Monday, January 19, 2009

The List: 10 Essential Books for the Skeptic

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I think every skeptic has one of those "this is bullshit" first step moments that pushes them over to the side of science and reason. Once that moment happens, there are some fantastic authors who can provide a wealth of information in transforming yourself, much like Optimus Prime, into a critical thinking dynamo.

10. Phil Plait - Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"

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Dr. Phil Plait is one of the best science bloggers on the internet. His
Bad Astronomy blog, on which this book is named tackles space and scientific fallacies with wit and candor. Bad Astronomy the book, is also incredibly readable and informative, Plait has a gift for mocking the true believers without being overly snarky.

9. Martin Gardner - Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

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Martin Gardner is the progenitor of modern skepticism and a master thinker. Any one of Gardner's books could have been on this list, but Fads and Fallacies is a good introduction. In this book Gardner climbs into the over inflated egos of pseudo scientists and scam artists with much of the vitriol that they deserve. Something to look for here as well, included is a very early critique of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, which would become Scientology.

8. Michael Shermer - Why People Believe Weird Things

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Michael Shermer is one of the most lauded skeptics active today, and this book shows you why. Packed with information on everything from Holocaust denialism to the Latter Day Saints. Shermer's writing is clear, concise, and infinitely readable.

7. James Randi - Flim Flam!
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Everyone's favorite grumpy magician. James Randi rocketed skepticism and debunking to the forefront with his exposes on Uri Geller and the faith healing movement. Flim Flam! is a very entertaining and pissed off refutation of psychic scammers by a very intelligent curmudgeon.

6. Chris Wanjek - Bad Medicine

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The sister book to Bad Astronomy, Bad Medicine explores the alternative medicine movement and the general poverty in medical journalism. The emotions usually piqued by Wanjek's book start out with incredulity and morph into horror as the dangers of faux medicine become apparent.

5. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson - Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
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The story of how human minds can explain away the fallacies and horrors they have committed. equal parts fascinating and terrifying Tavris and Aronson's book touches on the makeup of human nature itself.

4. Steve Salerno - Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless
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A much needed critique on the self help movement. Salerno attacks the pseudo-scientific meanderings of frauds like "Doctors" Laura and "Phil". Be careful when toting this book near true believers and Opraholics.

3. Jon Ronson - The Men Who Stare at Goats
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Jon Ronson's humorous tale of the U.S. Military's paranormal dabblings. Much like his book THEM, Ronson gets very close to the people he writes about, and his experiences with extremists are hilarious until you realize that they are deadly serious. Just remember to tell yourself that this book is not fiction, because it will be hard not to be exasperated with his subjects.

2. Richard Dawkins - Unweaving the Rainbow
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Like all of Professor Dawkins works, Unweaving will actually make you feel smartter after having read it. Richard Dawkins treatise on rationalism and the beauty of science is a must on every skeptics shelf.

1. Carl Sagan - The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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Simply put, I think this is the best book on skepticism ever written. Sagan has the soul of a poet, the curiosity of a child, and the intellect of a scientist. Beautifully written and thought provoking, Sagan weaves a tale accessible to everyone. Demon Haunted World is a one book Baloney Detection Kit.

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