Howard Bloom. The God Problem: How a Godless Cosmos Creates. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2012.
Call me old or cantankerous or both if you really must, but there are very few books that I get excited about these days. Gone are the days when I scoured the internet looking for new books that I have to have on the day that they are published and read and devour their content in days if not hours. I no longer have five or six books on the go at the same time looking to merge and mix the content to create new ideas and thoughts. To be blunt, most books published these days are more about the author’s ego than enlightening the reader. Most books are, if I am to be totally honest, just a little boring and fail to create the interest I had in reading a decade ago.
However, Howard Bloom following on from his previous book, The Genius of the Beast, had proven that there are still some authors out there who could pull the drapes from the world in which we lived and provide me with the insights that I not only expect from a new book, but have started to demand. His swirling intellect applied to the world as he saw it was, as I have said before, masterly. His ability to point out the obvious and allow a mortal such as myself to not only understand, but also incorporate his thought processes into my own, marked Mr. Bloom as an author to keep an eye on.
I admit to being a little skeptical at his choice of title. It sounded a little as if it was an important marketing by-line, but that could be handled. Surely, Master Howard was going to take us on a roiling journey and open many of the doors to the world of science in his own inestimable fashion. When the book arrived my expectations were flying at full fury, and without a moment’s notice I dove into the book. After 2-hours of straight reading, I found myself pondering just what I had let myself in for. Even with a prepublication copy of the book, the first thing I noticed was that the fluent prose had been replaced with text that was much more disjointed. He had learned to end a sentence with a word and start the next with the same word; a technique that should be used carefully and not three times in the same paragraph.
As I read further, I found myself wondering how many authors were involved with the book. There is the narrator of an unfolding of the flow of science from pre-Aristotle to the modern day Wolfram through a line of usual suspects and one or two who were a surprise but good to learn about. Then there was the young boy from Buffalo, New York who had discovered science at an early age needing to confess his sins. Finally, there was the educator who had us sitting at a table just after the big bang trying to get his points across. Done well, it might have worked. The problem I found was that he kept jumping between voices so that it was difficult to know who was speaking at times, which distracted me from the message he was trying to make. In the back of my mind there was a voice calling for an editor. Not somebody who was paid to make the text correct, but somebody prepared to wrestle with the author and say, “no.” By about page 100, I was wishing that somebody had been prepared to say, “You are switching voice again Howard,” but it never happened.
At about the same time I was pondering just what the “god problem” was that he kept referring to but never explained. It is not until you get to the end of the book you discover that his problem was that the Universe creates, producing ever-greater complexity and does not need an old man with a long beard wearing a bathrobe to introduce a grand plan. If I am honest I had guessed that is what he was intimating throughout the book, and wanted to shout “most people gave up on that model of God pretty close to the time that he did”, unless of course you live in one of the rectangular states of the USA as Ken Wilber points out. What really disappointed me was that as Howard was describing the evolutionary thrust of Wilber’s right-hand quadrants he never seemed to want to ask the simple question, “why?” For it is in asking this question one gets to see the workings of God and not the person of God.
By the time one reaches the end of the book, one realizes, sadly, that it is a flatland tome. Good in parts, poor in others. A stream of ideas pours forth – some interesting, others dull and possibly wrong. We are introduced to a number of individuals, some whom are heroes to the author. Others are, in his opinion, wrong, while a third group acts to fill out the pages. I have been following the hyperbole that Howard has been creating and his announcement that he is number 3 on the Amazon Atheist list for the second week running. He then denies that the book is an Atheist work. at which point it becomes very clear to me that unlike his previous work, this book attempts to tackle too many big topics and fails to really topple any of them.
I was reminded of an old mentor from 30 years ago, Peter Keene, a leading business consultant who remarked that for most books published, there is a great article struggling to get out. In this book, there maybe two or even three articles that might change the world. However, the latitude of the book and the lack of a decent editor leave the ideas and concepts languishing. For me, that is a sad state of affairs for an individual who has a great deal to say and a big difference to make in the world that might emerge from his thoughts.