RationalWiki:Bookshelf

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There are many classic books on skepticism and rational thinking. This page lists our favorites.

Please when adding to this list, dig out the ISBN for an in-print edition (if possible) of the publication and list it. If anyone is looking for some seriously fun whitewash work, the ones listed without ISBNs need them.

Contents

[edit] General skepticism

[edit] Skeptical books by Christians

Sadly, Christianity is a fertile ground for crank ideas and nonsense which some people are prone to believe just because a Christian evangelist or author said it. Some of the best books debunking this crankery were written by Christians and are worth a read, especially by Christians who might not pay attention to the same debunking coming from secularists. Keep in mind some of these books still push a more "mainstream" evangelical Christian theology even as they debunk the fringes.

  • Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal by Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott (ISBN 0940895072). An expansion of the article the authors wrote for Cornerstone magazine that blew the cover on Mike Warnke's phony Satanism stories.
  • Reckless Rumors, Misinformation, Doomsday Delusions by Ralph Woodrow (ISBN 0-916938-18-2). A tour de force debunking all sorts of nonsense: rapture and end times rumors, Noah's Ark sightings, Satanic panic, the Bible Code, and many more. Drawback: endorses creationism, although apparently not YEC.
  • The Babylonian Connection? by Ralph Woodrow (ISBN 0916938174). Woodrow was once a believer in conspiracy theories about the Vatican and an old book of his, Babylonian Mystery Religion: Ancient and Modern is still widely cited by anti-Catholic fundamentalists like Jack Chick. Here he sets out to refute what he once taught.
  • The Incredible Cover-Up: Exposing the Origins of Rapture Theories by Dave MacPherson (ISBN 0931608066). The author researches where the dispensationalist and pre-tribulation rapture doctrines came from, and locates their origin in a small 19th century sect. Drawback: the author has his own theological axe to grind and believes in a post-tribulation rapture.
  • The Todd Phenomenon by Darryl E. Hicks (ISBN 0892210613). A look at the tall tales of John Todd. Sadly long out of print and rare. Drawback: marred by an introduction by (oh, the irony) Mike Warnke.
  • Christianity in Crisis and Counterfeit Revival by Hank Hanegraaff. These are pretty good debunkings of "word of faith", "name it and claim it" evangelists and some of the extreme loony-bin stuff within Pentecostalism. Drawback: Hanegraaff has his own rigid version of orthodoxy to push here and tends to debunk based on strictly theological grounds rather than skepticism and reason.
  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong (ISBN 0060675187). Written by an Episcopal bishop, this is a now-classic rethinking of the Bible and those who would take specific passages on human sexuality and other topics literally and out of context.
  • I Was Wrong by Jim Bakker (ISBN 0785271368). Strictly a limited hangout, but good light reading for those who follow juicy gossip from the netherworld of televangelism.

[edit] Critical Thinking, Argument, Rhetoric

  • Huff, Darrell, How To Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff (ISBN 978-0393310726)
    • Or, how not to be deceived by those who do...
  • Aristotle, Rhetorics (ISBN 978-0195305098)
    • Still the best.
  • Heinrichs, Jay, Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion (ISBN 978-0307341440)
    • Need a retort for that comment over at the other place? This book talks about the rules of argument in a fun, non threatening way.
  • Carroll, Robert Todd, The Skeptic's Dictionary (ISBN 978-0471272427)
    • Easy-to-approach encyclopedia of topics related to quackery, pseudoscience, and the paranormal (also available online).
  • Taleb, Nassim Nicolas, The Black Swan (ISBN 978-1400063512)

[edit] Astronomy

[edit] Atheism and religion

See the main article on this topic: Atheism faq
  • The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, best described as "atheism for dummies", "my first book of atheism" or "Atheism 101".
  • The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever anthology compiled by Christopher Hitchens
  • God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens.
  • I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chris Hedges. Points out how Dawkins, Harris et al, by cherry-picking their framing of religion end up engaging in the same kind of ideologically-driven utopianism as their intellectual enemies. Essential reading for people who unquestioningly crap all over religion.
  • The Atheist's Guide to Christmas, various authors, a collection of essays by dozens of atheists and related to the atheist bus campaign of 2008-9. None of it is petty, or derogatory, or "bashing" of religion - it's remarkably constructive and positive.
  • Why I am not a Christian by Bertrand Russell, perhaps the original work on atheism (ISBN 9780415325103)

[edit] Biology, evolution, and creationism

  • Brockman, John (editor), Intelligent Thought: Science versus the Intelligent Design Movement. A collection of essays debunking Intelligent Design. (ISBN 978-0385244886)
  • Dawkins, Richard:
    • The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins takes down intelligent design, and gives an account of evolution pitched to the mid-level reader, explaining away "irreducible complexity" and illuminating gradualism v. punctuated equilibrium fracas, on his way giving readers a crash course in evolutionary biology.(ISBN 978-0393315707)
    • Climbing Mount Improbable. Evolution, probability, and debunking creationism.
  • Isaak, Mark. The Counter-Creationism Handbook. A collection of creationist talking points and refutations.
  • Gould, Stephen Jay:
    • The Mismeasure of Man. A debunking of racial pseudosciences.
    • The Panda's Thumb. A collection of essays on evolution, critical thinking, and misconceptions related to evolution.
  • Orr, H. Allen, "Devolution, Why intelligent design isn’t," New Yorker [1] (actually a magazine article)
  • Scott, Eugenie:
    • Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
    • Not in Our Classrooms (with Glenn Branch)
  • Darwin, Charles:
    • The Origin of Species. The classic text on evolution. (Available for free at Talk.Origins.)
    • The Descent of Man. A text on human evolution, with some quite modern views, like for example, Darwin argued that man evolved in Africa, whilst the majority of the scientific community at the time believed humans had evolved in Asia.
  • Huxley, Thomas Henry:
    • Evidences as to Man's Place in Nature. The classic text on human evolution. (available for free at Project Gutenberg).
    • Mr. Darwin's Critics. Huxley's refutation of the critics of Darwin of his day, could be quite useful in dealing with elementary creationist arguments.

[edit] Conspiracy theories

  • Aaronovitch, David, Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theories in Shaping Modern History. An overview of the greatest conspiratorial hits of the 20th and 21st centuries. The JFK assassination, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 truth, birtherism, Princess Di, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and much much more!
  • Barkun, Michael, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. On the overlap between the conspiracy theory, UFO, and Christian fundamentalist subcultures in the latter half of the 20th century.
  • Fenster, Mark, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. An analysis and critique of both popular American conspiracy theories and Hofstadter's "consensus historian" approach to the subject.
  • Hofstadter, Richard, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Traces popular conspiracy theories among the wingnut set from the nation's earliest days (Freemasonry, Illuminati, and anti-Catholicism) to when it was written in the 1950s (McCarthyism, the John Birch Society).
  • Knight, Peter (editor), Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia.

[edit] Economics

  • Ariely, Dan, Predictably Irrational. Application of research on cognitive biases in psychology to everyday economic decisions.
  • Keen, Steve, Debunking Economics. An overview and critique of the major schools of economics of the 20th century.
  • Krugman, Paul, Peddling Prosperity. Differentiates what he calls "policy entrepreneurs" (read: economic snake oil peddlers) from academic economists and debunks claims from both liberal and conservative "entrepreneurs," though takes special aim at supply-siders.
  • Mandelbrot, Benoit and Richard L. Hudson. The (Mis)Behavior of Markets. The creator of fractal geometry applies it to critique modern finance theory.
  • Taleb, Nicholas Nassim:
    • Fooled by Randomness. More application of cognitive biases to economics, this time to econometric models and stock market forecasting.
    • Black Swan

[edit] Global warming and denialism

  • Bradley, Raymond S., Global Warming and Political Intimidation. A debunking of denialist talking points and documentation of the interplay between politics and science.
  • Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Focuses on global warming denial and compares it to earlier campaigns (which used many of the same experts for hire) to deny the link between cancer and smoking, the hole in the ozone layer, and acid rain.
  • Weart, Spencer. The Discovery of Global Warming: A History. Available for free from the American Institute of Physics.

[edit] Goats

  • Goats: A Guide to Management by Patricia Ross
  • Giles, Goat Boy by John Barth

[edit] History, pseudohistory, pseudoarchaeology, and politics

  • Fagan, Garrett (editor), Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. What it says on the tin. Includes essays by multiple scholars.
  • Finkelstein, Israel and Neil A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed. A look at Old Testament archaeology which debunks good chunks of the Bible and biblical pseudoarchaeology along the way.
  • Feder, Kenneth, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. This one is often used in actual archaeology courses.
  • Fisher, David Hackett, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. The first section of the book is basically an encyclopedia of logical fallacies using examples from historical and pseudohistorical works to illustrate each one. The rest of the book is more specific to the fields of history and historiography.
  • Gallagher, Gary W. and Alan T. Nolan (eds.), The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Multiple historians come together to dismantle neo-Confederate nonsense.
  • Rodda, Chris, Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History. Debunks the most common myths surrounding the claim that the United States were conceived of as a "Christian Nation". Now available as a free download.
  • Stannard, David E., Shrinking History: On the Fraud and Failure of Psychohistory. A debunking of the fringe field of psychohistory, a fusion of history with Freudian psychoanalysis. (Not to be confused with the fictional version found in Isaac Asimov's literature.)
  • Story, Ronald (with Carl Sagan), The Space-Gods Revealed: A Close Look at the Theories of Erich von Däniken. Refutes the ancient astronaut theory peddled by von Däniken.
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
    • Important reference to understanding the development of democracy in early Democratic USA, particularly post 1820. America was founded as a Republic, not as a Democracy, and Tocqueville explores reasons why Democracy worked in America and not in his native France. Written in two volumes, published in 1835 and 1840 respectively.
  • The Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner
    • Famous essay which can be read entirely online somewhere, written shortly after the official fall of the US Frontier (1890s). Aims to explain American Exceptionalism and may aid a non-American in his quest to understand the nation. Has been criticized savagely from left and right since its production, still stands as an important piece of historiography and an essential read to fully grasp US history.
  • Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America
    • Shows just how deep and far-reaching the effects of McCarthyism were and gives a thorough history of Communism and anti-communism in America. Buy this to beat RobS in the head with.
  • Multitude and Empire, both by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.
    • Interesting look at globalisation, power and the state - Multitude uses a lot of Foucault's ideas about biopower..
  • Le gouvernment du monde, Jean Francois Bayart
    • Another globalisation treatise, also Foucauldian, but comes to very different conclusions about the state.
  • Ghost Wars, Steven Coll
    • Read this to understand exactly what people mean to say when they spout off about America "supporting and funding" Bin Laden. It's way more complicated and nuanced than that.
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe Larry Gonick
    • History, from the Big Bang through (so far) the founding of Islam. The cartoony style might be a bit off-putting, but the scholarship appears to be sound, and it's a good place to start reading.
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Charles MacKay
    • First printed in 1850, this book's a compendium of historical examples of human folly, from Tulipmania, to the the witch-hunt of Salem, to the Crusades. The old-fashioned writing style can be tough to adjust to, but the material is (sadly) timeless.
  • Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer
    • Essays on various more modern cults and delusions, from Creationism and UFO contactees to Objectivism.
  • The True Believer by Eric Hoffer (ISBN 0-06-050591-5)
  • The Ordeal of Change by Eric Hoffer (ISBN 0-89966-748-1)
    • Both classic books exploring what draws people to authoritarian mass movements, from fundamentalist Christianity to Communism. Other Hoffer books are also worth reading but start with these two.
  • The Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney
    • Explores the politicization of science in the United States, from evolution, to global warming, to abortion.
  • Master of the Senate, The years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro, much more than an autobiography of this complex character, this book provides an insightful look at how the Senate operates and can be moulded to suit a personal agenda.
  • History of the Crusades, by Stephen Runciman.
    • Three volumes written in the 50s, standard reference book for the crusades by one of the greatest historians of his day.

[edit] Math and statistics

  • Best, Joel. Damned Lies and Statistics. Detailing the abuse of statistics in the media.
  • Paulos, John Allen:
    • Innumeracy. A look at the pitfalls of being mathematically illiterate, or "innumerate."
    • A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. A further look at innumeracy in popular media.
  • Taleb, Nassim Nicholas:
    • Fooled by Randomness. Why the Gaussian statistical model is not always applicable.
  • Hofstadter, Douglas:
    • Gödel Escher Bach - an huge, but worthwhile introduction to formal systems, logic, recursion, theory of mind, strange loops, artificial intelligence, self-reference, symmetry... essential reading for anyone who dares to call their thought processes "logical".

[edit] Medicine, alternative medicine, and quackery

[edit] Philosophy

  • The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
  • The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences by Michel Foucault
  • Defending Science -- Within Reason by Susan Haack
  • A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume
  • Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
  • Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
  • From Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
  • The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes: Philosophical Papers Volume 1 by Imre Lakatos
  • Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong by J.L. Mackie
  • The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper
  • Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

[edit] Psychology, the cognitive sciences, and pseudo-psychology

  • Altemeyer, Bob, The Authoritarians. Altemeyer's seminal book on what he calls "right-wing authoritarianism", which despite its name exists on both the left and the right. Avaliable for free as a PDF at Altemeyer's personal website.
  • Brown, Derren, Tricks of the Mind. A mentalist reveals his tricks, including feats of memory, sleight-of-hand, influencing people and hypnotism. Also touches on religion and Derren's former evangelical Christian beliefs.
  • Burton, Robert A., On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. Psychological research on cognitive biases, but with a concentration on the neuroscientific side of things. Also relates this research to beliefs in religion and creationism as well as making a case for a skeptical perspective.
  • Chabris, Christopher and Daniel Simons. The Invisible Gorilla. Explains the failings of intuition and sensory perception.
  • Eagleman, Dan, Incognito. Explains why we cannot always believe our senses and how most of our actions (even criminal) are not the product of free will.
  • Fine, Cordelia, Delusions of Gender. Unravels the use of psychological and brain imaging studies used in service of the myths of Mars and Venus.
  • Gardner, Richard A., Sex Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited. Gardner's investigation of the satanic ritual abuse moral panic, and compares it with other moral panics.
  • Gilovich, Thomas, How What We Know Isn't So. Looks at psychological research (along with some original research) on cognitive biases and applies it to pseudoscientific and crank ideas, especially ESP. Quick read as well.
  • Hood, Bruce. Supersense. More neuroscience and psychology of superstition.
  • Lillenfeld, Scott O., Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. You mean all those psychology factoids I heard at cocktail parties are bunk?
  • Loftus, Elizabeth (with Katherine Ketcham):
    • The Myth of Repressed Memory. Debunking of Freudian notions of repressed memory and quack recovered memory therapies.
    • Witness for the Defense. Explains processes of confabulation and debunks claims surrounding the Satanic Panic of the '80s as well as recounting Loftus' courtroom testimonies.
  • Rowland, Ian, The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading. Decribes the most common techniques used by mediums and psychics and explains how to counter them.
  • Schacter, Daniel, The Seven Sins of Memory. Explains the ways in which memory can be unreliable and lead to false beliefs.
  • Stanovich, Keith E. What Intelligence Tests Miss. A critique of IQ testing using research on cognitive biases and rational thinking.
  • Vyse, Stuart. Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Similar to Gilovich's work, but concentrates more on psychosocial aspects of superstition.

[edit] Religion, and Understanding the Religious

  • The Religious Case Against Belief by James P. Carse (ISBN 978-0-1431-1544-1)
  • Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror by Michael Burleigh (ISBN 978-0060580964)
    • Exposes the influence and interference of religion in 20th Century politics, history and dictatorship.
  • A Short History of Islam by Karen Armstrong
  • An Introduction to Islam by David Waines
  • Christian Theology: An Introduction by Alister E. McGrath
  • God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America by Hanna Rosin.
    • In her book, investigative journalist Mrs. Rosin chronicles the life and times of the children of "Patrick Henry College," an institution that tries - and, ultimately, fails - to wed evangelical Christianity and modern intelletualism. Her warm approach to the children, and presentation of their astonishing lifestyle, is eye-opening and critical to understanding the modern evangelical movement. It'll also scare you shitless.
  • Introducing Christianity by Sally Bruyneel and Alan G. Padgett
  • Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Andrew Rippin
  • Pretty much anything by Karen Armstrong, although The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions are good.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine by Colin E. Gunton
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Christianity by Jeffrey B. Webb
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
  • The AntiChrist, A Criticism of Christianity by Frederick Nietzsche (ISBN 978-0-7607-7770-1)
    • Nietzsche's devastating, no-holds-barred critique of all the wrongs brought upon the world by people divorced from reality.
  • Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume (ISBN 978-0-7607-7771-8)
    • A wonderful little book from 1710 filled with debates over the existence of God and other matters of religion, told through conversations between characters from each side of argument. A great insight into different sides of the debate, and ways of debating the topics, that's still relevant today.
  • The Book of the SubGenius by Ivan Stang & Various
    • Yes, it's an insane bogus kook religion. It still does an excellent job of hiding some fairly illuminating observations on Faith, Humanity, and Money underneath a protective shell of morbid laughs.
  • The Principia Discordia, or How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her
    • Yes, it's a joke, but that doesn't mean it's not true.

[edit] Sex and drugs

  • The X-Rated Bible: An Irreverent Survey of Sex in the Scriptures by Ben Edward Akerley (ISBN 0910309191)
    • Fun, snarky tour of the Bible highlighting all the dirty parts and bizarre sexual practices found therein.
  • Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society by Peter McWilliams (ISBN 192976717X)
    • Sensible response to the war on drugs, anti-sodomy laws, etc. (Also anti-smoking and anti-gun laws - McWilliams is pro-choice on everything). Contains especially extensive and good material debunking the Religious Right.
  • The Rape of the A.P.E. by Allan Sherman.
    • The A.P.E. is the American Puritan Ethic, and this book is a very funny look at the sexual revolution and why it had to happen. Published 1973, this book captured a more freewheeling era before AIDS and moral panics put the damper on the whole thing. Yes, the same Allan Sherman who did "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah".
  • Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices by Brenda Love (ISBN 1569800111).
    • Generally, this is considered the only comprehensive reference work on paraphilia. Not for those with a close-minded attitude to sex.
    • Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex by Katharine Gates (ISBN 1890451037) makes for a useful complement to the Encyclopedia.
  • PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story, by Alexander and Ann Shulgin (ISBN 0963009605)
    • Self-explanatory if you know that PiHKAL is short for "Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved". A very, erm, thorough, exploration of over 200 psychedelic compounds, their doses, uses, reviews and synthetic procedures. Highly controversial, obviously.

[edit] Social commentary, politics, and skepticism

  • Mencken, H.L.:
    • A Mencken Chrestomathy. A collection of essays, mostly social commentary, but also includes a number of criticisms of popular pseudosciences, quackery (especially chiropractic), myths, and academic fads of Mencken's time.
    • A Religious Orgy in Tennessee: A Reporter's Account of the Scopes Monkey Trial. Collection of Mencken's columns on the Scopes Trial.
    • Treatise on the Gods. Mencken tears into religion.
  • Mooney, Chris. The Republican War on Science.
  • Pierce, Charles, Idiot America. Interesting since it rather successfully applies the same sort of skeptical razor to US politics rather than science.
  • Specter, Michael. Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives.

[edit] Psychics, spiritualism, and magic


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