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The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

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4.27  ·  Rating details ·  53,128 ratings  ·  2,434 reviews
How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of ...more
Paperback, 459 pages
Published February 25th 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1995)
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David He neither mocks nor sets up straw men. He responds to real criticisms with logical answers. He never said not to look for Big Foot. This isn't a book…moreHe neither mocks nor sets up straw men. He responds to real criticisms with logical answers. He never said not to look for Big Foot. This isn't a book to bring your feelings of attachment to unsubstantiated claims. (less)

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Dan
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I sit before my computer, typing out a review of what is my favorite book. I’m daunted by the magnitude of this task, having just finished the book for the fourth or maybe fifth time. I wish I could remember when I bought this book, likely close to a decade ago, but I’m sure that I must have been awestruck to discover a book written by a man who has influenced my life and my interests to such a great extent.

One of the great memories of my early life was that of waiting to plop down i
...more
Kevin Kelsey
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Always insightful, it seems that Sagan just wanted to watch the world learn. I should've read this at 14. Honestly, this should probably be required high school reading for everyone. It illustrates clearly the many and varied personal and societal benefits gained from applying the methods of science to every corner of our thinking. The methods are the important part, the findings are just icing on the cake. It covers the dangers of unchecked ideologies and the requirement for both objectivity an ...more
Chris
Sep 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: society, science
I miss Carl Sagan.

Ever since I was a kid, Carl Sagan has been the face of science for me. I would watch Cosmos and feel a sense of amazement that the universe was as wonderful as it was. He'd be there in his turtleneck and his blazer, smiling as though he'd just heard the coolest secret and he wanted to share it with you. And he did, except that it wasn't his secret. Hell, it wasn't a secret at all - it was the combined results of thousands of years of thoughts, deductions, mistakes, missteps
...more
David
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is a marvelous book about the consequences of a population being scientifically illiterate. There are numerous consequences, all of them bad. Most notably, the growth of superstitious beliefs can lead to terrifying witch hunts that grow and grow, leaving a broad trail of torture, execution, mass hysteria and paranoia. Interestingly, Carl Sagan holds up science and democracy as mutually supporting concepts. He cites Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson as examples of l ...more
Lightreads
Dec 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, gave-up
Hey, so, guess what? People who read the Weekly World News are stupid, but scientists are awesome! Did you know that?

I just put this book down, 175 pages in. It's not that I disagree with the thesis, because I actually don't at all. Sagan uses the widespread belief in alien abductions to talk about the need for more critical thinking in this world. And I'm totally there -- yes, for the love of God, teach people to distinguish between fact and what they want to be fact. But Sagan goes
...more
Trevor
Dec 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Sagan has been a hero of mine since I saw Cosmos years and years ago. Now that was one of the truly great science documentaries and one that, on the subject of physics, has rarely been bettered.

This is a supurb book. Many people say things like, "I've no idea how people without a belief in the supernatural can bare to live in this world". Well, Sagan gives a powerful answer here.

Sagan understood the infinite joy that comes from understanding something about the world - something tha
...more
David
Dec 10, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: The choir that he is already preaching to
Full disclosure here, I did not finish this book; I made the decision to stop reading it after around 100 pages. I kept expecting the science to start at any page, but I got tired of reading accusations that the Weekly World News and Beavis and Butt-Head are sources of ignorance and misunderstanding. I won't argue that either of these are intellectual, but at best these are forms of entertainment and that is largely a product of taste, not intellect. I couldn't risk wasting my time reading anoth ...more
Maria
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a wonderful, important and scary book that has not aged much at all. I was made aware of its existence in a rather unconventional way: through a video game called The Witness.

In The Witness, you explore an unreal and mysterious island, solving maze puzzles that gets more and more complex as you go along. Scattered around the island you'll find audio logs containing quotes on science and religions from around the world and across time, and these sometimes gives you abstract hints on how to solve the puz
...more
Brad
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is a nuclear bomb in the atheist arsenal, Carl Sagan's The Demon-haunted World is an anti-personnel mine.

Where Dawkins goes for maximum destruction, piling the misery and mockery on those he's battling, Sagan doesn't even acknowledge his enemy. The Demon-haunted World poses, instead (and very effectively), as a book in defense of skepticism, a book persuading the unskeptical to embrace reason in the form of open-mindedness, the pursuit of evidence, and a thirst for asking questio
...more
Sebastien
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Just wow. This is one of the great paeans to science, logic, and critical thinking buttressed by philosophy and deep moral sensibility. This is the first book of Sagan's I've read, I was so impressed, wonderfully written, very accessible and easy to read. He is a scientist by training, a highly critical thinker, but he is clearly a very multidimensional multitalented man. He has grounding in many other areas outside of science, including philosophy, political science, questions of morality, ...more
Joy D
Carl Sagan takes on pseudoscience. This book extolls the value of skepticism, critical thinking, and the scientific method. It should be required reading in my opinion. Unfortunately, those that could benefit most from applying more rigor in deciding what to believe will likely never read it. Originally published in 1995, he has proven to be prescient, as pseudoscience is even more prevalent than ever in recent years. Witness the rise in the number of shows about ancient aliens and paranormal ac ...more
Melki
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
. . . every question is a cry to understand the world.

In a nutshell, Sagan valiantly attempts to understand why people believe weird stuff, then explains why they shouldn't. I particularly enjoyed the several excellent chapters on the importance of literacy and education. There's also a probing (Sorry!) look into alien abductions.

I think this quote, included in the book, sums everything up nicely:

[I]gnorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know littl/>[I]gnorance
...more
Daniel Bastian
Nov 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
“We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” (p. 26)

The omen above was put to print in 1995 and echoed throughout Carl Sagan’s prolific career as both practitioner a
...more
Bradley
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ever read one of those books you SWEAR you've read before. Nonfiction? Where every single point seems to have been made elsewhere?

Well, that's where this book went with me. From witch trials to alien abductions to conspiracy theories and a lot more, Sagan extols us to bring rational thought back to our lives. The scientific method is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL.

I totally agree, and that's why I kept reading despite every single point being a re-hash... but that's me. Sometimes w
...more
Mitch
Mar 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
I was very disappointed in this book. I seriously don't understand why people consistantly rated this book so highly. I'm really out of synch on this one...and here's why:

Carl obviously had an ongoing religious relationship with science and boy, is he ever tiresome about it. What a reckless evangelist! He condemns everything that does not stand up to science's demonstrable standards (whether such application is appropriate or not) and then....he violates the same standards time and a
...more
Michael Jandrok
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So if we take the Wayback Machine to the year 1995, you will find me out of college, working as an operations manager in retail despite my lofty aspirations to anthropology and later, nursing, as career choices. But I had a family to support, and the money was good even if the hours really sucked. What the hell does that have to do with this review? Well, I was involved in an awful lot of hiring and firing decisions when I worked for Foley’s (later Macy’s), and I noticed something interesting. M ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Though a bit dated because of its original publication date in the late 90s (see this review for a few updates, the pleas for facts, scientific method, and science scholarship are timeless. I downloaded the audio because the narration duties are shared between Seth Macfarlane and Cary Elwes, with an introduction by Sagan's last wife in her own voice. (The audio production is much more recent, 2017.... I suspect the whole fake news thing may have inspired it!)

Sagan takes on many issues of pseudoscience,
...more
Jason
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2015
If Carl Sagan was alive today I think he would probably cry if he saw the state of the world. He wrote this book as a kind of wake up call to the people and the government, he pointed out how bad the education system is, he tries to get people to understand how important science is, he warns us not to watch so much crap on TV, go out and get some real-life experiences and he warns us about the government abusing the bill of rights.

Well it looks like everybody has ignored him, if fact
...more
May 舞
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-ficition
As expected, this book was very interesting, insightful, and relevant to our world today. I felt Sagan's passion emanating from the pages, and it has given me even an even greater motivation to pursue the goal I've been chasing for the past 3 years, which is to be educated, willing to question authority whatever form it takes, and to engage my critical faculties and be able to form my own opinions. It was Carl Sagan that showed me the path in 2016 when I read his book Pale Blue Dot, which was the fi ...more
Fran
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is a favorite of mine. It’s non-fiction. It’s very full of science and scientific principles and explanations. It’s also full of respect for those who want to understand the world better. And that is Carl Sagan for you in a nutshell: A caring person, a scientist who throughout his life always took other people seriously, and endeavored to understand them and help them.

Very few scientists, I think, have taken the time to consider other people’s fears, their anxieties and com
...more
Steve Wiggins
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
After reading a credulous book about demons, I turned to a scientific one. Carl Sagan was one of the most gifted science writers of his day. This is an enjoyable collection of what might be better termed essays than a long disquisition. Sagan has offered here a strong case for not only science, but for education in general. He frequently makes the point that scientists are portrayed negatively in the media, although from the outside it often appears to be the opposite. Perhaps it depends on your ...more
Tyler
Apr 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: _People who want to think straight
Recommended to Tyler by: _A book review
Shelves: non-fiction
Sagan shows why learning to think in a contingent universe is ... well ... absolutely necessary. My reaction first reading the book was, "I've known for a long time that something's wrong. Now I know what." The discussions the author engages in in the book are eye-openers.

I cannot recommend this book to those who are highly sensitive about their credos, but on other hand, I don't think more open-minded religious people will at all see this as the scathing attack many opinion-makers h
...more
John
Jan 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Terry

My first Sagan book was Cosmos, which led me to this one. While Cosmos was good, this was great. It really opened my eyes to how important science is, and the underlying principles of science, and simultaneously how organized religion is virtually 100% philosophically opposed to science.

Religion: Don't think, don't reason, don't use logic. We'll (religious leaders) tell you what to think, what our god(s) wants you to think/do. Our holy book written centuries ago by primitive tribes w
...more
Ross Blocher
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't feel hyperbolic saying this is one of the best and most important books ever written. I can only kick myself for having left it on the shelf so many years. In his characteristic congenial, non-threatening, well-studied, literate and abundantly clear way, Carl Sagan explains the importance of critical thinking, science and education. Sagan is a master of succinct conveyance, ever-shifting the reader's perspective to a better vantage point from which to understand a concept. That he manage ...more
Erin
Jul 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
I hesitated to mark this as "Read" because I couldn't actually get through the whole thing. I was SO excited to read this book: I was under the impression that Sagan systematically explained in reasonable and scientific terms some of the myths and phenomena present in Western culture, and I thought it would be interesting to see how these things came about.
That's not what it is. From the first about 100 pages, I gather that a) Sagan is reeeaaallly in love with science, b) he's not unconvin
...more
Mark
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Every human should read this book.
Roy Lotz
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
I’m not sure what potential audience Sagan had in mind for this book, and I’m doubly unsure if I’m in it. I doubt you will be sure, either; and this tension is one that runs through the whole of the book. Perhaps this is unavoidable. For, when a popular scientist writes a book, his readership is more than likely to consist, in the main, of reasonable and skeptical people; thus, when he spends the entirety of the work attempting to inculcate the scientific attitude, he is in the position of a mus ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
All of us of a certain age remember Carl Sagan and his fascinating television program Cosmos. He explained science in words that the layman could understand and he approaches this book in the same manner. His basic premise here is “how can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience, New Age thinking, and fundamentalist zealotry and the testable hypothesis of science”.

To support
...more
Ahmed Samir
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
So this is one of the books I've been wanting to read for a while. Sagan is exceptionally talented at writing popular science, so you will enjoy it. The subjects he discusses are very interesting and they've inspired almost three episodes on my YouTube channel.

Some chapters, however, seemed to be repetitions. Other times I felt that the tone Sagan was adopting to describe theists was quite demeaning, and really not in place. However, I appreciate how he pointed out at the beginning of the book
...more
Greg Brozeit
Dec 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: science
I consider this book to be among the most important in my library. Carl Sagan wrote it when he knew he was dying of cancer. He had an unmatched gift of conveying and explaining science to make it understandable and relevant to non-scientists. For that reason alone, it is not far-fetched to list him among the great scientific minds of the 20th century.

In this valedictory statement of scientific philosophy, Sagan elevates the idea and relevance of the scientific method in our daily and
...more
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8,147 followers
In 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced th ...more
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” 2267 likes
“For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” 1484 likes
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