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The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener Paperback – August 21, 1999
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“Gardner [is]...at the glorious zenith of his diversified powers.” ―The Boston Globe
“Martin Gardner is one of the greatest intellects produced in this country in this century.” ―Douglas Hofstadter
“For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightestbeacone defending rationality and good science...He is also one of the most brilliant men and gracious writers that I have known.” ―Stephen Jay Gould
“Martin Gardner is that rarest of all contemporary species: a scholar in nobody's pocket; a sparkling, pellucid science and mathematics writer who can discuss Sigmund Freud, Sherlock Holmes, and proofs of God with equal fluency.” ―Stefan Kanfer, former book editor of Time Magazine
“Martin Gardner's contribution to contemporary culture is unique.” ―Noam Chomsky
From the Publisher
"Martin Gardner is one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century." - Douglas Hofstadter
"For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science.... He is also one of the most brilliant men and gracious writers that I have known." - Stephen Jay Gould
"Martin Gardner's contribution to contemporary culture is unique." - Noam Chomsky
"Martin Gardner is that rarest of all contemporary species: a scholar in nobody's pocket; a sparkling, pellucid science and mathematics writer who can discuss Sigmund Freud, Sherlock Holmes, and proofs of God with equal fluency." - Stefan Kanfer, former book editor of Time magazine
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I was very disappointed in this book, however. Suppose I tell you no more than the following: Martin Gardner lived in the U.S. in the 20th century. Once you've read that statement, there is absolutely nothing in this book that will surprise you. The opinions expressed in it are mostly just a compilation of typical opinions for someone who lived in that time and place. Gardner devotes a lot of space to expressing political opinions that simply place him in the center of the U.S. political spectrum. He has religious views that involve the same fuzzy, general belief in theism expressed by most Americans, without believing in the claims of any particular theistic religion. In terms of economics, he is solidly in the center of 20th-century American thought.
I would imagine that a lot of Americans might read this book and take comfort in having their preexisting ideas confirmed. I doubt that anyone will be challenged or surprised by anything here.
The title of the book is derived from the way he has set up the 21 chapters. Each chapter is focused on a major issue and the title of each chapter includes a framing question, "Why I am not..." This is a particularly useful construction for the discussion for scientific readers, since in science one can fundamentally find negative evidence for why a hypothesis is not true, but rarely can one prove the truth of a complex statement. For example, chapter six is entitled, "Free Will: Why I am Not a Determinist or Haphazardist."
These thoughtfully-written chapters are 362 pages long, followed by a 32 page postscipt in which Gardner provides updates on each chapter in view of the new edition (1999) of the original book (1983). Then follows 80 pages of detailed and often amusing notes on each chapter, and finally a well-constructed index. It was a lot of work for Gardner to put all this together, and one can see that it was a labor of love.
I can strongly recommend this book to a thoughtful and mature reader. I have already mentioned it to my physician and scientist colleagues.