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30 October 2010

About.com: Top Books on Skepticism, Critical Thinking, Logic

Well, since I installed the Amazon thingy on the blog, and I like to read books, I was pleased to see a list of books that Austin Cline recommends. If I was going to rewrite this list, I think that I would move "Demon Haunted World" up as the very first book for anyone you want to introduce to actually thinking (let alone critical thinking).  As a matter of fact, if this list is too daunting, I would say go with 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9 first.  I I almost put "The Age of American Unreason" up there with "Demon Haunted World", but I think that may be more a hot button issue with me than others.  Although you really have to read the review Austin gives (right at the end) or even go to the Amazon page to peg your irony meter.  4 and 5 are right up there as well, but that could be the second course on tackling this reading list.

Of course, the ideal situation is to have a well read public that can tackle all 13 books on the list.  Go ahead, put them on your Kindle (or Kindle like device) or even get them in paperback with paper and all that antique stuff.  Set a goal of just getting through one every couple of weeks.

Top Books on Skepticism, Critical Thinking, Logic
Reviews of the Best Books on Skepticism and Critical Thinking

by , About.com Guide

Society today requires science more than at any time in the past. Unfortunately, people today are often scientifically illiterate - they don't understand science and they don't understand the sort of skeptical, critical thinking which lies at the heart of science. There are plenty of books on skepticism, but collected here are some of the best that I've found. If skepticism and critical thinking are important to you, these are books you should read and should recommend to others.

1. How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age

How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age
Belief in paranormal, supernatural and mysterious claims have always been very popular, so how can skeptics best approach such claims to evaluate their credibility and offer a critical perspective? What tools and principles should we employ in dealing with obviously weird things that come up in life? What are the methods of thinking which people should be employing more often, but aren't? So long as separating truth from falsehood is important, these are vital questions for everyone.

2. Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Are irrationality and superstition bringing the modern world to the brink of a new Dark Age? Can the proper use of skepticism and critical thinking keep us away from that brink and ensure that the promises of reason and science are actually fulfilled? These are the themes of Carl Sagan's book, which is not simply a polemic against irrationality, but also a hopeful manifesto for the future.

3. What are the Odds? The Chances of Extraordinary Events

What are the Odds? The Chances of Extraordinary Events
We can see the use of statistics in a variety of aspects of our lives. In the news especially we encounter statistics - for example, about how certain behaviors will make us more likely to get a disease, about likely we are to die on the job, or even the odds of an asteroid hitting the earth and killing us. But what do all of these statistics really mean?

4. Thinking from A to Z

Thinking from A to Z
Critical, skeptical thinking isn't easy. It's not that it's unnatural, but credulous attitudes are easier to adopt and maintain because they take less work. Skepticism requires some training, patience, and above all practice. Most of those who seek out such training and practice are involved in scholarly studies like philosophy, but everyone could benefit from them as well. Where can one start?

5. Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking

Don't Believe Everything You Think: The 6 Basic Mistakes We Make in Thinking
If you care about truth, then you have to care about being able to reliably differentiate between truth and falsehood. Figuring out how to do that, however, isn't always easy. A major problem with this is the fact that many of our normal habits of thinking which appear to serve us well in day-to-day matters don't really work when it comes to more complicated issues. There is little in modern culture which encourages people to do a better job with this task, and this harms us all.

6. The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal

The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal
Is there some basic connection between religious beliefs and paranormal beliefs? Some commonality which helps explain not only their similarities, but also why they have been so appealing to so many people throughout human history? Although there are many books which offer critiques of either religion or the paranormal, few are willing to do both, probably because people who are skeptical of one aren't necessarily skeptical of the other.

7. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Confusions

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Confusions
We live in an age of science and progress, seemingly far beyond the ancient world where superstition and occult dominated. If that is true, why do so many believe strange, pseudoscientific claims about things like past-life regression, alien abductions, creationism, and more? It is this conundrum which Michael Shermer explores in 'Why People Believe Weird Things.' Unfortunately, the title gives the impression that he addresses primarily the psychology of beliefs, but that's not the case.

8. The Philosopher's Toolkit: Philosophical Concepts and Methods

The Philosopher's Toolkit: Philosophical Concepts and Methods
If you spend much time discussing religion, politics, and philosophy, you'll quickly find that if you want to get anywhere you'll need to acquire some skill when it comes to analyzing, understanding, and refuting basic arguments - and that's all before you learn how to properly construct your own. But just where do you go to get such skills?

9. The Age of American Unreason

The Age of American Unreason
Have you gotten the impression that Americans are disdainful of intellectual pursuits, complex ideas, and thought that requires real work? Well, you should have because it's true. Anti-intellectualism isn't just alive and well in America, but it's gained the high ground. There's arguably more anti-intellectualism in America than intellectualism, which spells trouble for American politics, culture, and future.

10. Healing Yourself with Wishful Thinking

Healing Yourself with Wishful Thinking, by Arthur Bloch
Can meditation really help you achieve optimum physical and psychological health? Can you really get in touch with a spirit guide who will help you make the right decisions in life? Can wishful thinking really make you better looking, richer, and cure your acne? Is self-delusion the key rather than an obstacle to happiness?
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11. Truth, Knowledge, Or Just Plain Bull

Truth, Knowledge, Or Just Plain Bull
There are many different claims out there vying for our attention and acceptance. We encounter claims in politics, religion, and of course advertising. Some claims are true or at least reasonable, but many are wrong if not outright lies. How can we reliably separate the two? How can we learn to think clearly enough to differentiate between true and false ideas?

12. Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking

Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking
People think all the time - it is an important part of human existence, after all. Critical thinking, though, requires some training and practice. People can go about their daily lives without extensive critical thinking abilities, but this can be unfortunate because when done well, skepticism can do a lot to enhance human existence. How can people improve their critical thinking skills?

13. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal

Pseudoscience and the Paranormal
One of the things that makes skepticism so difficult is the fact that there are simply so many paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs out there to be skeptical about. It is difficult to become reasonably familiar with even one or two of these beliefs, but how can anyone be familiar enough to be able to offer a skeptical rebuttal to the claims of dozens?

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