Book review: “The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan

The full title is “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” and it’s about the differences between science and superstition.

This is one of the best philosophy books I’ve ever read, and I highly recommend reading it. In fact, I like it so much I picked up a second copy to loan to people because I think it’s an important book to read.

Sagan covers such seemingly diverse topics as witch hunts, UFO madness, hallucinations and prophecy and demonstrates in an engaging way how powerfully they can sway people, yet how easily they crumble before healthy skepticism armed with understanding of the scientific method.

There is a nice variety of topics with enlightening discussion of all, but the overall theme is the importance of the general populace understanding the scientific method and of being skeptical of the claims of those who would have them believe something. Later on he (and co-author Ann Druyan) talk for a few chapters about the decline of science education in the USA, the incorrect but damaging popular perception of science following WWII, the way politics in the USA is trending toward the opposite of that nation’s own core values, and how those things bode ill for the future.

This book is definitely one of my top recommendations for non-fiction reading.

Movie review: Shutter Island (spoilers)

In movies revolving around an outsider investigating something at an insane asylum, there are two industry standard plot twists. Either:

  1. The protagonist is already a patient and will realize it near the end of the movie, or
  2. Through traumatic experience or foul play, the protagonist will become a mental patient.

Based on the trailer and the first half of the movie, I was pretty sure this one was the second case. But once the lead investigator revealed his origin story to his partner it became pretty obvious it was actually the first case. I had been enjoying it quite a bit, but most of the remainder seemed pretty predictable from then on, with our boy becoming more and more isolated and unhinged as the story went on. I was even disappointed by the big reveal of his turning point tragedy – yeah, sucks to be him, but are people really so fragile that they can become total reality-deniers because of something like that?

The ending introduced a plot twist that surprised me though. Even though the protagonist made what I consider the wrong choice in the end, what he said and the fact that he made the choice was something new in an otherwise cookie-cutter plot.

There are a few spring-loaded cats in this movie – whenever the sound goes dead, you know one is coming. The worst one (during the big reveal flashback) was actually just a sound effect, but it caught me off guard even though I should have expected it. I hate that.

Overall I’ll give it 6 out of 10 on the ‘A’ (ie not-a-B-movie) scale. Entertaining, not a waste of my time, but not outstanding.