Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Sunday, November 19, 2023

“The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” by Carl Sagan

To balance out the current glut of Agatha Christie, I'm actually in the middle of reading several other books and have just finished this one. I’d never even heard of this book (though of course I’d heard of Carl Sagan) until my friend BR mentioned that she was reading it. I looked into it, noted the author was one I’d always meant to read but hadn’t yet, and immediately ordered a copy (plus a copy of Cosmos, which at this point is still waiting to be read). 

Carl Sagan was obviously a highly intelligent individual, but happily that did not make this book inaccessible or inscrutable. Well… except for the part where he started discussing the four Maxwell equations for the behavior of electricity and magnetism in matter. At that point he might as well have been writing out what the teachers say in Charlie Brown specials (“wat wap wat waaah wah…”) for all the sense I could make of it. But barring those five or so pages, this book was suitable for the masses. 

That’s not to say I raced through it eagerly. This was definitely not as fun to read as Miss Marple. That’s the problem with reading more than one book at a time—sometimes it can be hard to pick up the ones that are more work than play. I circumvented this issue by bringing Sagan’s book with me on a plane, which made reading progress in leaps and bounds. 

It didn't take long to realize this book must have been a major inspiration for another book that I have read but have not yet blogged about: The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. (The reason I have not blogged about that one yet is because I am re-reading it—studying it, even!—and am not quite ready to move on.) Both books are about science and science communication, delving into logical fallacies, how to recognize pseudoscience, and the necessity and advantages of skepticism. I would venture to say that Skeptics' Guide is a better book: I found it more comprehensive, better organized, and it's certainly more up-to-date (although that comparison is a bit unfair, as Demon was published in 1996 and Skeptics' Guide was published more than two decades later). But I'm glad I've dipped my toe in with Sagan, and I'm looking forward to Cosmos

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