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The Night Is Large: Collected Essays : 1938-1995 Hardcover – August 1, 1996

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 586 pages
  • Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st edition (August 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031214380X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312143800
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,027,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Martin Gardner has a knack for wondering about everything. From Alice in Wonderland to supply-side economics, Gardner has spent a lifetime discovering, pondering, and explaining ideas. His essays, most of which appeared in Scientific American and The New York Review of Books, often tackles the big issues--is there a God?--in a language the rest of us can digest. He has the eye to recognize what most people don't and the voice to articulate what many of us can't.

From Publishers Weekly

The title of Gardner's essays, which are drawn from an output of nearly 60 years, comes from Lord Dunsany's The Laughter of the Gods: "A man is a small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders." Substitute cosmos for night, and one has the principle behind the contents-a recapitulation, often involving the recycling of already recycled writings, of Gardner's polymath productivity. Recreational wisdom, much of it culled from his columns in Scientific American and reviews in the New York Review of Books, emerges in every essay, but not every essay is for every reader. Many are absorbing, some idiosyncratic, others abstruse. His intellectual heroes are from a variety of pursuits and times: Lewis Carroll, Oz creator L. Frank Baum, philosopher William James, fantasist G.K. Chesterton, mathematician Roger Penrose. Gardner's doghouse is more crowded and includes educator Robert Hutchins and his "Great Books" missionary Mortimer Adler, Sigmund Freud for "an absence of empirical underpinning," Steven Spielberg for his "tooth fairy" Close Encounters of the Third Kind, T.S. Eliot for cramped thinking, Arthur Conan Doyle and dozens of other seemingly intelligent souls for succumbing to spiritualism and other pseudosciences and religious orthodoxies. Also unspared are supply-side economists such as Arthur Laffer, and literary cranks promoting alternative authors of Shakespeare's plays and grubbing for profundities in Finnegans Wake. "My own opinion," he contends, "is that the gullibility of the public today makes citizens of the nineteenth century look like hard-nosed skeptics." Essays are prefaced by background data and postscripted by paragraphs, often amusing, on their reception.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

For 25 of his 95 years, Martin Gardner wrote 'Mathematical Games and Recreations', a monthly column for Scientific American magazine. These columns have inspired hundreds of thousands of readers to delve more deeply into the large world of mathematics. He has also made significant contributions to magic, philosophy, debunking pseudoscience, and children's literature. He has produced more than 60 books, including many best sellers, most of which are still in print. His Annotated Alice has sold more than a million copies. He continues to write a regular column for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Customer Reviews

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By the way, if you already have one or several of Gardner's other collections, get this one as well.
Bradley P. Rich
He is a theist and a believer in free will, although he admits that "distinguishing free will from determinism" is something we are incapable of doing (p. 427).
Dennis Littrell
The essays cover a wide range of topics and all of them are as fresh and relevant today as when they were originally written.
Jacob Thomas

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this, the definitive collection of Gardner's essays, and recommend it highly. My recommendation, however pales beside those that appear on the book jacket, including praise from Noam Chomsky, Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, Raymond Smullyan, Arthur C. Clarke, and Stefan Kanfer. Little more need be said about the value of this splendid book; but I would like to offer some observations.

The first chapter, a review of four books on symmetry is easily the most informative and insightful ten pages I have ever read on the subject. Gardner's rare talent for making things clear is shown to such advantage here that I would recommend it as a must read for anyone wanting a career in science writing. It's almost magic, the way he evaporates the fog.

The next nine chapters are on the physical sciences including chapters on relativity, quantum mechanics, time, superstrings, cosmology, etc., all good reads. The next five are on the social sciences, and it is here that I was introduced to a side of Gardner that I had not found in the other three collections of his that I have read. Chapter 11, "Why I Am Not a Smithian," is on economics and is primarily a dissection of the supply-siders who held forth during the Reagan years. It makes for lively reading even though, curiously it turns into a tribute to Norman Thomas as "the only notable American" to vigorously oppose the Japanese internment camps during WW II. In the next essay, "The Laffer Curve," Gardner continues his assault on the "voodoo economics" of the Reagan years as he presents his own satirical "neo-Laffer curve." Gardner is a sharp eyed and sharp-penned social critic, and, as he demonstrates in Chapter 21, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," a pretty good movie critic as well.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By David N. Reiss on December 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gardner is one of the leaders of the American Skeptic movement. (Skeptics (with the capital "S") are those who seriously consider but doubt paranormal phenomenon like UFO's, ESP, and religious faith healers. They want to see if there is good evidence for the stuff and never find it.)
He makes the reader think. He considers the breath and width of human knowledge to all be worth talking and writing about. He is never unforthcoming with his opinions. Naturally, this makes for some controversal opinions coming out. But he lets you know when he blunders as well.
This collection certainly lives up to a testiment that he has had a long life writing and making folks think about the world they live in.
His greatest flaw, in my opinion, is his belief in a god. But then, nobody is ever perfect.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Charles Vekert on September 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One reviewer suggested that Gardner is often wrong. Among those who think he is right are Dr. Stephen Gould and the late Carl Sagen. Whether or not you agree with Gardner's opinions on Freud's early theories, William James' adventures with spiritualists, the existance of God (he is a believer incidentally), you will learn new facts and expand your intellectual horizons--a great book for the intellectually curious.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Theodore G. Mihran on November 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
This diverse collection of forty-six essays written from 1938 to 1995 is a real eye-opener. Gardner is best-known for his mathematical columns in the Scientific American. But science and mathematics are the subject of fewer than half of the essays in this progidious collection. The bulk of them are in the area of the social sciences, the arts, philosophy, and religion. In these Gardner displays a depth and authority that is surprising.
All essays are spiced up with introductory paragraphs and postscipts which reveal the author's changing (or unchanging) attitudes on the subject.
The first ten essays on the physical sciences alone are worh the price of admission, covering such subjects as symmetry, the twin paradox, quantum mechanics and superstrings. He cannot help taking a swipe at the Anthropic Principles(s) in an essay titled "WAP, SAP, PAP, and FAP. He adds a fifth in the last line of this essay which did not get listed in the title, namely, the Completely Ridiculous Anthropic Principle.
In the section on philosophy he discusses provocative people like Allan Bloom, Isaiah Berlin, Mortimer Adler, and Robert Maynard Hutchins. Did you know that Hutchins' think tank in Santa Barbara was funded by the profits of Alex Comfort's book, "The Joy of Sex"? This questionable arrangement started out amicably enough, providing income for the Institute and a tax haven for Comfort's profits, but it eventually ended in unfriendly counter lawsuits.
Particular fun is provided by a critical review Gardner wrote under the pseudonym George Groth, debunking his own book "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener." Only in the last line does he disclose his identity.
You do not have to agree with everything Gardner says, but you cannot help but be intellectually informed and entertained by this remarkable modern intellect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Charming, with chapters such as "The Significance of 'Nothing'" and "The Mystery of Free Will" and "Wilhelm Reich and the Orgone." On philosophical topics, the book is accessible and fascinating. On science on math, it is mind-bending. On historical personalities, Gardner either takes no prisoners and is hilarious, or is admiring and gracious. Puts new spins a lot of ideas you take for granted (such as the meaning of 2 + 2 = 4), and introduces a whole bunch of things you never thought about. Really neat.
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