- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Picador (1 February 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1447208978
- ISBN-13: 978-1447208976
- Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 3.3 x 23.4 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,30,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Heretics: Adventures with the Enemies of Science Paperback – Large Print, 1 Feb 2013
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About the Author
Will Storr is a longform journalist and novelist. His features have appeared in various publications, including Guardian Weekend, The Times Magazine, Observer Magazine, GQ, Marie Claire and the Sydnei Morning Herald. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine. He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2010, his investigation into the kangaroo meat industry won the Australian Food Media award for Best Investigative Journalism and, in 2012, he was presented with the One World Press award and the Amnesty International award for his work on sexual violence against men.
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Top customer reviews
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So I was pleasantly surprised when, an hour later, I had ploughed through a fourth of the book and kept going. For a rational, moderately-skeptic reader like me, the book starts off as being quirky and intriguing as it offers a glimpse into a goofy, nearly delusional, world on the other side. The world of the creationists, the ufo hobbyists, hindu spiritual gurus (a world closer to home), freakish past-life regression techniques and other 'quackery' type areas. The book, however, quickly begins to poke holes into your pre-conceptions and biases. By alternatively exploring the scientific world and interacting with 'skeptics' you get a chilling realization. The people inhabiting the two worlds are more similar than you think in their ideologies, biases and rigidness of opinion.
But what I found the most fascinating was the parts where Will explores the psychology behind some of these biases and what drives people to do the things they do. While, perhaps, it feels a little like pop-psychology theories and stories, they are intriguing, fascinating and horrifying at times. The fact that it may all boil down to our neurons and connections is oddly liberating yet scary at the same time. Will paints a great picture of real and illusion.
All through the book Will maintains a honest narrative with a wry sense of humor (especially in his interactions with people) that will have you chuckling quite frequently. Then there are moments of dark honesty and even conjures a sense of thrilling anticipation at times.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
What I particularly liked about this book was Storr's personal courage in having the vulnerability to be completely honest about the questions and uncertainties which filled his own mind in the writing of the volume. This is a rare beast indeed: skepticism with self-reflection!
What I also love is that Storr is very, very fair in his appraisal of the people he meets and interviews. He shows himself willing to question his own pre-set assumptions. This is an attitude that many so-called professional skeptics could do well to mimic. As Storr's encounters with several skeptics in the book reveal, many are just as dogmatic and irrational as the "woo" masters they despise.
This becomes particularly clear in a chapter where he digs into the dispute between radical biologist Rupert Sheldrake and professional skeptic Richard Wiseman - over their testing of a "psychic" dog who allegedly knew when its master was coming home despite having no warning about the return times. Although Storr comes to no firm conclusions about Sheldrake's work, Storr is willing to present the cases of both men, including allegations that Wiseman misrepresented his own study to make a positive outcome look negative. Most skeptics would not even bother to give Sheldrake the benefit of the doubt, instantly siding with the skeptic. Storr does not fall into that trap.
Nor does James Randi - when interviewed - come out looking like the irrepressible, hyper-rational genius his fans often portray him to be. But Storr is willing to point out the good Randi has done as well. And this is something many in "alternative" circles typically fail to do. As I said, Storr is very fair.
Storr does not fall short of criticicising - or even ridiculing - various "believers" who seem willing to believe almost anything, irregardless of the evidence to the contrary. Some of his stream-of-consciousness judgments of their deep irrationality make for amusing reading.
Storr concludes that the human mind is a story maker and that it is impossible for us to avoid this - regardless of how "rational" we think we are. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance to some degree. And he is right. Given this the only truly "rational" way to gaze upon the thinking of others is with a gentle appreciation that their distortions are just part of the madness of being human. I suppose the most obvious caveat is in deciding when such thinking is harmful to others - as is the case with David Irving.
If I am pressed to identify any shortcoming of the book, it might be the writer's failure to adequately address the limits of scientific enquiry and rational analysis. I feel that any genuine attempt to sceptically question the world has to acknowledge the limits of different kinds of perception. There are mindful traditions which have come to the same insights as has Storr, but through introspective means. Some do offer a step beyond the kind of postmodern impasse at which Storr finds himself imobilised at the end of the book. This is, I believe, a civilisational roadblock that we now face. Storr is clearly prepared to explore such possibilities (he relates an agonising Vipisana meditation retreat he attended), but it seems he is yet to resolve this cognitive tension in his own mind.
But then again, it is not Storr's stated aim to look so far ahead, and it does not make this book any less readable. In fact the tension lies at the heart of its artistic merit, I feel. It's a great read.
This is one of the best books I have read this year. Buy it and read it. But don't expect a comfortable ride. You might even finish it feeling a little disturbed.
Marcus T Anthony, PhD, author of "The Great Psi Shift"
The book is written in a nice and engaging style. The author regularly baits the reader with controversial topics, then switches sides and defends the opposing point of view. At the end you understand that nobody knows the truth and nobody has the final answer. Something I hope to remember when I get caught in a hot argument.