A Skeptics’ Six-Month Book Club List for a New Year
February 6, 2018
Welcome to a new year! And like most things you get for Christmas, it’s a book—or at least a book list of reading suggestions of works that you hoped were out there or seeking out during the final holiday sales.
2018 is now underway, and if you’re still struggling with the unscientifically supported notion that you’ll be better at expanding your reading habits because you promised you would on the first day of the year, the following are exactly the kind of things that an administration might frown upon if they’re worried about improving critical thinking and encouraging debate (which makes them even more appealing).
If you’re interested in reading further, there will be monthly discussion notes on the Token Skeptic blog. Here’s my recommendations to start off:
FEBRUARY – How To Be Reasonable: By Someone Who Tried Everything Else by Rebecca Fox.
A gentle start to a new month with a short book but a great one; a graphic novel that explores the basics of reasonable thinking. Rebecca Fox decided to investigate what is involved with being a more skepticallyminded person, and with a background in literature and skills in illustration and graphic design, she delved into her own experiences in philosophical reasoning to self-produce this guide.
It’s since been picked up by Hypatia Press for a new edition (allowing for wider distribution), with even more footnotes and suggestions for the not-wanting-to-be-so-irrational out there. Which is pretty much everybody. How To Be Reasonable: By Someone Who Tried Everything Else is an excellent start for a book club or a gift to younger readers, and it actively encourages other artists to bring together the powers of science, critical thinking, and design with its example.
MARCH - The Woman Who Fooled the World - Belle Gibson's Cancer Con by Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano.
This came out at the end of 2017 and is beginning to be published (and noticed) beyond Australian shores. A mesmerizing read even if you’re not familiar with the story of the polished, convincing beauty that was Belle Gibson on social media, during the time she convinced everyone she was a “wellness warrior” who cured her own terminal brain cancer with lifestyle choices that were conveniently published and turned into a best-selling app.
At the age of 23, Gibson claimed many strange things about healthy living during her rise to fame, and Donelly and Toscano take a sympathetic but no-stone-unturned approach to not only the strategies she adopted to convince the world of her situation but also the history of what happened to the wellness industry since its humble beginnings. This is also great as a gift to anyone who might need a thought-provoking prod toward questioning the likes of Goop and all of those alluring supplements and lifestyle gurus who appear on social media.
APRIL – Sex, Lies and Statistics by Dr Brooke Magnanti.
This is one for anybody who has wondered if there is any skeptical take on relationships, sex myths, and the intersection of the body and politics—finally, there is! If you’re interested in issues involving sex and the media, popular culture and erotica, the legalisation of sex work, or even just secretly curious and want to get your hands on the facts rather than the scare quotes, this is an excellent addition to your library.
The original print was published as The Sex Myth, but this updated edition includes even more details, with a strong helping of statistical evidence and a witty, conversational style. With the reprint, it’s available through even more distributors and should be cited by anyone interested in challenging some of the more puritanical political efforts in the mainstream.
MAY – How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci.
Perhaps it’s the hedonist in me, but I initially hesitated before seeking this book out and was very pleasantly surprised by the end. Stoicism comes from an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium, where its followers see virtue based on knowledge and hold an indifference to pleasure and pain. While the world is unpredictable and life is short, self-control and focusing on logic and overcoming emotional turmoil allows one to live with restraint, humility, and compassion. Pigliucci’s book is a journey with one of the famous Stoics, Epictetus; a conversation on the disciplines of desire, action, and assent; and works through the virtues with use of both Ancient Greek and modern accounts of how the philosophical attitudes are relevant and useful.
It’s a lively investigation, unpacking the early philosophers’ ideas and in many ways reminded me of the psychological locus of control notion of self-monitoring and awareness, rather than allowing oneself to be manipulated and distressed. The conclusion of the book involves exercises to help you master the Stoic virtues — Speak without Judging and Remind Yourself of the Impermanence of Things, for example.
JUNE – All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Editor of science fiction, fantasy, tech, and geek culture blog IO9, Charlie Jane Anders will be releasing a new book soon, so I recommend checking out this earlier work, All the Birds in the Sky.
Bringing together science and magic, the adventures of Patricia and Laurence are surprisingly poignant in parts, as they discover their respective skills in witchcraft and time travel. With the looming threat of a global catastrophe, they work together to save the world. It’s occasionally bizarre (particularly the assassins), it’s occasionally tense, and altogether a quirky and enjoyable read.
JULY - Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by Cordelia Fine
As broadcaster and particle physicist Brian Cox says, science books are “more valuable than ever in today’s so-called post-factual world.” This was the Royal Society’s Science Book of 2017, and if you’ve ever been infuriated with people who cite the “men are from Mars …” claims, this is the book to throw at them.
You can see the thread that leads from Fine’s earlier works, A Mind of Its Own and Delusions of Gender that has led to this new work, and while investigating claims of culture and science, builds a cracking challenge to the fashion of thinking that it’s all about the hormones. The influence that gender perspectives has on public debate and stereotyping needs a shake up and Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds is an excellent work to review and enjoy, and as the conclusion suggests—even take action over.