Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ tag

The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City, by David Lebovitz   no comments

Posted at 4:11 pm in Book review

David Lebovitz is rightly renowned for his dessert cookbooks–just ask anyone who’s tried the chocolate/guinness ice cream I make following his instructions. And as his blog makes clear, he’s an engaging, affable narrator. But until I read The Sweet Life in Paris, I hadn’t realized quite how laugh-out-loud funny he is.

Ten years ago or so, Lebovitz was leading a happy existence in San Francisco, following a long stint as a Chez Panisse pastry chef with a series of acclaimed cookbooks. Then his boyfriend suddenly and tragically died, of causes that Lebovitz doesn’t go into, and he decided to move to France. He describes this as running toward rather than away from something, an explanation that his loving depictions of French food support.

French food–if you don’t want to go there after reading Lebovitz’s  descriptions of it, there’s something wrong with you–is on the plus side of living in France. On the debit side, there are haughty salespeople, nonexistent customer service, and Parisians. But Lebovitz makes himself right at home, being so persistently friendly to shopkeepers that one of them consents to chat with him a mere five years into his stay. He also begins shaving before taking out the trash.

Interspersed among his very funny–and appetizing–accounts of life in Paris are recipes, all delicious-looking and no doubt well tested. You should make a lot of them. (Let me know in comments if you need my address.) And if you’ve ever wanted to go to Paris–or even more, if you haven’t–read this book.

Written by Lorin on July 28th, 2011

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Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It, by Gary Taubes   no comments

Posted at 6:28 pm in Book review

It’s no secret that America has an obesity problem. And we know what we need to do about it: eat less and exercise more. Consume less fat. Rely less on animal products. If we can all just control ourselves and eat a low-fat, plant-based diet and get some exercise, everyone will be fine. Right?

That’s certainly the prevalent doctrine, dispensed by more or less everyone except for the authors of a trickle of low-carb diet books. (Confession: until recently, I considered Atkins and co to be utterly misguided.) But does it take into account how our bodies actually work?

Not according to Gary Taubes. In “Why We Get Fat,” he argues that it is carbohydrates, not fat, that cause obesity. An earlier book “Good Calories, Bad Calories” made this point in a much more verbose and technical way; this is his attempt at a more layperson-friendly (though certainly not unscientific) account.

Taubes regards the calories in/calories out model of weight loss as distinctly unhelpful. Sure: to gain weight, I have to eat more than I discard, but what causes this? Is every overweight person really just gluttonous and lazy?

He illuminates matters by describing a group of female rats whose ovaries had been removed. They began eating incessantly and quickly became quite obese. In some cases, though, they were held to their usual diets. These rats also became obese, but in addition, were lethargic, moving only to gather food. Greed and sloth: end of story?

No. Without ovaries, they had no estrogen. Estrogen helps regulate how fat is stored, and prevents it from landing solely in fat, as opposed to, say, muscle cells. In the absence of estrogen, most of the fat that these animals consumed was being stored in their fat cells. This meant that their bodies had no fuel to run on. So they kept eating. Forcibly prevented from eating, they lacked the energy to move. They weren’t getting fat because they were overeating: they were overeating because they were getting fat.

Humans are in the same position: incoming fat can be shunted into storage or treated as fuel.* (And estrogen works the same way, which is probably why women who have had hysterectomies often struggle with their weight .)  Taubes gives a somewhat technical but quite enlightening description of how we process food, with insulin in the starring role. We consume carbs, they’re turned into glucose, our bodies release a wave of insulin to cope with it. Insulin has a variety of effects, none very helpful to anyone who wants to lose weight. In particular, while insulin is elevated, it is impossible to burn anything other than glucose. It doesn’t matter how much fat is sitting around: we can’t burn it. In anyone with chronically elevated insulin, this is obviously a problem. Adding insult to injury, as we get older, we tend to become less sensitive to insulin, and some people become resistant. Obviously, this does not affect everyone equally (genetics plays a big role): we all know people who can eat piles of chocolate without gaining weight. “It may be easier to believe that we remain lean because we’re virtuous and we get fat because we’re not, but the evidence simply says otherwise. Virtue has little more to do with our weight than with our height,” Taubes says. Refined carbohydrates may not cause trouble everywhere, but where there are weight problems, Taubes says, carbs (and our hormonal response to them) are always to blame.

It is impossible to decrease carbohydrate consumption without increasing fat intake. Taubes is fully aware of the environmental and ethical disadvantages of a heavily meat-based diet, though he does not offer a solution. He does, however, address the widespread claim that the key to both weight loss and good health is a low-fat diet. Rather shockingly, he makes a convincing case that its purported beneficial effects are not supported by science.  (There is a revealing discussion of how the government came to claim that they were.) On the contrary, studies seem to show that people on low-carb, high fat diets have improved triglycerides and HDLs. As he points out, for a very long time our species lived chiefly on the fattiest meat it could find: the idea that we require carrots and orange juice isn’t entirely obvious. He dispenses with exercise similarly handily–while unquestionably very important, exercise does not seem to contribute much to weight loss.

David Kessler recently made clear that given that our brains treat combinations of sugar, salt, and fat more or less like heroin, judgmental harumphing isn’t a reasonable response to the obesity crisis. Given the large, intense–and utterly useless–guilt-fest that this country’s discussion of weight still is, this book couldn’t come at a better time.


*This is a simplified description: please do not treat this essay as an endocrinology manual.

Written by Lorin on June 30th, 2011

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How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior, by Laura Kipnis   no comments

Posted at 8:27 pm in Book review

To all appearances, Lisa Nowak was both accomplished and sane, a holder of multiple advanced and highly technical degrees: and an astronaut, which means, inter alia, a survivor of the rigorous psychological testing given to prospective members of the space program. So it was surprising when she showed up in Orlando–having driven 950 miles from Houston, apparently using diapers along the way–and, wearing a bizarre disguise, attacked Colleen Shipman, her rival for the affections of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein. (Amusingly, to her colleagues in the space program, one of the more mystifying aspects of this story was that she managed to find her way to Orlando without getting lost.) How could this possibly happen? And surely, nothing like it could ever happen to us.

Not so, says Laura Kipnis, who in How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior, makes an intriguing–and convincing–case that we’re all much closer to public disgrace than we think.

Who among us is not guilty of the occasional bout of bizarre, blatantly rude, manic, self-sabotaging behavior? Mostly though, it’s not spectacular enough–or we’re not famous enough–for it to qualify as scandalous. I can think of occasions, say, when–lunch way past due and confronted with an elaborately rude stranger–I’ve publicly exhibited banshee-like behavior that I would be very loathe to have recorded on videotape. Lapses of self control, fits of bad temper, self-delusion: they’re all part of the human condition, and given the right set of circumstances, can manifest themselves in particularly explosive ways.

Generally, though, people blow up their lives only under distinctly exacerbated circumstances. Kipnis evokes a great deal of sympathy for Nowak, whose marriage had recently broken up, who had obviously been a great deal more in love with Oefelein than he had ever been with her, and who had recently lost a close friend in the Columbia shuttle disaster. (She had been caring for her friend’s motherless child, which would have put a significant strain on anyone.) Oefelein for his part seems to have waited until weeks into his relationship with Shipman to break things off with Nowak; and a sort of idée fixe had taken hold of her, that she must apprise Shipman of this, and find out when Shipman knew what she knew. Why she needed to do this in disguise, in the middle of the night, in an airport parking lot, using pepper spray, not even Nowak can explain–but then none of us, Kipnis argues, can say what we’re ultimately capable of.  By the end of Kipnis’ tale, it is impossible to see Nowak, and the wholesale destruction of her career, as anything other than tragic.

Kipnis lends a similar perspective to the other scandals she describes (which tend to be notable, distinct from the more garden variety scandals in which actors yell racist slurs and have public outbursts)–the eminent jurist Sol Wachtler, imprisoned after a bizarre episode in which he wrote extortionary notes to an ex-girlfriend under an assumed personality, and James Frey, publicly pilloried (most notably by Oprah, whose own actions were distinctly  weird) when aspects of his best-selling memoir turned out to be fiction. The only subject for whom–in my eyes, at least–Kipnis does not manage to drum up any sympathy at all, is Linda Tripp, who remains as staunchly repulsive as ever. Manic, even dangerous behavior: well, ok; the wholesale betrayal of a friend and–I would argue–her country: emphatically not ok.

Scandal, though always a popular topic, has not been the subject of much theory. Kipnis here makes an elegant (if, to my taste, excessively Freud-laden) attempt to remedy the situation, in a book that ultimately does not so much chronicle our differences as reveal our similarities. Scandal, Kipnis argues, both unites us and shows our society for what it really is; it allows us to laugh together while exposing the fault-lines of our culture. So scandal is not just endemic, but necessary to the human condition. And there, but for some really crappy luck, go you or I.

Written by Lorin on January 9th, 2011

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Thirteen People Who Didn’t Change the World, by Paul Collins   no comments

Posted at 9:35 am in Book review

History is written by the winners. Or at least about the winners. There’s no shortage of tributes to, say, Shakespeare or Einstein.  But what about the losers? Happily, there’s Paul Collins—a great and, I think, under-appreciated writer—who in Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World, brings to life a group of people who were famous in their own day, but for various reasons have been completely forgotten. The best-known (if that’s the right word) of Collins’ anti-heroes is Delia Bacon, who was renowned on two continents for her brilliantly erudite lectures, but went mad, and in the process invented the Francis Bacon-wrote-Shakespeare’s-plays theory. (She and Francis were unrelated, though late in her life she seems to have forgotten this.) Martin Farquhar Tupper was a famous writer of revoltingly treacly Victorian poetry, bizarrely much admired by Walt Whitman.  René Blondlot was a brilliant scientist who believed that he had discovered N-rays. Collins manages to evoke sympathy for his hapless protagonists, though it’s perhaps not unmixed with schadenfreude. Still, in this deeply fun book, they finally have the last word.

Written by Lorin on December 30th, 2010

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The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert   no comments

Posted at 9:20 am in Book review

Before Eat, Pray, Love happened, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote mostly about men: cowboys in the short story collection Pilgrims, lobster fishermen in her novel Stern Men, and, most memorably, Eustace Conway in The Last American Man.

Twenty years ago, Conway went back to the land in the most extreme way possible, and he’s still there, foraging and hunting, rubbing sticks together to make fire, sewing his own clothes from the animal skins he tans.  He is convinced that once people bear witness to his life, they too will want to give up electricity and indoor plumbing, and the United States will revert to an agrarian society, its citizens cheerfully living in harmony with nature. To this end, he travels the country promoting his nature preserve (and once befriending a terrifying set of crack dealers who liked his buckskin coat). Gilbert paints him as alternately charismatic and deluded, inspired and infuriating.

Conway’s story is interspersed with a history of utopian ideas in the U.S., of the dreamers—zany, often misguided, but always engaging—who envisioned a new way to live and a brighter future on the American frontier. There’s also an intriguing meditation on masculinity, on American definitions of manhood from the pioneer era to the modern age. The Last American Man is fascinating and a lot of fun—and just possibly better than Eat, Pray, Love.

Written by Lorin on September 30th, 2010

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Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters   no comments

Posted at 8:21 pm in Book review

A woman tries to walk across a room, but collapses. Another suddenly goes blind, for no obvious physical reason. Victorian hysteria, clearly a product of a time when women lived highly constricted, repressed lives. A veteran suffering from PTSD, on the other hand: doubtless a real disease, immutable, applicable in all situations and cultures. Not so, says Ethan Watters, who convincingly argues that all mental illnesses are circumscribed and molded by the cultures in which they occur. A person who is distressed will express it by drawing from whatever pool of symptoms is available in his culture–which may well be entirely different from what is available in my culture.

In Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, Ethan Watters, a veteran journalist who presented a scathing indictment of the recovered memory movement in Making Monsters, examines four illnesses in four parts of the world: anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and depression in Japan.

These four illnesses (and cultures) are quite different from each other, but share something important: none of them looked like the accepted Western clinical definition of the disease. Anorexics in Hong Kong did not believe that they were fat, trauma sufferers in Sri Lanka tended to describe physical symptoms and damage to family relationships rather than psychological problems, schizophrenics in Zanzibar were believed to be possessed by spirits, and in Japan, milder forms of depression were not viewed as an illness that required treatment.

Watters describes a world far from the definitive-sounding edicts of  the DSM (the diagnostical and statistical manual of psychological disorders, the handbook of Western psychology); one in which distress is signaled in an enormous variety of ways. “The simple but mind-bending truth,” the anthropologist Allan Young explains, “is that mental illnesses such as PTSD can be both culturally shaped and utterly real to the sufferer.” This world collides unhappily with the immutable-disease view of much of the Western mental health establishment.  (Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down makes a good companion read.)

Western health professionals increasingly treat patients throughout the world, and Watters suggests that they are often far less helpful than they believe. A DSM-trained therapist, unwilling to consider that a Hong Kong anorexic does not believe herself fat, is unable to hear what the patient is actually saying. This is one problem with the globalization of the DSM. An even larger concern is that in the course of describing an illness, particularly if the description is dispersed widely throughout a culture, therapists may actually create an illness where it did not exist before. The local expressions of mental illness begin to disappear, and the clues that could have been gleaned from them are lost.

Crazy Like Us is not a polemic against Western mental health care: it is clear that competent Western therapists can be very helpful, under the right circumstances. It is equally clear, though, that they can be distinctly unhelpful under the wrong circumstances, when they fail to understand that their definitions are not universal.

This is especially clear in Sri Lanka, as American therapists rush to the scene of the tsunami, insisting that the local population has no understanding of trauma, and no idea how to treat victims. The psychology professor Ken Miller suggests that we consider the opposite scenario, with Mozambicans telling 9/11 survivors which rituals they need to engage in to sever their relationships with deceased family members. That the therapists earnestly believe themselves to be doing good makes these scenes no less disturbing. They explain that large segments of the population will fall victim to PTSD, and that it is not necessary to understand Sri Lankan culture to make this prediction. (There is an obvious connection to Watters’ previous work, with echoes of the victim mentality that characterized the recovered memory movement in these PTSD predictions, as well as in the medicalization of very minor depression in Japan. Human beings occupy a large spectrum, from fragility to resilience, and it’s not clear why fragility should be the default option.) These therapists are, of course, wrong: Sri Lankan history is sadly full of tragedy, and Sri Lankans have developed specific and effective methods of coping with it.

In all of these cultures, a shift is underway to a more Western view of the mind. Watters believes that a society is most susceptible to this influence when it is under a great deal of strain: the Chinese takeover in Hong Kong, for instance, or the tsunami in Sri Lanka. These changes do not happen on their own, but tend to be encouraged by outside agencies. The most striking instance that Watters describes of Western intervention is a successful attempt by a consortium of pharmaceutical companies to change the definition of depression in Japan, through an enormous and society-wide campaign. The high regard in which U.S. knowledge is held in much of the world makes such attempts to influence local mental health practices particularly effective–and dangerous.

From the U.S. point of view, the culture-blind promotion of Western ideas on the mind could appear to be a good thing. Shift your vantage point a bit, though, and these efforts look misguided and even harmful. This is a brilliant and genuinely paradigm-shattering book.

Written by Lorin on July 18th, 2010

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The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments, by David Lebovitz   2 comments

Posted at 4:11 pm in Book review

There are millions of cookbooks. General cookbooks that explain how to boil an egg, specialty cookbooks that teach macaron-making, good cookbooks, bad cookbooks, cookbooks for every conceivable culinary interest.  And every so often, a great cookbook.

I’m a big fan of David Lebovitz’s blog, but his book The Perfect Scoop had sat unused until last week. I’m not sure why: what better way to spend the summer than making ice cream? But then, finally, I made chocolate ice cream and caramel sauce and French almonds and butter pecan ice cream and mocha sauce and strawberry sorbet and lemon sorbet.  They were all spectacular. (Lebovitz claims that it’s called butterscotch because it needs scotch, and with the Jack Daniels I put in, it was the best butter pecan ice cream I’d ever eaten.)

The Perfect Scoop is cheerfully and clearly written–and extremely well tested. The recipes–which cover ice cream, sorbet, granitas, toppings and containers–vary from the uncontroversial to the adventurous.  I haven’t made parsley ice cream yet, but I’m sure it will be delicious.

So if you’ve ever wanted to make ice cream, buy this book.  (And an ice cream maker, if necessary.)

Written by Lorin on July 15th, 2010

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Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter   2 comments

Posted at 11:17 pm in Book review

At a party the other day, a volunteer for the National Museum of Natural History described a visitor to the Hall of Human Origins. The young woman looked at a male skeleton and noted that the rib cage narrows as it moves downward.  She pointed to a particular spot and asked if that was where the rib was removed to form woman. She was not joking.

Would that this kind of ignorance, of even the most basic facts of science, were an anomaly. As Skeptics Society founder Michael Shermer has observed, the world is decidedly more rational than it used to be: many fewer people believe in witches, for instance.  But pseudoscience persists.

In Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives, Michael Specter examines five examples of this way of thinking. Leaving aside  the more common bugbears of skeptics–creationism, global warming denial, alien abduction claims and their ilk, which have been amply documented elsewhere–Specter discusses the fear of science and its disastrous intersection with vaccines, genetic engineering, alternative remedies, race and human origins, and synthetic biology.

The most infuriating, and strongest, section of the book concerns vaccines, and the very determined and deeply misguided people who oppose them.  Their beliefs originated with a journal article which linked vaccines to autism, and which has since been thoroughly discredited. Last year, I found myself in conversation with a woman–an EPA employee, no less–who said that clearly it could be no coincidence that she knew of several children who had been diagnosed with autism soon after being innoculated. I barely responded, being horror-struck but insufficiently informed.  Had I read Specter’s book, I would have pointed out that vaccinations and autism diagnoses tend to take place at the same age (between one and two), as well, of course, as that even a non-scientist EPA employee should know the difference between correlation and causation.  (Of course, that assumes that these parents remember the timing correctly. Specter is sympathetic to the leagues of desperate and confused parents of autistic children, who want an explanation, any explanation, for the plight of their children.)

Denialism is one of a number of interesting current books that allude to the great difficulties we have in gauging risk. Vaccine deniers, while giving entirely fictitious warnings about vaccines, do not tend to consider what happens in their absence. As Specter demonstrates, the pre-vaccine world was far from a naturalistic paradise. (In the developing and often still pre-vaccine world, around 200,000 children died of the measles in 2007. This represented a significant decline in measles deaths–from c. 750,000 in 2000–which of course will not continue if the anti-vaccine lobby has its way.) Specter does not deny that caution is necessary and important, and that scientists can be wrong and even occasionally criminal.  But he depicts a world in which the pendulum has swung so far onto the side of caution that the joys of scientific discovery have practically been forgotten, and the truth is almost incidental.

The world of natural remedies is no less filled with fraudulent claims, and many of these (largely unregulated) substances are not only ineffective, but can actually be harmful. I know this from my own experience: working at a health food store, I regularly saw people looking for “natural” remedies to treat what were clearly real health problems requiring real medicine.  In South Africa, the Mbeki government denied a connection between HIV and AIDS, refusing to provide antiviral drugs and causing hundreds of thousands of deaths in the process.

Pseudoscience can be merely irritating, the realm of UFO nuts and astrologers. But as the families of South Africans killed by AIDS, as the parents of any unvaccinated child who has succumbed to a preventable disease know, it can be deadly. In Denialism, Specter issues a clarion call for a rational world view.

Written by Lorin on July 2nd, 2010

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Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, by Joseph T. Hallinan   1 comment

Posted at 6:05 pm in Book review

Human beings have an interesting dilemma.  Sanity, I suspect, hinges to some degree on believing ourselves to be right more often than not, on believing that what we see is actually there, and that what we remember actually happened.  Unfortunately, we are very often wrong, about almost everything. In Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average,  Joseph T. Hallinan fascinatingly plumbs the depths of our errors.

In a style familiar to readers of Freakonomics and Outliers, he gives a plethora of examples, from medicine to criminal justice to the military. We are never safe from mistakes, though this is due less to problems of intelligence and organization, and more to the inherent flaws of our approach to the world.

One facet of this approach is efficiency. For instance, if we are looking for something and conclude that it is unlikely to be there, we tend to stop looking. This has unfortunate implications for radiologists and airport screeners: in one 2002 study, TSA officers missed one in four guns.  (Screeners have a literally one-in-a-million chance of seeing a gun.)

Equally, if we believe that we know what will be there, we don’t look very closely: we skim.  Hallinan describes a misprint in a piece of music that had gone unnoticed for decades, and was not detected until an unskilled pianist played the piece. All other pianists had simply automatically substituted the correct note.  This suggests, counterintuitively, that the best proof-readers may not be experts.

And we see what we expect to see. I read of a study in which wine experts were given white wine that had been colored to make it appear red. Many of the experts failed to notice that it was white, and gave detailed evaluations of a red wine.  I explained this to a delighted waiter at Cookshop once; I wonder if he ever tried it out on the sommelier.

The list of things that we get wrong goes on and on, often driven by just the sorts of devices that have advantages in other situations. We often have trouble drawing a penny from memory or reciting the national anthem (I failed the penny test, but recited the anthem without error), we are terrible at judging risk, and we tend heavily toward overconfidence–think, for instance, of the millions of unused gym memberships we pay for every year. We also think that we can multi-task. We can’t.

Fortunately, Hallinan does not regard these problems as unsolvable, and the last few chapters of the book describe ways in which we can attempt to overcome them. Forewarned is forearmed, at least some of the time.

Readers of  Jonah Lehrer, Atul Gawande, and Malcolm Gladwell will recognize both Hallinan’s style and a number of the examples he gives, but for anyone interested in the disjoint between what we believe and what is  true–and how to tell the difference–this book provides a fascinating account.

Written by Lorin on June 13th, 2010

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A pseudoscience bookshelf   3 comments

Posted at 5:46 pm in Book review

All of these books discuss and in various ways combat pseudoscience, and I’ve found each of them instructive and enlightening–if not a little disturbing.

Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Susan Clancy

There has never been a shred of evidence for any visit to our planet by aliens, but this does not prevent a surprisingly large number of people from believing they have not only seen but been kidnapped by aliens. Clancy fascinatingly describes why this might be.

Follies of the Wise: Dissenting Essays, Frederick Crews

These book reviews and essays are not all about pseudoscience–there is an excellent piece on the death of post-structuralism–but the largest section of the book is devoted to its varied manifestations in psychology, as part of a devastating critique of Freud. Crews is an immensely lucid and intelligent writer, and is a pleasure to read on any topic.

Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic: More Notes of a Fringe Watcher, Martin Gardner

Gardner, much-lamented grandfather to the skeptics’ movement, holds forth in his wonderfully lucid and entertaining way on good science, bad science, and the people who practice each. (His collection The Night is Large is also marvelous.)

Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, And Sexual Hysteria, Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters

Victims of Memory: Incest Accusations and Shattered Lives, Mark Pendergrast

Few topics in pseudoscience are as compelling as the the memory wars of the 1990s, when a large number of women were convinced by irresponsible therapists (who were often under the influence of the execrable book The Courage To Heal) that in spite of the fact that they had no memory of it, they had been abused throughout their childhoods. They were guided by these therapists into developing false memories of abuse, destroying families and lives in the process. Needless to say, the therapists had no understanding of how memory works. Making Monsters stomach-churningly tracks these events and clearly describes the real science of memory.

Pendergrast, whose own daughters falsely accused him of abuse, lays out in heartbreaking detail the tragedy of both his own family and the larger “recovered memory” movement.

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi

Randi famously demonstrated that Uri Geller’s spoon-bending was a hoax, and has made a career out of debunking other false claims.  Here, he provides a delightful list of all manner of lunatic ideas through the ages.

The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In the Dark, Carl Sagan

This is the book that first introduced me to pseudoscience and the skeptics’ movement. It is still one of the best books on the topic, with Sagan at his most brilliant and engaging.

Searching For Memory, The Brain, The Mind, and The Past, Daniel L. Schacter

This is a riveting account of how memory works, how it doesn’t, what the common misconceptions of memory are, and of what can result when those misconceptions intersect with the judicial system.

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, And Other Confusions Of Our Time, Michael Shermer

Shermer, the impressively clever founder and director of the Skeptics Society, explains–as well as anyone can–why superstition and pseudoscience are so widespread, and describes some of their odder and more unsettling manifestations, from creationism to Holocaust denial.

Written by Lorin on June 7th, 2010

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