out story from a speaker at a school assembly or discovered the internet community of trans “influencers.”

Unsuspecting parents are awakening to find their daughters in thrall to hip trans YouTube stars and “gender-affirming” educators and therapists who push life-changing interventions on young girls—including medically unnecessary double mastectomies and puberty blockers that can cause permanent infertility.

Abigail Shrier, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, has dug deep into the trans epidemic, talking to the girls, their agonized parents, and the counselors and doctors who enable gender transitions, as well as to “detransitioners”—young women who bitterly regret what they have done to themselves.

  • Author Abigail Shrier
  • Reading Year September 28, 2022
Prey Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights

Why are so few people talking about the eruption of sexual violence and harassment in Europe’s cities? No one in a position of power wants to admit that the problem is linked to the arrival of several million migrants—most of them young men—from Muslim-majority countries.

In Prey, the best-selling author of Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, presents startling statistics, criminal cases and personal testimony.  Among these facts: In 2014, sexual violence in Western Europe surged following a period of stability. In 2018 Germany, “offences against sexual self-determination” rose 36 percent from their 2014 rate; nearly two-fifths of the suspects were non-German. In Austria in 2017, asylum-seekers were suspects in 11 percent of all reported rapes and sexual harassment cases, despite making up less than 1 percent of the total population.

This violence isn’t a figment of alt-right propaganda, Hirsi Ali insists, even if neo-Nazis exaggerate it. It’s a real problem that Europe—and the world—cannot continue to ignore. She explains why so many young Muslim men who arrive in Europe engage in sexual harassment and violence, tracing the roots of sexual violence in the Muslim world from institutionalized polygamy to the lack of legal and religious protections for women.

A refugee herself, Hirsi Ali is not against immigration. As a child in Somalia, she suffered female genital mutilation; as a young girl in Saudi Arabia, she was made to feel acutely aware of her own vulnerability. Immigration, she argues, requires integration and assimilation. She wants Europeans to reform their broken system—and for Americans to learn from European mistakes. If this doesn’t happen, the calls to exclude new Muslim migrants from Western countries will only grow louder.

Deeply researched and featuring fresh and often shocking revelations, Prey uncovers a sexual assault and harassment crisis in Europe that is turning the clock on women’s rights much further back than the #MeToo movement is advancing it.

  • Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Reading Year May 25, 2022
Restoring Democracy in an Age of Populists and Pestilence

From the author of the Claws of the Panda, a Globe and Mail bestseller, Restoring Democracy is quite literally a book for our times.

Jonathan Manthorpe argues that democracy is more resilient than it appears, and is capable of overcoming the attacks from within and without that have sapped its vigour since the end of the Cold War. He begins with a description of the events of 1989, one of the seminal years in modern history. This saw the end of the Cold War, and the apparent conclusive victory of democracy and its civic values.

But the view of these changes as a triumph of democracy — as summed up in Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History” — was short-lived. Russia, shorn of its Soviet empire, and the Chinese Communist Party, re-examining its survival after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, began devising ways to counter-attack the West’s triumphalism and these met with considerable success.

Internal pressures and contradictions — wealth disparity being chief among them — threaten the survival of many democratic systems. Abandoned industrial workers turn to the repeated platitudes designed to appeal to those left behind without actually offering them the ways and means to catch up. Immigrants, refugees, and the reformist fixations of isolated liberal elites have provided ammunition for would-be despots.

Adding to the pressures building on the political norms of our democracies, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought economic and social stand-still for which no country is prepared.

  • Author Jonathan Manthorpe
  • Reading Year April 27, 2022
The Last Lecture

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” ( Randy Pausch)

A lot of professors give talks entitled “The Last Lecture”. Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave – “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” – wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

  • Author Randy Pausch
  • Reading Year March 30, 2022
How to Be an Antiracist

Antiracism is a transformative concept that reorients and reenergizes the conversation about racism—and, even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other. At its core, racism is a powerful system that creates false hierarchies of human value; its warped logic extends beyond race, from the way we regard people of different ethnicities or skin colors to the way we treat people of different sexes, gender identities, and body types. Racism intersects with class and culture and geography and even changes the way we see and value ourselves. In How to Be an Antiracist, Kendi takes readers through a widening circle of antiracist ideas—from the most basic concepts to visionary possibilities—that will help readers see all forms of racism clearly, understand their poisonous consequences, and work to oppose them in our systems and in ourselves.

Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism. This is an essential work for anyone who wants to go beyond the awareness of racism to the next step: contributing to the formation of a just and equitable society.

  • Author Ibram X. Kendi
  • Reading Year February 23, 2022
Caste: The Origins of our Discontents

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people – including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others – she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of American life today.

  • Author Robin Miles
  • Reading Year February 23, 2022
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster; the solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need

I

n this urgent, authoritative book, Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical – and accessible – plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet’s slide to certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.

He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions – suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.

As Bill Gates makes clear, achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within our reach.

  • Author Bill Gates
  • Reading Year January 26, 2022
A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency

“This is the roadmap out of climate crisis that Canadians have been waiting for.” (Naomi Klein, activist and New York Times best-selling author of This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine)

  • One of Canada’s top policy analysts provides the first full-scale blueprint for meeting our climate change commitments
  • Contains the results of a national poll on Canadians’ attitudes to the climate crisis
  • Shows that radical transformative climate action can be done, while producing jobs and reducing inequality as we retool how we live and work
  • Deeply researched and targeted specifically to Canada and Canadians while providing a model that other countries could follow

Canada needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent to prevent a catastrophic 1.5 degree increase in the earth’s average temperature – assumed by many scientists to be a critical “danger line” for the planet and human life as we know it. It’s 2020, and Canada is not on track to meet our targets. To do so, we’ll need radical systemic change to how we live and work – and fast. How can we ever achieve this?

Top policy analyst and author Seth Klein reveals we can do it now because we’ve done it before. During the Second World War, Canadian citizens and government remade the economy by retooling factories, transforming their workforce, and making the war effort a common cause for all Canadians to contribute to.

  • Author Seth Klien
  • Reading Year January 6, 2022
Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn’t practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only White people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay document the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs present a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself.

While acknowledging the need to challenge the complacency of those who think a just society has been fully achieved, Pluckrose and Lindsay break down how this often radical activist scholarship does far more harm than good, not least to those marginalized communities it claims to champion. They also detail its alarmingly inconsistent and illiberal ethics. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas, they conclude, can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this harmful and authoritarian orthodoxy – in the academy, in culture, and beyond.

  • Author Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay
  • Reading Year November 24, 2020
The Gadfly Papers

The text What is Humanism and Why Does it Matter was originally scheduled for discussion this month. However availability at public library and commercially is restricted. Thus we have voted to discuss the Gadfly Papers. The book is available for $7.99 on Amazon and can be downloaded for free as a PDF.

The Gadfly Papers is a collection of three essays written by Rev. Dr. Todd F. Eklof about the negative impacts the emerging culture of Political Correctness, Safetyism, and Identitarianism is having on America’s most liberal religion. It’s written specifically for Unitarian Universalists who care about the future of their faith, but will prove of interest to anyone seeking to understand how today’s identity politics can fundamentally alter any institution, and presents a seminal case-study for researchers of this timely subject. The Gadfly Papers is a substantive, well argued work that’s based on plenty of credible scholarship, yet is written in a conversational tone that makes its complex subject matter easy to understand. Whether you’re a Unitarian Universalist, a student of history, social science, politics, or simply value the rare but refreshing application of logic, The Gadfly Papers is a book you won’t put down until it’s finished.

  • Author Todd Eklof
  • Reading Year October 27, 2021
The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they communicate

With more than 2 million copies sold worldwide, this beautifully-written book journeys deep into the forest to uncover the fascinating-and surprisingly moving-hidden life of trees.

“At once romantic and scientific, [Wohlleben’s] view of the forest calls on us all to reevaluate our relationships with the plant world.”?Daniel Chamovitz, PhD, author of What a Plant Knows

Are trees social beings? In The Hidden Life of Trees forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.

Includes a Note From a Forest Scientist, by Dr.Suzanne Simard

  • Author Peter Wohlleben
  • Reading Year September 29, 2021
Brief Answers to the Big Questions

The world-famous cosmologist and author of A Brief History of Time leaves us with his final thoughts on the biggest questions facing humankind.

“Hawking’s parting gift to humanity…a book every thinking person worried about humanity’s future should read.” (NPR)

Named one of the best books of the year by The Guardian and Wired

Stephen Hawking was the most renowned scientist since Einstein, known both for his groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and for his mischievous sense of humor. He educated millions of readers about the origins of the universe and the nature of black holes, and inspired millions more by defying a terrifying early prognosis of ALS, which originally gave him only two years to live. In later life he could communicate only by using a few facial muscles, but he continued to advance his field and serve as a revered voice on social and humanitarian issues.

Hawking not only unraveled some of the universe’s greatest mysteries but also believed science plays a critical role in fixing problems here on Earth. Now, as we face immense challenges on our planet – including climate change, the threat of nuclear war, and the development of artificial intelligence – he turns his attention to the most urgent issues facing us. Will humanity survive? Should we colonize space? Does God exist?

These are just a few of the questions Hawking addresses in this wide-ranging, passionately argued final book from one of the greatest minds in history. Featuring a foreword by Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar playing Stephen Hawking, an introduction by Nobel Laureate Kip Thorne, and an afterword from Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, Brief Answers to the Big Questions is a brilliant last message to the world.

  • Author Stephen Hawking
  • Reading Year April 28, 2021
Growing Pains

We are now living in a world where Brexit and Trump are daily realities. But how did this come about? And what does it mean for the future?

Populism and ultra-nationalism brought about the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. Now, as Trump sits in the White House, Britain negotiates its way out of the EU, and countries across Europe see substantial gains in support for the extreme Right, award-winning journalist, author, and historian Gwynne Dyer asks how we got here, and where we go next.

Dyer examines the global challenges facing us all today and explains how they have contributed to a world of inequality, poverty, and joblessness — conditions which he argues inevitably lead to the rise of populism. The greatest threat to social and political stability, he argues, lies in the rise of automation, which will continue to eliminate jobs, whether politicians admit that it is happening or not. To avoid a social and political catastrophe, we will have to find ways of putting real money into the pockets of those who have no work.

But this is not a book without hope. Our capacity for overcoming the worst has been tested again and again throughout history, and we have always survived. To do so now, Dyer argues, we must embrace radical solutions to the real difficulties facing individuals, or find ourselves back in the 1930s with no way out.

  • Author Gwynne Dyer
  • Reading Year March 24, 2021
Dance of the Dissident Daughter

In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of its publication, a newly reissued edition of the bestselling author’s classic work of feminine spiritual discovery, with a new introduction by the author.

“I was amazed to find that I had no idea how to unfold my spiritual life in a feminine way. I was surprised, and, in fact, a little terrified, when I found myself in the middle of a feminist spiritual reawakening.”—Sue Monk Kidd

For years, Sue Monk Kidd was a conventionally religious woman. Then, in the late 1980s, she experienced an unexpected awakening, and began a journey toward a feminine spirituality. With the exceptional storytelling skills that have helped make her name, Kidd tells her very personal story of the fear, anger, healing, and freedom she experienced on the path toward the wholeness that many women have lost in the church.

From a jarring encounter with sexism in a suburban drugstore, to monastery retreats and to rituals in the caves of Crete, she reveals a new level of feminine spiritual consciousness for all women—one that retains a meaningful connection with the “deep song of Christianity,” embraces the sacredness of ordinary women’s experience, and has the power to transform in the most positive ways every fundamental relationship in a woman’s life—her marriage, her career, and her religion.

  • Author Sue Monk Kidd
  • Reading Year February 24, 2021
The Great Mortality

La moria grandissima began its terrible journey across the European and Asian continents in 1347, leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake. Five years later, 25 million people were dead, felled by the scourge that would come to be called the Black Death. The Great Mortality is the extraordinary epic account of the worst natural disaster in European history – a drama of courage, cowardice, misery, madness, and sacrifice that brilliantly illuminates humankind’s darkest days when an old world ended and a new world was born.

  • Author John Kelly
  • Reading Year January 27, 2021
The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity

In his devastating new book The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray examines the 21st century’s most divisive issues: sexuality, gender, technology and race. He reveals the astonishing new culture wars playing out in our workplaces, universities, schools and homes in the names of social justice, identity politics and ‘intersectionality’.

We are living through a postmodern era in which the grand narratives of religion and political ideology have collapsed. In their place have emerged a crusading desire to right perceived wrongs and a weaponization of identity, both accelerated by the new forms of social and news media.

Narrow sets of interests now dominate the agenda as society becomes more and more tribal – and, as Murray shows, the casualties are mounting.

Readers of all political persuasions cannot afford to ignore Murray’s masterfully argued and fiercely provocative book, in which he seeks to inject some sense into the discussion around this generation’s most complicated issues.  He ends with an impassioned call for free speech, shared common values and sanity in an age of mass hysteria.

  • Author Douglas Murray
  • Reading Year November 25, 2020
The Righteous Mind

This well-researched examination of human moral impulses will appeal to liberals and conservatives alike following the 2016 presidential campaign and election.

As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has done the seemingly impossible—challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum. Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, he shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you’re ready to trade in anger for understanding, read The Righteous Mind.

  • Author Jonathan Haidt
  • Reading Year October 28, 2020
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take us on “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert).

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

  • Author Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • Reading Year September 20, 2022
Last Child in the Woods

I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reports a fourth grader. But it’s not only computers, television, and video games that are keeping kids inside. It’s also their parents’ fears of traffic, strangers, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus; their schools’ emphasis on more and more homework; their structured schedules; and their lack of access to natural areas. Local governments, neighborhood associations, and even organizations devoted to the outdoors are placing legal and regulatory constraints on many wild spaces, sometimes making natural play a crime.

As children’s connections to nature diminish and the social, psychological, and spiritual implications become apparent, new research shows that nature can offer powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Environment-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores and grade-point averages and develops skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and decision making. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that childhood experiences in nature stimulate creativity.

In Last Child in the Woods , Louv talks with parents, children, teachers, scientists, religious leaders, child-development researchers, and environmentalists who recognize the threat and offer solutions. Louv shows us an alternative future, one in which parents help their kids experience the natural world more deeply–and find the joy of family connectedness in the process.

  • Author Richard Louv
  • Reading Year April 29, 2020
How the West Really Lost God: A new theory of secularization

In this magisterial work, leading cultural critic Mary Eberstadt delivers a powerful new theory about the decline of religion in the Western world.

The conventional wisdom is that the West first experienced religious decline, followed by the decline of the family. Eberstadt turns this standard account on its head. Marshalling an impressive array of research, from fascinating historical data on family decline in pre-Revolutionary France to contemporary popular culture both in the United States and Europe, Eberstadt shows that the reverse has also been true: the undermining of the family has further undermined Christianity itself.

Drawing on sociology, history, demography, theology, literature, and many other sources, Eberstadt shows that family decline and religious decline have gone hand in hand in the Western world in a way that has not been understood before–that they are, as she puts it in a striking new image summarizing the book’s thesis, “the double helix of society, each dependent on the strength of the other for successful reproduction.”

In sobering final chapters, Eberstadt then lays out the enormous ramifications of the mutual demise of family and faith in the West. While it is fashionable in some circles to applaud the decline both of religion and the nuclear family, there are, as Eberstadt reveals, enormous social, economic, civic, and other costs attendant on both declines.

Her conclusion considers this tantalizing question: whether the economic and demographic crisis now roiling Europe and spreading to America will have the inadvertent result of reviving the family as the most viable alternative to the failed welfare state–fallout that could also lay the groundwork for a religious revival as well.

How the West Really Lost God is both a startlingly original account of how secularization happens and a sweeping brief about why everyone should care. A book written for agnostics as well as believers, atheists as well as “none of the above,” it will permanently change the way every reader understands the two institutions that have hitherto under-girded Western civilization as we know it–family and faith–and the real nature of the relationship between those two pillars of history.

  • Author Mary Eberstadt
  • Reading Year March 25, 2020
Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions

Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions.

Covering a wide range of religious communities- including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness- and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres ( Jesus Land ), the stories in Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths.

The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure- why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.

  • Author Susan Tive & Cami Ostman
  • Reading Year February 26, 2020
Justice – What’s the Right Thing to Do?

What are our obligations to others as people in a free society? Should government tax the rich to help the poor? Is the free market fair? Is it sometimes wrong to tell the truth? Is killing sometimes morally required? Is it possible, or desirable, to legislate morality? Do individual rights and the common good conflict? Michael J. Sandel’s “Justice” course is one of the most popular and influential at Harvard. Up to a thousand students pack the campus theater to hear Sandel relate the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and this fall, public television will air a series based on the course. Justice offers readers the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students. This book is a searching, lyrical exploration of the meaning of justice, one that invites readers of all political persuasions to consider familiar controversies in fresh and illuminating ways. Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, patriotism and dissent, the moral limits of markets-Sandel dramatizes the challenge of thinking through these conflicts, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well. Justice is lively, thought-provoking, and wise-an essential new addition to the small shelf of books that speak convincingly to the hard questions of our civic life. Sandel’s hugely popular 24 part lecture series from Harvard is available online. Each lecture focusses on a different moral issue.  He also has a Ted Talk.

  • Author Michael Sandel
  • Reading Year January 29, 2020
The Little Prince

An aviator whose plane is forced down in the Sahara Desert encounters a little prince from a small planet who relates his adventures in seeking the secret of what is important in life.  The Little Prince first published in April 1943, is a novella, the most famous work of French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The novella has been voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into 300 languages and dialects,selling  nearly two million copies annually, and with year-to-date sales of over 140 million copies worldwide,it has become one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published.

  • Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  • Reading Year November 27, 2019
Sapiens

Destined to become a modern classic in the vein of Guns, Germs, and SteelSapiens is a lively, groundbreaking history of humankind told from a unique perspective. 100,000 years ago, at least six species of human inhabited the earth. Today there is just one.
Us.
Homo Sapiens . How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism? And what will our world be like in the millennia to come?In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical — and sometimes devastating — breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural, and Scientific Revolutions. Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, palaeontology, and economics, he explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities.Have we become happier as history has unfolded? Can we ever free our behaviour from the heritage of our ancestors? And what, if anything, can we do to influence the course of the centuries to come?Bold, wide-ranging and provocative, Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power…and our futureThe FreeThinker book club meets on the last Wednesday of the month from October through April.
All are welcomed!

  • Author Yuval Noah Harari
  • Reading Year October 30, 2019
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

For the millions of Americans who want spirituality without religion, Waking Up is a guide to meditation as a rational practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.

From Sam Harris, neuroscientist and author of numerous New York Times bestselling books, Waking Up is for the twenty percent of Americans who follow no religion but who suspect that important truths can be found in the experiences of such figures as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history. Throughout this book, Harris argues that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow, and that how we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the quality of our lives.

Waking Up is part memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous skeptic—could write it.

  • Author Sam Harris
  • Reading Year February 22, 2017
Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion edited

In Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan celebrates the freedom that comes with raising kids without formal indoctrination and advises parents on the most effective way to raise freethinking children.

With advice from educators, doctors, psychologists, and philosophers as well as wisdom from everyday parents, the book offers tips and insights on a variety of topics, from mixed marriages” to coping with death and loss, and from morality and ethics to dealing with holidays. Sensitive and timely, Parenting Beyond Belief features reflections from such freethinkers as Mark Twain, Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, and wellness guru Dr. Don Ardell that will empower every parent to raise both caring and independent children without constraints.

  • Author Dale McGowan
  • Reading Year January 25, 2017
True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism

Refuting the New Atheists’ claim to be ‘the party of Reason’. With clarity of thought and precise logic, more than a dozen contemporary Christian apologists have come together to unmask the self-aggrandizing claims of the New Atheists, including Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In sixteen, carefully constructed essays, these Christian thinkers demonstrate that ‘reason is the New Atheists’ weakness, not their strength.’ They show that ‘Christianity is on the whole much more reasonable than atheism,’ and that ‘Christian faith as a whole supports sound reason, and Christians have applied it well.’ With coherence and competence these writers address the fallacies of ‘the party of Reason,’ and offer an introduction to the true reason of Christianity by making their case equally accessible to both the casual enquirer and the serious student.

  • Author Tom Gilson
  • Reading Year November 23, 2016
The God Delusion

A preeminent scientist – and the world’s most prominent atheist – asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to 9/11.

With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into th e advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe’s wonders than any faith could ever muster.

  • Author Richard Dawkins
  • Reading Year October 26, 2016
The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason

In this new book, Victor J. Stenger, whose God: The Failed Hypothesis was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2007, reviews and expands upon the principles of New Atheism and answers many of its critics. He demonstrates in detail that naturalism—the view that all of reality is reducible to matter and nothing else—is sufficient to explain everything we observe in the universe, from the most distant galaxies to the inner workings of the brain that result in the phenomenon of mind.

Stenger disputes the claim of many critics that the question of whether God exists is beyond the ken of science. On the contrary, he argues that absence of evidence for God is, indeed, evidence of absence when the evidence should be there and is not.

  • Author Victor Stenger
  • Reading Year September 29, 2016

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