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Between the Covers 20/05/2012

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Author Chris McGrath faces six figure legal bill after unfavourable Amazon reviews case is struck out

An author who tried to sue a father of three from the West Midlands over comments made in a series of unfavourable reviews on Amazon is facing a six figure legal bill after a judge struck out his case.

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Brian Cox

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Professor Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams outside Clarendon House before the televised debate

Two existential heavyweights in a gentle contest for your very soul

Oxford University held its first debate on the subject of evolution in 1860, just months after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Then, the Bishop of Winchester, Samuel Wilberforce, famously enquired of the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he traced his descent from a monkey.

Richard Dawkins, scientist: 'I am at a loss to understand how any reasonable person can defend first past the post. AV should be supported by every democrat'

Mary Ann Sieghart: Thank God for the Church of England

The Church of England couldn't hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he's almost an advertisement against atheism. You can't help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good.

Letters: Secularism Hitlerism? Absurdism!

Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling must have been mildly surprised to find that they are no better than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao, and that they are incapable of compassion, altruism, serenity and enlightenment according to Peter Popham ("No secularism please, we're British", 15 February).

62% of the population never attend any form of religious service

Believe it or not, secularism is not what it used to be

Britain is in the thick of an acrimonious debate about secularism and religion. Religious belief and church attendance have been shrinking for decades, yet religion continues to play an important part in our national life. Prayers before council meetings may have been banned last week by a judge and an increasing number of our city churches have sad, decapitated spires and are put to sound secular use as indoor ski slopes or apartments. But there are still bishops in the House of Lords, prayers are said at the Cenotaph, the communal celebrations of Christmas and Easter are yet to become taboo.

Dragging dogmas out of the basement: Farm workers in India, where Rupert Sheldrake worked as a crop scientist

The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry, By Rupert Sheldrake

Science is wonderful and necessary - one of the great creations of humankind. Most importantly, it is helping us to see just how extraordinary life and the universe really are, far exceeding the unaided imagination even of the greatest poets. At its best, too, science lives up to its own mythology: a disinterested, self-effacing search after truth, carried out by people of humility in true generosity of spirit. As a fairly considerable bonus it has led us to create a wide range of "high" (science-based) technologies that have improved the lives of a great many people, and have the potential to help all humankind and our fellow creatures too.

Brian Cox’s TV work has made him Britain’s most visible scientist, but his latest book is far from populist

Last Night's TV - Inside Nature's Giants, Channel 4; Shameless, Channel 4

Desert dissection's worth a closer look

The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, By Jonathan Sacks

We need all of our brain to understand and appreciate the world around us. The left-brain, associated largely with scientific activity, and the right hemisphere concerned with religious matters, must work in unison. But they also have to be kept apart. The logic of one does not apply to the other. The challenge of our time is to keep the two separate but integrated and in balance. This, in essence, is the main message of The Great Partnership.

Last Night's TV: Polar Bear: Inside Nature's Giants Special/Channel 4<br />Dance! The Most Incredible Thing about Contemporary Dance/BBC4

How's this for a fact? Polar bears are so fat that even if they don't eat for eight whole months they'll still be fine. They're practically supermodels! Or this: their penises have bones in them. Huge ones. Giant white pieces of calcium.

Death, revolution and forgiveness

On Father's Day, and as his new novel appears, Andrew Miller tells James Kidd how his own dad wanted him to get a 'proper' job

The Book of Books, By Melvyn Bragg

Those who wish to banish religion from public life dismiss any enduring legacy of Christianity on the way we live or think now on two main grounds. The first is that the legacy is widely exaggerated by scheming bishops. The second is that, even if it exists, it is wholly negative, saddling us with the baggage of sectarianism, sexual repression and illogical thought. Melvyn Bragg's elegant, accessible and passionately argued account of the influence of the King James Bible, in its 400th year, quite simply blows such arguments out of the water. The King James, he writes, "is one of the fundamental makers of the modern world".

The moral formula: How facts inform our ethics

Can science help us tell right from wrong? Sam Harris certainly thinks so. Julian Baggini sits down with one of the 'four horsemen of atheism' to learn how facts can inform our ethics
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Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us