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VINE VOICEon 15 June 2007
The blurb on the back cover says; "...Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks...witchcraft, faith healing and UFOs" - this he does but it is not really the main point of the book.

Sagan never sets out to trash some compendium of "new age" beliefs or all the paranormal and paraphyschological bunk that is currently doing the rounds. Instead, he uses examples such as UFOs, alien abductions and faith healing to instruct the reader in how such myths and pseudoscience can become so believable to so many. Helpfully he also equips the reader with the mental tools necessary to examine such claims for themselves in a sceptical and rational manner, his so called "baloney detection kit". This kit includes various tools for sceptical and scientific reasoning as well as how to recognise common fallacies of logic and rhetoric.

If you read this book expecting to be spoon fed arguments against various pseudoscientific, quasi-religious (or just plain-religious) and other paranormal beliefs then you are going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you want to be able to critically analyse theories and ideas (scientific or otherwise), if you want to be able to think for yourself and if you want to be able to recognise when you are being fed fallacious and fraudulent arguments then you can't go far wrong with this book.

Please read this book if you get the chance, it is marvellous piece of work, erudite and compassionate without ever being patronising and should be compulsory reading in every school, for pupils, teachers and parents.
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on 11 November 2010
One of the observations I have of reviews of books such as these is to note how many of the negative reviews contain anguished accusations of the author's arrogance or sneering and, with apparently no sense of irony, how 'closed-minded' the author must be.

Sagan however avoids sneering and avoids high handed righteousness too. Instead we get an impassioned and intelligent call for a very human rationality and 'common sense'. He points out the inherent flaws in thinking that people often make, especially in ascribing inconsistent and unnecessary meaning to things that can be explained in much more eloquent and interesting ways. he also highlights the corresponding, baffling, disregard some people have for the beauty and wonder that is available through knowledge obtained with human intelligence and confirmed by scientific rigor.

You can sense Sagan's bewilderment, sadness and fears regarding the surprisingly large mass of people who casually subscribe to ideas that are either demonstrably false or unfalsifiable and yet are suspicious of things that can be demonstrated and are falsifiable and therefore subject to rigorous tests.

In the end the fact that this book was written, the fact that it was a best seller, gives hope.

If you want to read an intelligent book that explores these ideas in a way that is both very insightful and contains a very human wisdom, free of sneering and arrogance, then Sagan is your ideal guide.
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on 14 February 2008
Do you like to question things? Well you should like this book.

There are two keys aspects to this book:
1. A detailed analysis of unsubstantiated beliefs
2. An exploration of critical thinking

1.
Sagan describes all sorts of unusual beliefs such as demons and witches which were once held with absolute certitude by the masses. He details outrageous claims of alien abductions and all sorts of unusual apparitions. This is all sprinkled with all sorts of interesting facts and anecdotes. Whether it's the story of innocent people being found guilty for child abuse by using confession under hypnosis as evidence or the fact that there have been over a million UFO sightings since 1947, the reader is kept in engaged along the way.

Inevitably Religion gets a mention. Sagan points out how scripture was used to justify some inhuman activities such slavery and racism
However Sagan is fair here. He points out that mainstream Religions accepts mainstream Science, such as Darwinian evolution and it is really only the fundamentalists who cannot deal with Scientific findings.

He also describes the story of the Jesuit priest, Friedrich von Spee, who turned whistle blower, detailing the abject fallacy and idiocy of witchcraft trials.

2.
Of course no book on critical thinking would be complete without a discussion on what constitutes critical thinking. Sagan is is succinct in his explanations. He details scientific and evidence based methodologies. He explains various logical fallacies which consistently make humans think something is true when it is actually not.

Sagan is not also to afraid to point out the imperfections of Science. He discusses the tentative nature of Science and he questions of some of bad aspects that have manifested from a usage of it. Atomic and Hydrogen bombs, two obvious examples.

Sagan explores the inescapable reality that Science has failed to capture the masses. Why is it only 75% of American don't know antibiotics kill bacteria not viruses? He explores some of the reasons for this as well as different ways of teaching Science and critical thinking.

He is only too gracious and bashful to recommend everyone should read this book, but I would have no problem doing that!
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on 2 June 1999
Carl Sagan's book makes clear that human ignorance can lead to some pretty weird, and potentially dangerous, belief systems, such as the belief in alien abductions, or the belief in witches. What is actually frightening is that people hold on to some of these beliefs, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary. The book contains some sobering examples of human ignorance, plus some of its causes. The book also contains a sample of some remarkable letters Sagan has received in the past few years, and a D.I.Y. baloney detection kit.
I found the book a highly accessible and passionate defence of scientific thinking. Sagan's take home message is that science does not necessarily rid the world of its beauty. On the contrary, a scientific perspective can reveal some truly amazing things that we can not perceive with our senses, such as the structure of the atom. I can recommend the book to everyone; I actually read it twice.
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on 28 September 2010
Great man. Great book. Let's get the minor criticisms out of the way first. Carl can ramble slightly at times. His points are valid and thought provoking. However, I felt that a little editing was required. That aside...wonderful. Clear, balanced, unbiased and honest. He takes a look at all the key areas of science - from his own interest as a child to a closing chapter on how the essential promotion of the critical thinking protects us from fundementalists, crackpots, psuedoscience, political manipulators and those who profit from obscuring the truth. His tone isn't hectoring and less likely to discourage some. My favourite moment (and one I've re-read) is the chapter 'Obsessed with Reality' in which he takes a look how media can be fooled - and therefore fool us - with unsubstantiated claims. He tells the story of how the great Randi fools the Australian press with 'Carlos' - a kind of channeling version of Chopra/Tolle - which should act as a warning to all and is also (I found at least!) quite funny. Worth publishing in every school is his 'baloney detection kit'. It might help us spot some of our errors and not be taken in by some of the less honest, sincere or otherwise, in our society. Thank-you Carl. You're sorely missed.
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on 4 March 2008
This book was given to me when I was 15 and it literally changed how I think!

The book covers things like pseudoscience and how we should all consider things rather than accepting what we see/hear/read. It talks about modern situations where hundreds and thousands of people are drawn into a pseudoscience situation and how they simply accept what they are told. This book teaches you to look at a situation in a different way so that you can not fall into the same trap as others.

I give this book 5/5 as it simply is an amazing read. I have currently just bought myself a copy to give to a friend and I would encourage others to read it.
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on 2 August 2004
This book, more than any other on this theme, subjects many of the popular delusions and superstitions that hold back and threaten the very existence of human society, against the "gold standard" of rational, scientific thought and method.
According to Sagan, our heads are full of confusion and misinformation and there are forces that wish to keep it that way. Unfortunately, the status quo is dangerous.
To wake from a slumber of indoctrination, media propaganda and self-delusion, read this book, in one sitting, as the perfect antidote.
I enjoyed this book so much that I have read and re-read it many times over. I've given copies to my dearest friends. This is an intellectual tour-de-force of a book. With every reading, I muse on how preciuous and rare clear and incisive thinkers with a voice that can reach everyone are. Carl Sagan is sorely missed.
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on 9 August 2005
This is a fascinating book, which argues clearly and passionately in favour of critical thinking, not just in science but in every area of our lives.
Sagan persuasively demolishes ideas such as alien abduction, channeling, witchcraft and satanic abuse scares, and then teaches us how to do the same. He attacks the misuse of religion but doesn't simply dismiss religion itself; instead he demands that it be intellectually honest.
This is not a 'science versus religion' book - Sagan was a skeptic in the true sense of the word, more critical and open-minded than someone like Richard Dawkins. There are several things on which he avoids giving his opinion, telling us not to trust people like himself, but instead to put his 'baloney detection kit' into action. I recommend this book to everyone.
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on 11 December 1998
I am shocked that I am the first reviewer of this book. It is a superb and unmissable study of how, and in some cases why society has failed to guide us out of ignorance. It deals with the emotional and personal drives; the irrational and irresponsible ways in which science has been ignored and more palatable or economically driven ways in which we are spoonfed non truths. It reports the bizarre ways in which we accept the illogical and choose to remain ignorant. It specifies the absolute importance of sceptical thinking and shows how wrong we can go by failing to teach this fundamental thinking tool. An extremely interesting survey of the delusions associated with such popularly held urban truths as Alien abductions, the extra-terrestrial origin of crop circles, and the damage caused by Religious absolutism. You can't afford not to read it if you believe in the quest for greater understanding and personal growth.
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on 30 July 2015
It seemingly falls to me to be the very first to give this book a 3-star rating. Obviously I've got a bit of justifying to do!
I can summarise my views by saying that I agree with practically all of the previous reviewers, with the important exception of those, mainly 1-star commentators, who question the rigour of Dr Sagan's arguments. I happily dismiss them out-of-hand.
My rating is in effect an amalgam of the 5 stars I would have given the first 60% or so and the 2 stars for the rest of the book. I've just realised, by the way, that the mathematicians amongst you will be protesting that 60% of 5 stars plus 40% of 2 stars gives a 76/100 score, or 3.8 stars, and, therefore, demanding to know why I didn't award 4 stars as the nearest whole number. This could provoke a row Sagan himself would have revelled in. All I can say in my defence is that 3 stars reflects my overall "feeling" by the end of the book, whose last few chapters were, I felt, actually in the wrong book altogether. Such a shame from such an intellectual giant!
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