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Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
This book's most interesting sections include accounts of some people who have tried to claim this prize, and often descriptions of the trickery they tried to pull. Famous scams and flim-flammery are also discussed. The perpetrators range from the honestly mistaken, to those manipulated by others (including children) to the deluded to the knowing liars. It's not a read that will lift your opinion of humanity, but it's well worth reading.
The book is not without its flaws. Randi is correctly portrayed as pissed off - and given the insistent idiocy he deals with, perhaps that's no surprise. The topics veer through a hodgepodge of the allegedly paranormal, making it read a little too episodic. At times, the prose gets dry. For example, the chapter on the Cottingly Faeries goes into technical details about cameras, which I had a tough time understanding.
Worth noting are some false claims that negative reviewers have made on Amazon. Randi does NOT maintain a dogmatic insistance that all paranormal claims are false. He bases his belief that such claims are hooey not on faith, but on evidence, having seen many (many, many) which are false, and none that have proven true. That's merely rational thinking. He does not claim "There are no paranormal powers and I can prove it." One cannot prove a negative like that. [Quick: can you play the tuba? Can you PROVE to me that you can't?] Moreover, the burden of proof does not lie with him. If I say I can fly like Superman, you say I can't... who do you think should be assumed correct barring evidence about my claim?
This book is a good one for those who value rational thinking. There are others that are better written (To name just a few: Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", Robert Park's "Voodoo Science" and Randi's own, more focused "The Faith Healers") but I still give it high marks.
Randi exposes more foolishness than any other of the texts I've read, from Arthur Conan Doyle and his taste for fairies, to the Maharishi to UFOs. And he's not subtle about his distaste for it. Granted, he does give credit to those who really believe in their craft. For instance, there are dousers and the like who really believe they're gifted with the talent for the bizarre. There are others, however, who are simply crooks who've lined up a gullible public with their credit cards. I actually appreciate Randi's powerful attitudes. Why get so "political" as to soft pedal crooks? He doesn't.
The book is a good primer because it covers so many subjects, and because it describes the reasoning process. Sure there'll be the people who dispute his findings. But one will convince them of nothing. At least the reasoning process illustrated by this volume will convince those capable of reason.
The ONLY reason I don't give it 5 stars is that some of the samples he gave would be better illustrated on a stage or a show; it was a bit difficult for me to follow them in writing.
Aside from that, I think this should probably be required reading for, say, high school seniors, those particularly prone to the charlatans of silly New Age fads and other quackery. But anyone wondering about such fads could gain a great deal from Randi's prose.
This book is full of such examples. Randi uses them, and scientific data, and consistently careful analysis of facts, to show that such ideas as astrology, biorhythms, transcendental meditation, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, and psychic surgery are, quite simply, nonsense. In 1964, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal power under satisfactory observational conditions. As of the 1982 publication date, over 650 people had tried for the reward, none successfully. Some of the attempts are described in this book. Funny how psychics who have "demonstrated" the ability to bend metal rods by will power can't do it anymore when they are no longer allowed to wander out of the room with the rods during the experiment!
A theme throughout the book is that people who want to believe something will accept the most absurd rationalizations in order to continue to believe it, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. At the beginning of his chapter on psychic surgery, Randi quotes William Cowper: "To follow foolish precedents, and wink / With both our eyes, is easier than to think." A similar theme arises in Langdon Gilkey's "Shantung Compound", about Gilkey's experiences as a prisoner of war (see my review). Observing "moral" internees rationalize stealing food from each other, Gilkey concluded that the greatest power of the human brain is not to reason, but to rationalize doing whatever the brain's owner wants to do. For other examples of this phenomenon, read anything by a "Creation Scientist".
Unfortunately, Randi is a professional magician, not a professional writer. His sentences are not always clear, and he does not always cite references where they would be appropriate. But his observations are insightful, and his writing is entertaining. James Randi is a compassionate man, fighting a good fight.