In the book 1491, a history of the western hemisphere before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, author Charles C. Mann introduces readers to a North and South America quite different from the ones typically presented through high school history courses. Based on new discoveries and updated scientific methods, Mann reveals how the earliest settlers on these two continents transformed landscapes, planted some forests while razing others, and managed wildlife in a way that would make a grown PETA member cry.
It’s all far removed from the teepee-centric, campfire-crowding image of American natives that I grew up on. Despite my long-held view of Indians as peace loving and environmentally conscious, they were people too, no different from any other hopeful yet self-obsessed mass of humanity, now or in the past. It was hard for me to accept Mann’s view of North American history, but when I thought a second time about it, the truths about human nature caused me to change my mind in a way that lined up with scientific research.
This act of reevaluating assumptions forms the core theme of Dennis Prager’s book Think a Second Time. “Most of us form opinions about life’s great issues at a young age and retain them forever,” says Prager in the book’s intro. “It isn’t comfortable to think through every issue; serious thought is as strenuous as serious exercise, and as we age, most of us become preoccupied with other matters.” Unfortunately, some of our initial positions turn out to be wrong, and avoiding a second thought means avoiding the truth. In this book, Prager encourages readers by example to actively challenge their own passive ideas.
Structurally, the book is a collection of forty-three essays that Prager wrote over the course of a decade or so. The subjects vary from the deeply philosophical (“Is This Life All There Is?”) to random thoughts that are only marginally interesting to the I’m-not-Prager crowd (“Headlines I Would Like to See”). Some of those latter entries didn’t seem to even require a first thought, much less a second. Fortunately, those are more than offset by the tremendous depth of the more well-considered items.
The subject matter ranges from philosophy and religion to politics and modern culture. While this variety provides for broad enjoyment, Prager does return often to a few core themes, especially his promotion of “Ethical Monotheism” as a solution for many of societies ills. Some of his positions are controversial, but it is abundantly clear that he takes seriously his call to think deeply, not just once, but twice, about each subject included in the text.
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