Book Recommendations

by David Bloomberg

This semi-regular column will feature very brief descriptions of skeptic-related books I (and hopefully others) have recently read, along with a recommendation. This one will be longer than most, since I’m catching up on about 7 months of reading. If you’d like to contribute a recommendation, please e-mail it to me at


****: Fabulous, wonderful, don’t miss it, etc.
***: Worth the read
**: Read it if you have nothing better to do
*: Don’t bother even if you have nothing better to do

Probability 1: Why There Must Be Intelligent Life in the Universe, by Amir Aczel (Harcourt Brace & Company, $22): A book that seems to have a bit of a split personality. In parts, Aczel wants to educate the general public as to why there must be intelligent life out there somewhere. In other parts, he uses complex statistical equations that will lose many readers. If you can make it through, it’s interesting, but hardly Earth-shattering.**

Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins (Houghton Mifflin, $26): Dawkins wants the public to better understand science. One problem is that the public often perceives science as destroying the charm of a mystery (such as by unweaving the rainbow into different wavelengths of light). Dawkins argues that this is not true at all, and describes the poetry of science. He is perhaps at his best in showing how pseudoscience is "meaningless pap" compared to real science. ***** (Yes, that’s right, it goes off the scale.)

Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History, by William Ryan and Walter Pitman (Simon & Schuster, $25): A book that would have been better as an article, the authors do present some intriguing information, but do so in a format that is almost guaranteed to bore the reader. They contend that the myth of Noah’s flood was based on stories told by people forced out of their homes when the Black Sea flooded in pre-historical times. The evidence seems fairly solid, though not 100% certain (there are apparently some underwater archaeological explorations going on right now to look for further info), but the reader has to plow through so much unnecessary verbiage that it’s just not worth it.**

Reaching to Heaven, by James Van Praagh (Dutton, $22.95): As I discussed at one of our meetings, Van Praagh’s new book is simply bursting with nonsense packaged to sell. While his message is comforting in some ways, it is also horrifying when viewed from both sides (if you have cancer, it’s your fault for not thinking happy thoughts). He argues against rational thinking, which is not surprising since if more people thought rationally, his sales would decrease accordingly. 0 Stars (Yes, this one goes off the scale too.)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Psychic, by Lynn A. Robinson and Lavonne Carlson-Finnerty (Alpha Books, $18.95): An incredible collection of nonsense portrayed as reality. It’s frankly difficult to understand how the authors could really believe all this stuff and still function in society. Did you know that in Alabama, a "glittering, 12-foot-tall Liberace, along with his equally oversized piano, descended to Earth from a banana-shaped spacecraft" in 1989? The authors do, and count this as an unexplained mystery of the paranormal. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Surprise: 0 Stars

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tarot and Fortune-Telling, by Arlene Tognetti and Lisa Lenard (Alpha Books, $16.95): Not quite as bad in content as Being Psychic, but still horrible in its own way. The card descriptions are vague and virtually meaningless, yet they take 140 pages to discuss them. Even a believer in Tarot would find this almost useless, as there are better Tarot books out there. (Thanks to Derek Rompot for additional info on this one.) 0 Stars

[To-Do List: Explain to David proper use of rating scale. — Ed.]

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