This book is not for laymen with a casual interest in the topic. It is for readers with at least basic knowledge of epistemological issues. I am a graduate student of philosophy, and epistemology is one of my subject areas.
The book is a collection of essays by AC Grayling on the question of scepticism in epistemology: namely, the question of whether knowledge is possible (or whether we can know that we know). He explores the question by tracing the thought of four philosophers - the table of contents is as follows:
Part I CARTESIAN RESPONSES
i. Berkeley's Immaterialism
ii Russell, Experience, and the Roots of Science
iii Russell's Transcendental Argument in An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry
Part II VARIETIES OF NATURALISM
i. Wittgenstein On Certainty
ii. Quine's Naturalistic Assumptions
Part III SCEPTICISM AND JUSTIFICATION
These essay titles alone should show that this book is best-suited for someone already well-versed in epistemological issues. It is sporadically helpful for someone looking for an overview of the sceptical problem. The essays on Berkeley, Wittgenstein and Quine are useful, as they necessarily engage with major streams of epistemological thought. However, the two essays on Bertrand Russell's approach to epistemology spend a lot of their time discussing the evolution of Russell's thought and ideas, which largely prove rather irrelevant for someone interested in the bigger sceptical problem (though they might prove interesting for a historian of philosophical thought).
The final part, an essay titled "Scepticism and Justification", is the most useful part of this book as it directly addresses the subject of scepticism, offering an overview of the subject with interesting analysis of various ideas. However, I have read an essay very much like it elsewhere: I think AC Grayling's contribution on scepticism to Philosophy (edited by Grayling himself) is effectively the same essay.
Given the above, I would treat this book as a helpful supplementary text on scepticism for students of epistemology. I would hesitate before recommending it to non-specialists, or as a central text on the topic.
on 9 December 2010
I am a fan of A.C.Grayling having read a few of his other books and heard him on the radio and T.V. several times. If I have a criticism about this particular work it is possibly also as much against myself as the book. I am a general reader with an interest in philosophy and popular science. I like a challenge and taking on things that are a little outside my normal comfort zone. However I did find this a bit heavy going. What I was after was more a beginners guide to the general concepts of Scepticism. I think this would suit someone at a more advanced stage as it went into a rareified atmosphere with repeated references to phenomenalism, epistemology, modality, neutral monism etc. Whilst I have heard some of the terms used in other publications I did find myself reaching for the dictionary several times. That might not be such a bad thing of course and if like me you are from the slow class but prepared to stick it out, you could still gain some insights into the subject. I would save it until you have read some simpler stuff first though.