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A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism

Bill Cooke

A Rebel to His Last Breath is the first biography of Joseph McCabe (1867-1955), a former Catholic priest who became one of the best-known champions and a prolific popularizer of freethought and rationalism in the first half of the twentieth century. McCabe's encyclopedic curiosity, rigorous scholarship, and unswerving intellectual honesty led him through a tumultuous career of public lecturing and debating, and an incredible output of more than two hundred books. He tackled the most controversial issues of the modern era: evolution, biblical errancy, belief in God, immortality, spiritualism, capitalism versus socialism, women's rights, and many other topics. Much of his writing was published by E. Haldeman-Julius, an American rationalist publisher who declared McCabe to be "the world's greatest scholar."

Joseph McCabe was a rebel against all lies, deceit, and humbug, even when they came from his friends. Always true to himself, he often alienated even those closest to him with his fierce intellectual honesty. What he said and wrote on issues of philosophy, religion, gender, and science during the first half of the twentieth century still rings true to rationalists in the twenty-first century.

Contrary to contemporary academic writing, much of which contrives a strained neutrality, author Bill Cooke pulls no punches in his criticism of academic pretensions and postmodernist posturing. Writing, as McCabe did, in a style that appeals to both the specialist and the nonspecialist reader, Cooke has created a biography that is, in fact, a continuation of McCabe's own unique mix of reason and rebellion.

A Rebel to His Last Breath is more than a biographical sketch of an extraordinary man; it is an enquiry into the relevance of rationalism at the beginning of a new millenium. In today's postmodern world, when Enlightenment values are being questioned and irrationalism in its many guises has become fashionable, McCabe's gift for rational inquiry, respect for scientific evidence, and lucid, no-nonsense prose are both relevant and welcome.

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