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on January 21, 2008
Historian Alex Boese was enamored with bizarre experiments in college. During his graduate studies, Boese spent his free time tracking down the more obscure mad scientist experiments that were mentioned in his texts. He amassed a library of notes on bizarre experiments, went on to found the Museum of Hoaxes and publish two books on hoaxes, and now returns with a title about all those bizarre experiments which once intrigued and delighted him. Boese includes only research which was undertaken with genuine scientific curiosity and methodology--that which was published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Elephants on Acid contains overview and author commentary on experiments from the 1800's through the 2000's, in ten different categories - surgery, senses, memory, sleep, animal behavior, mating behavior, babies, bathroom research, human nature, and death. For each experiment, the author sets up the broader social and scientific context, describes the experimental design and results, and includes any follow-on work. Bibliographic details for each scientific publication are included. (But good luck tracking down European journals circa 1803!)

The opening chapter on Dr. Frankenstein-like research is a bit unsettling (Can a head live without its body? Can asphyxiated dogs be brought back to life?). Not surprisingly, few of the Frankenstein experiments took place in modern times. The remaining chapters are enchanting glimpses at scientific fact and fiction over the ages. Boese demonstrates that waitresses who touch customers statistically receive higher tips ("Touching Strangers"), repeats the real Pepsi Challenge ("Coke vs. Pepsi"), exposes the myth of the `Mozart effect' on IQ ("Mozart Effect"), and provides scientific proof of the synchronous menstrual cycles of cohabitating women ("Scent of a Woman"). Studies of human behavior discuss the power of suggestion in creating false childhood memories ("Lost in the Mall"), the effect of a crowd of roaches on an athlete roach navigating a course ("Racing Roaches"), and the role of fear in sexual arousal in humans ("Arousal on a Creaky Bridge").

Two of the most famous studies of good vs. evil are presented in this text. In the infamous 1970's Stanford Prison Experiment, college students playing the role of guards became drunk on their power and humiliated and dehumanized their mock prisoners. In another experiment, researcher Stanley Milgram proved that otherwise "good" individuals could be coerced into delivering painful or deadly electric shocks to other volunteers under pressure from a scientific researcher.

Ranging from the trivial to the socially far-reaching, Boese's compendium has something for everyone.
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on April 25, 2011
This book is a little unusual, because most book that deal with the bizarre in science are either about pseudo science or about factoids. This book is about interesting findings from interesting experiments.

Despite the title, the book doesn't actually deal in a great deal of bizarre experiments once you think about it. How else would you test some of the things they were looking for, with the least number of variables that can derail you. Sure there are other solutions, but these are quite good and logical choices, but they retain their bizarreness because, most of us wouldn't know how they found some of these things out.

The structure of the book divides science into pursuits of ten areas, life, death, senses etc. The areas overlap but the structure is done for effect and it works. That said though, here is the first major flaw of the book, it starts out quite disgusting and macabre. Though once you've gotten through that it doesn't degrade from the general thing, though cruelty to animals and humans occasionally does pop up, however it isn't the dominant theme.

The second flaw, is with the author: the early macabre experiments are a requisite for this type of book, but the jokes ... some of them are just terribly bad, and trivialize the subject matter and reduces his standing as being qualified to write about the area of science. For example: terminally ill and thus dying patients are given LSD (LSD/Acid isn't actual that common a subject in the book, but nevermind) and overall they feel more positive about their life and dying; they become more interactive and less depressed. Also, calming (harp) music is played and it has positive effects. Great experiment, great result, great avenue to do more research even without LSD. How does Boese conclude the story? He says the harp music has to go as the Grateful Dead might be more appropriate.

That said though, if you can look past this (maybe skip the last paragraph of every story?), the book is mostly a treat and very well written. Some of the experiments are macabre and thus not suitable for very young readers, but early teens and onwards should understand most of the subtleties and more important experiments about human behavior, or at least lead to interesting discussions.
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on February 5, 2016
Elephants on Acid is a collection of some of the most bizarre, curious and plain cruel experiments executed in the name of science. Among them, the LSD induced elephant of the title, Russian two-headed dogs, monkey head transplants, sleep deprivation, monkeys brought up as humans, baby reactions experiments, sexual studies, how to maximize waiters’ tips experiments and missiles guided by pigeons.

The book is very informative and does have it’s moments, but the tongue-in-cheek humor did bother me a little, specially when talking about some of the more cruel experiments, to both humans and animals. I do like me some dark humor, but I just couldn’t see the funny side the author was trying to show me.

I liked a lot the research and background on the experiments, specially the Victorian studies on electricity and dead bodies, as well as the neurosurgeries and famous psychology studies like the Stanford Prison experiment, that turned normal students into sadistic prison guards.

On the other hand, outside of the most interesting and chocking studies, the book seemed to have a lot of filler of uninteresting ones. Ironically, the chapter on sex was so boring I found myself skipping some pages, as I did on the one on babies.

Elephants on Acid does deliver on it’s promise as an informal compendium of the strangest side of science – and the horror when moral and empathy is not considered by scientists – but I think it could be improved by concentrating on the truly bizarre and toning down the internet-like humor.
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on August 10, 2015
It never fails to amaze me what scientists can come up with. At times gross, at times funny, I loved this book enough to pass it on to my neice.. After she had finished reading it we went out to dinner with my sister (her mother) who had not read the book. We spent so much time discussing the book my sister got annoyed with both of us. We certainly didn't intend to leave her out of the conversation it was just that there was so much that was interesting in this book that we couldn't stop ourselves.
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on April 27, 2015
Despite the lighthearted title this is one dark book. It describes the gruesome stories of science, and illustrates both how far we have come and also that the ugly ignorance of our past was and still is necessary for the miracles of the present and future.
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on June 10, 2012
Elephants on acid is an interesting (and at times witty) stroll through some of the more peculiar and remarkable physiological and psychological experiments done in the last 100 years or so. It starts rather slowly and the outcomes for some of the animals used in the experiments is not too flash . But the author is merely reporting what has already been done and not conducting new and potentially ethically doubtful experiments (so there's no need to gets one's knickers in a twist!). The most fascinating section is towards the end where it is people rather than animals who are under the microscope, so to speak. There are some disturbing results which do not paint humans in too bright a light. But anyone who knows about our origins in the wilds of the African savannah will not be too surprised. It is an entertaining and educational book. And there are a few take-aways about human nature in the last few experiments (e.g. on "cognitive dissonance" and "diffusion of responsibility") that are very instructive and make the book worthy of its price.
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on December 25, 2012
Most of the experiments presented in this book are sloppy, not bizarre. And many of them are outright cruel, yet Boese's descriptions take an "oh those nutty scientists" tone.

But even if you laugh when children are tickled by faceless strangers, mental patients have their constitutional rights atomized along with their minds, and animals from apes to elephants die horribly, you will likely get tripped up on the author's awkward attempts to ingratiate himself to the reader with forced cultural references (Flashdance) and "playful" throwaway lines ("if ever a situation justified an exclamation of 'oh crap', this was it"). Not to mention condescending statements of the obvious ("Feces are disgusting"); the constant and irritating use of questions for introductions and transitions (which sometimes go on for paragraphs); and boring non sequiturs that combine all of the above.

And much of the information in the book is available online.
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on February 1, 2012
This book is certainly bizarre. If keeping a dog's head alive, monkey brain transplants, and elephants on acid is your thing, this is for you! The layout of the book is slightly different than I expected with a smattering of pictures and a really good font. It reads well and I certainly recommend it to others.

The best thing about the book is the attraction it draws. The cover is really vibrant and people are always curious as to what I am reading. Some of them get weirded out, and some are totally fascinated. But I bet a smattering from both categories end up buying it! If you are on this page you should probably grab it as well.
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on December 3, 2012
I have been looking for this book ever since one of my Psychology professors recommened it. I was expecting it to read a bit more like a book or a text book. But overall i am so glad i found this book. Its a nice coffee table book.
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on October 17, 2007
This book is fantastic. You can get a good sense of whether or not you will enjoy this book by taking a look at the top 20 most bizarre experiments page on the museum of hoaxes website.[...]

The book is a strangely compelling compendium of the unusual things that scientists have dedicated their life to exploring. The author really brings the strange cast of characters to life and helps you understand not only the facts of these strange cases, but also the context of what the scientists were hoping to accomplish by determining if they could create human/ape hybrids, or keep a dog head alive by attaching it to a living dog's circulatory system.

A word of warning: some of the experiments are not for the faint of heart.
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