- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 2nd edition (August 21, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0312206828
- ISBN-13: 978-0312206826
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 27.8 x 228.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
That is, until I stumbled on "The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener." In interviews, Gardner said "Whys" was his favorite of the many books he wrote. If you like to ponder the "eternal questions" (or need to be reminded that there ARE eternal questions that Siri cannot answer), I warmly recommend this book to you. It is provocative and refreshing, even in places where you may disagree. [Chapter 20, entitled "Surprise," is my favorite chapter.]
After finishing "Whys," I went on a Gardner binge, ordering and rapidly ingesting 7 more of his books. "Whys" stayed in first place. My first and second runners up are:
"The Night is Large"
A collection of essays written by Gardner himself. Includes five chapters from "Whys," including Chapter 20.
"Great Essays in Science"
An eclectic anthology assembled by Gardner from the writings of others, from Darwin to Einstein. Originally published in 1957, re-issued in 1984 with one article dropped and four new ones added. Different from any other science anthology I have read. Strong emphasis on philosophical questions and societal implications. Very much in the spirit of "Whys."
Gardner was best known for his Mathematical Games columns in Scientific American. Over the years, these columns were re-issued in 15 separate books. If you are interested in the math books but don't know where to start, I have two suggestions:
1. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA) sells a CD with pdf files for all 15 books of Gardner's Mathematical Games columns, including the complete Dr. Matrix volume:
"Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games: The Entire Collection of His Scientific American Columns on one CD"
I bought this CD on the MAA website for $49.95. A good deal if you don't mind reading books on a screen. This CD includes a lengthy biographical interview.
2. If you prefer your books in paper and ink, a compromise is "The Colossal Book of Mathematics," published in 2001. "Colossal" includes the original text of Gardner's Top 50 Mathematical Games columns with updates and bibliographies added to each. Note, however, that "Colossal" does *not* include any of the Dr. Matrix columns.
Gardner cannot find any fault in the arguments of the atheist or the agnostic, and yet he has a strong desire to believe in prayer, God and immortality. The result is a fascinating and wide-ranging report of a life-long investigation into the debate between faith and reason.