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Book Review: ‘Waking Up’ by Sam Harris

About the Book: Waking Up

As someone who values science over and above any belief system, I had – until fairly recently – always thought of spirituality as a bunch of New-Age mumbo jumbo. However, when I realised that certain types of meditation practice have the backing of sound science, I actively sought out literature to learn more. Sam Harris’s latest book, ‘Waking Up’ is precisely about mindfulness from a scientific perspective.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and world-renown rational debater. He’s well-known for his debates on religion, critical-thinking and human behaviour. He’s one of the so-called Four Horsemen of New Atheism,  a member of the Intellectual Dark Web and has his own podcast ‘Making Sense’. In his book, ‘Waking Up’, Harris claims that meditation – which he’s been practising for over 25 years – has been paramount in his ability to look at issues critically and rationally.

Harris notes that the term ‘spiritual’ can provoke animosity in rational thinkers. Those who associate it more with mysticism and medieval superstition. And, indeed, most books on spirituality in a bookstore would look at it from this perspective. However, he makes it clear that when he’s using the term, it is in respect of modern understanding of the human mind.

Waking Up Book Cover

Exploration of ‘Self’

The main areas ‘Waking Up’ covers include exploring the ‘self’ and consciousness, neuroscience with reference to relevant brain anatomy and physiology, meditative practices including some of Harris’ own experiences, gurus and frauds, and psychedelics and other drugs.

‘Waking Up’ is well-referenced to support any claims, the book has backing from scientific literature and peer-reviewed journals. There are also a large number of related notes in a section in the back which I felt compelled to read as well. I’m glad I did as these too give some great – and sometimes humorous – insights.

Ironically, at times I felt that I needed to be well-versed in meditation to be able to read ‘Waking Up’. This is because, at times, the book can be hard to read. It needs concentration to be able to absorb all the detailed information it includes! Although at only 206 pages, ‘Waking Up’ is not a book you can rush to ensure you fully grasp. At times I had to re-read paragraphs to gain Harris’ invaluable information.

Final Thoughts

‘Waking Up’ is nothing short of a thoroughly brilliant book. I highly recommend it if you want to learn about the scientific approach to mindfulness and meditation. You’ll be more empowered from reading it whether you’re someone who wants to improve your own mindset, someone who enjoys sound science or a New-Age hippy.


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James Collier

About James Collier

James is a Registered Nutritionist and creator and co-founder of Huel the nutritionally complete food (Huel.com). James also has an avid interest in subject matters relating to human behaviour, evolutionary biology and rational thinking.

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