Review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)

Carl Sagan (writer).

Read in 2019.

The scientific method in a social and historical context, explained for the purpose of popular advocacy in favour of science and skepticism.

Wide-ranging, very well written, well in tune with US popular culture (through feedback on pre-published chapters) and a satisfying second-to-last-book by Sagan, who died in 1996. The only serious mistake here, to my mind, is Sagan’s emphasis on special educational programs (akin to athletic programs) for gifted children, which I suppose is a consequence of his belief in the information deficit model of science illiteracy, but a poor bet even so. He understood the culture of bullying, he provides cogent analyses of mad scientist and nerd tropes, and he rightly emphasizes curiosity and method over formality, goal-orientation and mere memorization, but he didn’t predict how later research in psychology would come to downplay the importance of factual knowledge in explaining phenomena like conspiracy theories and religion.

References here: Factfulness (2018).

non-fiction text