Selected and reviewed
by James Leonard Park,
existential philosopher and skeptic.
Organized in vague order of quality, beginning with the best.
Red comments are the opinions and evaluations of this reviewer.
Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and other Delusions
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1982)
best book on pseudo-science
and claims of the paranormal.
James Randi is a professional magician,
which has enabled him to detect deception
where practicing scientists did not see it.
Phenomena discussed include: astrology; biorhythms; pyramidology;
Kirlian photography; dowsing; Bermuda Triangle; UFOs;
Erich von Daniken; ESP; remote viewing; spoon bending; parapsychology;
psychic surgery; psychic diagnosis and cure of disease;
Transcendental Meditation; Scientology; & spirit rapping.
The Demon-Haunted World:
Science as a Candle in the Dark
(New York: Random House,
1995) 457 pages
(Library of Congress call number: Q175.S215 1996)
Carl Sagan is the
"billions and billions" scientist
of the popular television series, Cosmos,
which was based on his book of the same name,
the best-selling science book ever.
In this—his last book—he criticizes popular trends toward superstition,
paranormal beliefs, and anti-scientific thinking.
Some of his major themes: life after death;
channeling—spirit messages from the dead;
faith healing, psychic cures; the role of religion
in supporting paranormal beliefs and pseudo-science;
crop circles; witches, demons; extra-sensory perception (ESP);
aliens; satanic cults; horoscopes; religious visions, hallucinations,
dreaming; pseudo-science in the mass media,
popular culture's fascination with the occult;
pseudo-science in politics and government;
Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs);
skepticism, baloney detection, fallacies of logic;
children's natural curiosity about how things work;
the dimensions of real science: wonder, searching,
hypothesis, testing, criticism by peers, self-correction;
the teaching and learning of real science at all levels of the education system;
the use of the mass media for real science programs.
book has more about
the self-correcting methods of science
than the other books in the Paranormal Bibliography.
Careful scientific method—with repeatable experiments
that allows other competent scientists to confirm or refute earlier results—
is the best answer to claims of the paranormal and supernatural effects.
The media should present as much solid science
as they do programs appealing to superstitious beliefs.
Science and technology
have produced weapons of mass destruction,
which has been used by governments to kill millions of people.
But science has also produced hundreds of medical miracles,
which have given us longer and better lives.
Open discussion and democratic process will allow us to use science
more to enhance life than to spread death.
This book is a precious
document of our civilization.
It may be seen decades after its publication
as the crowning achievement of Carl Sagan's life.
Will it be one of the break-thru books that sheds the light of science
into the darkness of popular culture?
knowledge of science
is required to understand this book.
For many years Carl Sagan taught science
to non-scientists at Cornell University and on television.
This book enables him to carry on that good work even after his untimely death.
It is a well-reasoned and open-minded book—recommended to all.
The Road from Foolishness to Fraud
(New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000)
(ISBN: 0-19-513515-6; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: Q175.52.U5P37 2000)
Robert L. Park (no relation
to this reviewer) is a professor of physics
—a practicing scientist—who also attempts to bring real science
to people who would never otherwise read a book of science.
The subtitle of this book refers to the very common progression
from a simple, honest error of scientific method
to an intentional scheme to defraud others,
usually for financial gain.
frauds discussed here include:
cold fusion—the claim to be able to fuse hydrogen atoms
at room temperature, thereby liberating the power that drives the sun.
global warming—projecting dramatic climate change
on the basis of computer models.
'natural' medicine—miracle cures from simple substances.
homeopathy—sugar pills programmed by water than 'remembers'.
magnets—more impossible benefits from a very weak force.
manned space flight vs. more cost-effective scientific instruments.
perpetual motion machines—producing more energy than consumed
by a miracle device that powers itself
as well as produces unlimited power for other uses.
power lines as a cause of cancer.
UFOs at Roswell, New Mexico.
x-ray lasar super weapon—light beam powered by an H-bomb.
(Guess what happens: It blows up.)
the misuse of the language and symbols of science to promote pseudo-science:
"quantum", "uncertainty principle", "vitamin".
mass media and politicians
often get involved in pseudo-science
because they do not have the ability to tell real science
from the exaggerated and impossible claims of hucksters.
Governments have been known to waste millions of dollars
trying to develop something that high school science knows is impossible.
All in all an
and informative book,
which should be read by everyone who has been tempted
by any of the foolish beliefs mentioned above.
Why People Believe Weird Things:
Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time
(New York: Freeman &
Company, 1997) 306
(Library of Congress call number: BF773.S56 1997)
beginning guide to exploring
the following themes:
science and pseudo-science, the psychology of over-belief,
near-death experiences as proof of life after death,
alien abductions, witch hunts, Objectivism (Ayn Rand) as a cult,
creationism, holocaust deniers, & racism.
The book attempts to be wide-ranging.
Therefore it is brief on most subjects.
But it gives the reader a very good start
for much deeper exploration of any of the themes discussed.
Easy to read—aimed at a wide, popular audience.
Many good examples of dogmatic thinking:
First you decide what you believe.
Then you gather all possible 'evidence' to support your belief.
And you dispute, disregard, or fail to recognize evidence to the contrary.
That's how people continue to believe weird things.
How We Believe:
The Search for God in an Age of Science
(New York: W. H. Freeman
and Company, 2000) 302 pages
(ISBN: 0-7167-3561-X; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BL240.2.S545 1999)
confirmed atheist attempts to explore why other people believe in God.
The God that is either believed in or not
is the traditional Judeo-Christian God—the Creator.
Science can deal with any alleged Creator
by giving an alternative account of creation and evolution.
Besides the supposedly rational bases for believing in God,
there are also cultural and emotional reasons.
A surprising percentage of practicing scientists
nevertheless believe in God.
are story-telling, pattern-seeking animals.
And many of our stories and patterns depict God.
But modern science gives a more coherent picture of the world
—and there is no need for a God hypothesis to explain anything.
Everyone interested in science and religlion
—from either side—should read this book.
Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials:
The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety
(New York: Pantheon Books,
1999) 278 pages
(ISBN: 0-679-44243-X; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BF773.K35 1999)
Contrary to some claims of rising secularism,
the present time is filled with more beliefs than we like to acknowledge.
This book turns a very critical eye on every sort of foolish belief system.
United States is supposed to be a secular county,
but almost all politicians claim some religious affiliation.
And they often use these religious connections in their political work.
Books and gurus promoting pop spirituality are sold to an eager public.
People want to believe the optimistic messages,
that we are basically OK and we will all survive death.
Wendy Kaminer serves a very useful purpose for other skeptics
who have heard of the various gurus and books
but who have not taken the time to read these books
or to attend the seminars of the various gurus.
Wendy Kaminer has done this for us.
And she gives us her useful reports,
which include details showing the shallowness and foolishness of pop spirituality.
Millions of people are reading these books
and thousands attend the seminars of the popular forms of spirituality.
But as we suspected, there is no basis for any of the beliefs.
The books and gurus just proclaim whatever they feel good about.
And the gullible public eats it up.
People seem to want to hear optimistic beliefs about themselves and their world.
For other skeptics,
this is a very readable and enjoyable book.
But for the true believers, nothing here will probably change any minds.
Not Necessarily the New Age: Critical Essays
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988) 395 page
of essays about New Age history and organization;
reincarnation; past lives; channeling; out-of-the-body experiences;
UFO abductions; New Age economics and scams;
& intelligent responses to "New Age" thinking.
Best known authors: Carl Sagan & Martin Gardner.
Science: Good, Bad, & Bogus
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1981) 408 pages
collection of essays,
many of which originally appeared in
the New York Review of Books, on a wide variety
of irrational and anti-scientific beliefs including:
parapsychology; biorhythms; astrology; Velikovsky; UFOs; ESP;
magic; psychic key bending; communication with the dead; faith healing;
Scientology; reading by touch; Lysenko and Soviet 'science'; & talking apes.
Because these were separate articles, there is some repetition.
And the book lacks the coherence and systematic organization
of James Randi's Flim-Flam!
The New Age:
Notes of a Fringe Watcher
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988)
collection of articles,
many of which first appeared
in The Skeptical Inquirer. Probing, well-researched, and very critical.
Some themes examined: channeling and Shirley MacLaine;
magicians passing as psychics; UFOs; fringe science;
fundamentalists and Biblical beliefs such as creationism;
perpetual motion machines; spiritualists; & Scientology.
ESP, Psychics, Shirley MacLaine, Ghosts, UFOs....
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987)
collection of newspaper
columns by a magician and New Age critic.
This book covers all the issues discussed by JamesRandi's Flim-Flam!
plus several not mentioned in that review: magicians passing as psychics;
prophesy and ambiguous predictions of the future; cold readings by psychics;
psychic crime detection; moon and crime-cycles; fire-walking;
past-life regression; other forms of life—monsters and aliens;
& science and pseudo-science.
Because each article is short and independent of the others,
this book can be dipped into as suits the reader.
Might be a good place to start reading about the "New Age"
from a critical point of view.
Channeling into the New Age:
The "Teachings" of Shirley MacLaine and other Such Gurus
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988) 198 pages
breezy, popular critique
of "New Age" beliefs by a journalist and skeptic,
who is often called upon to confront "New Age" gurus in the media.
Gordon deals with crystals, channeling, etc.
The second half is devoted
specifically to the life and 'teachings' of Shirley MacLaine.
12. George O.
Science and the Paranormal
(New York: Scribners, 1981) 414 pages
Twenty scientists, writers,
and other thinkers examine
some of the most popular "New Age" and paranormal phenomena:
astrology; biorhythms; monsters; psychic healing; UFOs; Velikovsky;
psychic power in plants; life after death; Kirlian photography;
pyramid power; lost continents; ancient astronauts; & the Bermuda Triangle.
Quite a good treatment of several subjects of debate
between the occult approach to reality and the scientific approach.
The Adventures of a Parapsychologist
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1986) 249 pages
of a young woman
interested in phenomena that seemed to be beyond scientific explanation.
She tries to replicate many experiments
—but always with results no better than chance.
She began as an enthusiastic believer but ended as a skeptic.
Interesting and readable.
Beyond the Body:
An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences
(London: Heinemann, 1982)
(Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1992
—reprint of the 1982 edition with a new postscript)
in which the self seems to travel
while the body remains in bed are reported in many cultures,
with different interpretations in each culture.
Careful analysis shows that these experience are dreams,
because they are conceptual in nature.
As in all dreaming, these experiences recombine elements
of thought and memory already present in the brain of the dreamer.
No alleged out-of-the-body experience has ever been able to discover
some fact of the 'place' to which the dreamer believes
he or she has traveled that was not already known to the dreamer.
Out-of-the-body experiences move quickly thru time and space
because thoughts can change more quickly than bodies can move.
Reading this book will take you out of your body.
But when you put the book down, there you are,
back in your body, returned from your mental trip.
This book is a must read for everyone interested
in alleged out-of-the-body experiences.
The Psychology of Transcendence
(New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990) 398 pages
(Library of Congress call number: BF1031.N43 1990)
of paranormal experiences:
religious visions, ESP, psychokinesis; faith healing; auras; ghosts, mediums;
out-of-the-body experiences; astrology; UFOs; & the Bermuda Triangle.
A balanced account—attempting to find some value in these beliefs
while maintaining a scientific approach.
Because Neher presents each phenomenon briefly,
this might be a good place to start one's study of the paranormal.
There are nearly 900 references in the back,
showing that the author has done comprehensive research.
16. Roger B.
Astrology: True or False? A Scientific Evaluation
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus
Books, 1988) 228
(Library of Congress call number: BF1713.C84x 1988)
book goes into the
science of astronomy much more fully
than other books looking into the claims of astrology.
The folklore now known as astrology grew out of star-gazing,
long before astronomy learned how the universe really works.
So the astrological picture of the universe is wrong in a number of ways.
And there is no scientific basis for claims of correlations
between events in the 'sky' and events on the planet Earth.
Whenever the predictions of astrology
have been subjected to rigorous scientific tests, they have failed.
This book will be read with profit by anyone interested
in the scientific evaluation of the claims of astrology.
Science Confronts the Paranormal
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus
Books, 1986) 367
(Library of Congress call number: BF1045.S33S44 1986)
articles from 5 years
of The Skeptical Inquirer.
Thirty-eight articles by 34 different authors covering a wide range
of paranormal subjects: parapsychology; ESP 'research'; astrology;
UFOs; fringe archaeology; creationism; & cryptozoology.
A rich source of critical examination of wild claims.
Mediums, Mystics, and The Occult
(New York: Crowell, 1975)
(Library of Congress call number: BF1031.C53 1975)
early book in the school
of Randi and Gardner,
debunking the beliefs of various people who claim paranormal abilities:
Uri Geller; psychic surgeons; Peter Hurkos; finger readers;
ESP from space—Mitchell; Ted Serios; spirit photographers; Arthur Ford;
magicians pretending paranormal powers; the search for the soul;
life after death; communicating with the dead; mediums;
Divine Light Mission; Eastern fakirs; etc.
Well written and fully reasonable.
Recommended for those who have already read
the other books on this Paranormal Bibliography.
A Skeptics Handbook of Parapsychology
(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus
Books, 1985) 727
(Library of Congress call number: BF1042.S55 1985)
good historical source-book
for the investigation of paranormal happenings.
More than you probably want to know about most of the subjects covered.
But a good place to begin to do detailed research
in any of the specialized fields of parapsychology.
If you know of other good books
in the field of paranormal claims, pseudo-science, and "new age" thinking,
send details to:
If you liked these
there are about 600 more available online.
Go to the Book Review Index .
These are organized into about 60 bibliographies
like the one above.
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