Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Demon-Haunted World" by Carl Sagan

I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up because it was written by Carl Sagan.

Summary: This is Carl Sagan's last book, and it is, rightly, a wide ranging text covering many of Sagan's biggest ideas. This is Sagan trying to make one grand argument that took a lifetime to develop. 
This is an excerpt from the book where Sagan puts
forward a clean argument for skepticism. It is presented
so neatly, I had to share it.
The argument in this book is that science education will save us and pseudo science will be our undoing. He takes the time to address each form of popular pseudo science in turn and evaluates the evidence for and against claims. He looks at alien abductions, astrology, psychics, witch trials, false memories and more. He puts each claim under scrutiny and shows how ridiculous they really are. As the claims dissolve, he replaces them with reasonable explanations and rational thought. This leads into a discussion on the value of skepticism and how it helps us get to the truth of the matter and avoid being taken for fools. He even has a chapter on The Fine Art of Baloney Detection, which gets right to the point. Throughout the book, Sagan tells stories from his life and from the history of science, each selected for its ability to highlight the point being made. Toward the end of the book he looks to the future of our civilization. We now have the machines to destroy ourselves several times over, and pseudo science gives us the reasons to do it. We need skepticism and wonder in order to survive. With these two tools of thought we can make it through.

What I Liked: I liked the way Sagan would explain each pseudo scientific idea respectfully, then explore it skeptically. Many of the ideas were more popular in the 90's, but there is still a lot of such claims today. I also liked his autobiographical parts and the stories.

What I Didn't Like: It was too short.

Rating: This is a Must Read. I consider this one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.

Also Read by This Author: Pale Blue Dot

Published: 1997

Reviewed by: Nick

Special Note: Cosmos A Personal Voyage was hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and talks about a lot of the same ideas. The remake, Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey, is currently being aired on Fox and National Geographic Channel, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I recommend it!

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