by Martin Gardner
This book is one that truly deserves to be called a "classic". It was my introduction to skeptical thought and critical thinking and still remains my favourite book in my collection of skeptical literature. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who wants to see what weirdness people are capable of believing.
The book is subtitled "A study in human gullibility". True and tragic.
The tragedy of this book is that, almost 60 years later, almost all of the foolishness and scams exposed in the book are still with us. How anyone believed this stuff in the first place is a mystery. How anyone can continue to believe idiocies like scientology, chiropractic, homeopathy, perpetual motion machines, flying saucers, and the nonsense about Atlantis and the pyramids in the 21st century almost defies belief.
Very sad news (22/5/2010)
I have just heard that Martin Gardner has died. Martin was one of the few people that I treated as a hero, and he was on my very short list of those I wanted meet some day. Now I will never have that chance, but I will still have the collection of excellent books that he wrote over the years, books which have guided my thinking and challenged me to think for myself and question what I see and hear.
I had a sort of epiphany once in a coffee shop in Glebe Point Road in Sydney. I had gone out for lunch and spent some time in a book shop where I found a copy of Martin's book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, which I had wanted to read for some time. I stopped for a coffee on the way back to work, and I didn't get up from the table until I had finished the book. The tragedy of this book is that it was written almost sixty years ago, but it reads like it was written yesterday. It told me that there is a permanent need for people to educate the public about mad, bad and just plain weird thinking.
Martin liked to call himself a "philosophical theist", a claim which put him at odds with many of his atheist fans. What he meant was that he chose to believe in the existence of a god with no other justification than it made him feel more comfortable about things like where we go when we die. He now has the answer to that question, and if he was right I can imagine that he is wishing he could write just one more column for a skeptical magazine saying "See, I was right – you should always keep an open mind".
The skeptical and rationalist movement has few heroes, and now we have one fewer, but Martin will live on in the minds and on the bookshelves of the countless people he has influenced over the last six decades.