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BOOKS - discussions, reviews and recommendations

  • 17-12-2003 10:45pm
    Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    Hi ... I'm really interested to get some sort of discussions on good books people are reading or have read. I always find that I don't get enough opportunity to do this after reading. Discussions tend to allow the content to stick and help me critically appraise things more easily.

    I'm talking generally about popular science literature as well as skeptical literature but comments on any relevant material would be welcome. I'm particularly interested in getting recommendations for books.

    Oh yeah ... if you want to send me expensive books that'd be luuvly!!! :D:D



  • Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 10,500 Mod ✭✭✭✭ ecksor

    You read my mind!

    Two books that I'd encourage anyone to read are two that I mentioned already on the Mathematics forum:

    "Innumeracy" by John Allen Paulos is a good examination of how a poor grasp of simple mathematical ideas by the general public lead to scams and general pseudo science.

    "Once upon a number", also by John Allen Paulos explains the relationship between statistics and anecdotes and shows how and why relying on just one or the other leads to false conclusions of different kinds.

    He has a column called "A mathematician reads the newspaper" and a book of the same title and various articles at

    His new book, which I haven't read, is called "A mathematician plays the market" and is apparently a detailed examination of how rational people do irrational things. Definitely food for thought.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 857 ✭✭✭ davros

    (Making this thread sticky...)

    Nothing to do with outlandish claims but everything to do with thinking critically and challenging assumptions is 'The Design of Everyday Things', by Donald Norman. I definitely saw the world differently after reading it.

    Along the lines of 'Innumeracy', mentioned above, is 'Calculated Risks: How to Know when Numbers Deceive You', by Gerd Gigerenzer. I haven't read it, but it's on my list of books to read some day, which means I must have read a glowing review of it at some point :) One I did read, many years ago, was the famous 'How to Lie with Statistics', by Darrell Huff and which has given me a healthy distrust of statistics ever since.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭ Syth

    'Calculated Risks: How to Know when Numbers Deceive You', by Gerd Gigerenzer
    Another book by the same authour (might be the same on) is called 'Reckoning with Risk' Basically helps you understand statistics, and instills the healthy attitude of skepticism.

  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    Matt Ridley's 'Nature via Nurture' is an essential corrective to popular misconceptions about the intricate environment/gene dance. Before you ever utter the words '...the gene for...' read this excellent introduction to the area and get a new appreciation of the wonderful and awesome complexity involved in getting from genes to behaviour.

    I'm also beginning to read 'Placebo - the Belief Effect' by Dylan Evans. After Brian hughes lecture I realised I was holding a rather simplified view of it. I'll let you know what I think.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 76 ✭✭ sextusempiricus

    1) 'Snake Oil' by John Diamond
    A firm rejection of alternative Medicine by a journalist dying of cancer.

    2) 'Making Sense- Philosophy behind the headlines' Julian Baggini. Includes chapters on BSE, GM foods, cults (the Waco seige) by the editor of the 'Philosophers' Magazine.'

    3) Penguin Books are meant to be bringing out some of the writings of Lucian of Samosata (120-180) sometime in 2004. He was the most genial and amusing of the ancient sceptics. worth looking out for.

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  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 84,891 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Capt'n Midnight

    Travels in Dreamland

    Very interesting - not a beliver or a disbeliever but lots of nice background on the whole area 51 thing. Yer man is more into the planes than UFO's but makes a nice travelog.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 10,731 ✭✭✭✭ simu

    The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins - explains evolution in detail (most ppl have a pretty fuzzy view of how it works).

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 4,731 ✭✭✭ DadaKopf

    There's a French philosopher who's just been translated into English, Alain Badiou.

    He's trying to carve out an original position in philosophy that runs against nearly every grain going. He seems to hate everything.

    His big thing is Truth and 'infinite thought' - how do new ideas come into the world? Are they new, or just rehashes of previous ideas?

    He sorts it all out by examining set theory and figures you can make up any numbers you want if you look hard enough and do something or other with different levels of infinity, and since the universe is made of numbers, you can think anything you want, too. So Truth (sort of objective truth) only occurs in specific places, at specific times when something at the margins presents such a forceful anthithesis to everything around it that it cannot be taken any other way but the Truth.

    All other reality is generic. Boring. It propels itself on its own internal logic. But truth smashes that banality and challenges everything at that particular site.

    He also thinks evil exists.

    So there's a book about him: "Badiou: a Subject to Truth" by Peter Hallward. It's good, makes you think differently about past and present philosophical paradigms.

  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    I have to agree with Simu. 'The Blind Watchmaker' is just superb. A possibly life-changing read if you're new-ish to Darwinism.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 4,731 ✭✭✭ DadaKopf

    I found it pretty boring.

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  • Closed Accounts Posts: 76 ✭✭ sextusempiricus

    Originally posted by Myksyk
    I have to agree with Simu. 'The Blind Watchmaker' is just superb. A possibly life-changing read if you're new-ish to Darwinism.

    I agree too. Anything by Dawkin's is informative, provocative and a pleasure to read. Try his recent collection of essays 'A Devil's Chaplain.'
    As regards Simu's seasonal translation 'Nullo metro compositum est.'

  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    I just bought 'The Complete Far Side Collection' ... It's huge!! 1,200 pages/4,000 pieces of Larson's magic (1980 - 1994 [when Larson retired])... fabulously presented in two leather-bound hard-cover volumes with specially milled glossy paper, with most pieces in full colour. Both volumes are presented in a grandly illustrated presentation box. Expensive (€142) but Brilliant.

    The various cartoons on Psychics, mediums, mad scientists, religion, aliens etc make it a compulsory read for skeptics and true believers!!!


  • Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 10,500 Mod ✭✭✭✭ ecksor

    Originally posted by DadaKopf
    He sorts it all out by examining set theory and figures you can make up any numbers you want if you look hard enough and do something or other with different levels of infinity, and since the universe is made of numbers, you can think anything you want, too.

    Er, that sounds a bit dodgy (but interesting). Does he mention (and resolve his ideas with) the continuum hypothesis and the fact that most numbers are not computable?

  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    FYI ... Hodges Figgis have a nice little sale on the top floor of popular science books. I bought 10 books at the w/e for only €44.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 4,731 ✭✭✭ DadaKopf

    Originally posted by ecksor
    Er, that sounds a bit dodgy (but interesting). Does he mention (and resolve his ideas with) the continuum hypothesis and the fact that most numbers are not computable?
    Eh, dunno, I'm not a mathematician!

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 605 ✭✭✭ williamgrogan


    €100 on Amazon for Gary Larson's book.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 52 ✭✭ PaulP

    "Irrationality: The Enemy Within" by Stuart Sutherland has excellent coverage of how we all make mistakes in thinking. It does not cover the paranormal/CAM etc specifically but it is not difficult to see how its topics would apply in those area morethan in most others.

    "House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth" by Robyn M. Dawes is a very interesting expose of the failings of the two Ps in clinical practice.

    "Follies and Fallacies in Medicine" by Petr Skrabanek and James McCormick is more controversial but I think it is a necessary counterblast to the constant calls for ever more mass screening of healthy people for various diseases.

    "Sorry, Wrong Number! The abuse of measurement" by John Brignell is a relentless assault on all sorts numerical trickery. (See his excellent website for how to purchase). This is reasonably controversial and requires a level of comfort with mathematics. But then if you lack this comfort you lack the ability to understand the debate on passive smoking and so on.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 52 ✭✭ PaulP

    "The Mismeasure of Man " by the late and very great Stephen Jay Gould is a must-read. In our desire to spread the concepts of science-based rationality, it is very important to remember that what we think is good science may just be our basest prejudices dressed in fancy clothes.

    I recommend anything by Gould as his obvious love of his subjects combined with a beautiful prose style is very winning.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 52 ✭✭ PaulP

    The author of "Solaris", Stanislaw Lem, (movie with George Clooney now out on DVD and video) wrote a lot of excellent mind-expanding and mind-bending sci-fi.

    "The Chain of Chance" is a who-dunnit in which contingency - the cumulative effect of random events- has the starring role. (Fans of Stephen Jay Gould will love it as contingency was a favourite theme of his). A private detective retraces the last journey of a dead man in a desperate effort to discover why he died.

    "The Investigation" is a re-take on Kafka's "The Trial" in which the question is not so much who did it as what did they do as before but this time the problem is the investigator's. Dead bodies start to move, apparently without outside intervention. As time goes by the movements become larger. A scientist deduces a law linking distance of the body from a certain point, the time between successive events and the magnitude of the movement. But is he involved in effecting the movements?

    "The Futurological Congress" is hilarious, a reductio ad absurdam of a recurring idea of using drugs and chemicals to control human behavious (for example in jails). The hero wakes up after decades in a coma to discover a world where chemicals are pumped into the air we breathe to create all sorts of illusions.

    "Peace on Earth" is a satire on the so-called "Star Wars" space defence program and in general the idea of ever more sophisticated weaponry being launched into space. The two sides of the hero's brain have been disconnected by a laser hit on his corpus callosum and the book starts with one side of the hero's brain trying to kill him and he does not know why because the other half of the brain can't contact the suicidal part.

  • Registered Users Posts: 251 ✭✭ atheist

    I'm reading the book with the title above. It has a very Irish provincial town memoir slant but is a good read.

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  • Moderators, Arts Moderators Posts: 3,523 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Myksyk

    We're putting together the next 'Skeptical Times' newsletter and need a few books plus brief overview for our 'recommended reading' column.

    The books should be current and relevant to science, critical thinking or skepticism.

    Thanks for your help. We'll include as many as we can.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 605 ✭✭✭ williamgrogan

    The Elegant Universe by Peter Green - mind blowing.

    Introduction to String Theory.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 76 ✭✭ sextusempiricus

    'Magic Universe' , The Oxford Guide to Modern Science by Nigel Calder, Oxford.
    Wonderful to dip into on any page and follow all the cross references. Useful to refer to before a meeting of the ISS.

    I highly recommend subscribing to 'THINK' , a periodical of The Royal Institute of Philosophy published 3 times a year and edited by Stephen Law. Law himself has a series of articles on 'Thinking tools' with such titles as 'How to sound like a guru', 'The gambler's fallacy', 'Superstition and slippery slopes' and 'Flying saucers and open minds'. Richard Dawkins attacks 'The Alabama insert' and replies to Richard Swinburne's argument from design for god's existence. Robert L. Park writes on 'The seven warning signs of voodoo science', Anthony Flew on 'God and the big bang' and Terence Penelhum on 'The paranormal, miracles and David Hume.' Lots more to shake the mental cobwebs. Also useful book reviews.

  • Registered Users Posts: 782 ✭✭✭ jackal

    Not a book obviously, but for a quality newspaper, the Guardian is excellent. Also it doesent seem to have much of an agenda. I found it was spot on during the Iraq war (No.2), when the propoganda was at its worst. Funny and interesting aswell.

    For a fictional read, the DaVinci code is a fast-paced thriller, with liberal use of "little known facts"...

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,865 ✭✭✭ Syth

    "The Blank Slate : The modern denial of human nature" By Steven Pinker is a good book about the nature vs nurture debate. Only part of it is given over to scienctific evidence in support of the theory of inbuilt human nature, the rest is about the history of the nature-nurture debate, as well as some rebuttals to common misconseptions of the nature side (eg "If people are inherantly different, then sexism and racism are OK"). He also has a section on hot buttons, such as Gender, the Arts and Childrearing/Parenting. It's a very informative book and make you look at the world (and yourself and others) again. A very good book.

  • Registered Users Posts: 320 ✭✭ Sysiphus

    I'm supprised not to find one book in particular not mentioned at all so far, thats "This Demon Haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Carl Sagan, and absoloutly essential guide for new (and old in need of refreshing!) sceptics. I also quite enjoyed Richard Feynmans - The Meaning Of it All. Feynmans usual laconic look at how thing are in a very simple but brilliantly obvious way.

    In that light a book of essayes call "How Things Are" mix of philosophy and science and how they stand currently (last few years.)

    As already stated, anything by Dawkins, especially Unweaving the Rainbow.

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 605 ✭✭✭ williamgrogan

    These books were written some time back but are still interesting. Future Shock and The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler. They correctly predicted the problems people would have with fast technological change. He correctly predicted that many people would rebel against advanced technology. Toffler has also predicted that eVoting would eventually develop further by allowing the citizen to easily vote more often and that government policy would then be more directly linked to the wishes of the people.


  • Registered Users Posts: 320 ✭✭ Sysiphus

    Once again not a book but a web site,

    check out a very informative site on all things science and philosophy. Posts by R. dawkins, lee smolin, George Dyson etc. you get the idea, very interesting articls and discussions.

    As for this thread, is there any debate happening, ie. a boo that one person thinks is v. good but is reviled by others??

    If you want to pick a ggod'un to guarantee a good debate in a pub or home or any other conducive spot try The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose, I couldn't get through this turgid drivel to save my life, it's a long time since I put back on the shelf but from what I recall about it he conradicted himself more times than the bible (slight exage....) has anybody read it that liked it? or agreed with it? Once again as far as I recall his basic proposition is that it is imposible to creat "true" A.I. in a computer and keeps reverting to the chinesse box puzzle to prove his point, however this is the same argument that A.I. proponents use to assert the idea (a la Turing Test) that you wouldn't know A.I. if it were able to respond appropriatly. He seems to skirt around the "Force Vital" idea without mentioning it! aghh, the memories!!!

  • Closed Accounts Posts: 857 ✭✭✭ davros

    Originally posted by Sysiphus
    Once again not a book but a web site
    There is a separate sticky thread for websites: Good Skeptical Resources. Perhaps you would add your recommendation there - it's a good one. Thanks!

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  • Registered Users Posts: 1,005 ✭✭✭ MeatProduct

    Since Dawkins has come up I have a great book suggestion for the people that are skeptical about Darwinist evolution:
    "Shattering The Myths Of Darwinism" by Richard Milton
    ISBN: 0-89281-884-0

    Shows many big holes in current Darwinist theory. It turned my views on evolution upsidedown. It's in my top three scientific must-reads.