Books — Climbing Brandon

On top of Mount Brandon

By Lisa Parsons []

Climbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland’s Holy Mountain, by Chet Raymo, Walker & Company, 2004, 193 pages.

Chet Raymo’s last two books, An Intimate Look at the Night Sky and The Path, were so good it seemed obvious this one would be a home run too.

You’ve got to like any book that includes the question “Why is there a universe at all?” but the dry and repetitive delivery holds Climbing Brandon back from its potential.

Brandon is yet another of Raymo’s meditations on science and religion (e.g. Skeptics and True Believers). Here the Stonehill College professor guides us up Ireland’s Mount Brandon, using every twist and turn to point out some facet of Irish religion/science/history that figures prominently in human religion/science/history. “How can awe, reverence, and the perception of mystery coexist with skepticism and empiricism?” is the main question.

Raymo likes the Irish because they sustained, for a time, just such a coexistence—a particular blend of Christianity and Earth-based faith. It seems he also likes the Irish because they were, in his view, right about so many things—the first to discover “geologic time” (the big picture) and the first to refine an awareness of humanity’s deep and permanent (logically necessary, he asserts) ignorance.

Or maybe he sees them as being right because he likes them.

Great topics, great questions, could use a little more zip in the telling. Not that it’s horrible, just that too often the reader (alright, me) is still wondering, three pages in, what a given chapter is about.

Try Raymo’s other books first and save this one for your reserves.

- Lisa Parsons

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH