Why People Believe Weird Things

Author: Michael Shermer

Type: Non-fiction, single subject

Full title: Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time

Published: 1997

I read it: August 2008

why people

This book is an excellent overview of skepticism. The first few chapters contain handy lists of logical fallacies and common arguing points. It’s an easy book to pick up and jump to specific chapters relating to various topics: alien abduction, cults, creationism, holocaust denial, and witch crazes, among others. One critique is that Mr. Shermer goes to more lengths to explain these phenomena and what is misguided about the belief, instead of explaining why people believe these things. Indeed it does seem that the title could drop the “Why” and just be called “People Believe Weird Things” (only the last couple chapters specifically tackle the “why”). But I do suppose it’s necessary to thoroughly outline major intellectual controversies so as to illuminate the need for skepticism–although the holocaust denial chunk could be slimmed down.

Ultimately it’s an entertaining and rewarding book, one which seeks to emphasize Spinoza’s statement, “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.” It’s a resounding cry for the support of logic: it’s all we have that will enable us to comprehend ourselves as individuals and as a society.

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