America’s favorite skeptic (Visitors From Oz, 1998, etc.) presents another smorgasbord of common sense, practical criticism, and entertainment.
The subtitle only begins to do justice to the range of these essays from various periodicals, primarily Gardner's long-running column in the now-defunct Skeptical Inquirer. For many readers, the real fun will consist of watching the author turn his microscope on the pseudoscientific and irrational. You can practically see him shaking his head at some of the interpretations of the classic fairy tale he examines in “Little Red Riding Hood.” And his essay on Ernest Hemingway, which Gardner himself frankly describes as “a hatchet job,” will likely make even that writer’s admirers think twice about Hemingway’s brutal egotism. Nor does the author find much to admire in Indian guru (and messiah of theosophy) Krishnamurti. But Gardner’s full arsenal of indignation only becomes apparent in essays on medical or psychological quackery such as therapeutic touch, primal-scream therapy, and facilitated communication. The psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, whose work with autistic children was once considered definitive, does not escape Gardner's scorn for his contention that maternal coldness is at the root of autism. His exposé of primal-scream therapy concludes with a transcript of therapists bullying a young girl through a “reenactment” of her birth—a session that resulted in the child’s death. The menu is not restricted to debunking, however; Gardner displays his enthusiasms for GK Chesterton, L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, and mathematical puzzlements. His sense of humor peeks through in clerihews and parodies, as well as in occasional asides about his more serious subjects. There are copious notes for readers interested in following up the author's research.
A must for fans of Gardner, and for rationalists of all stripes.