cover image Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Poetry

Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Poetry

Wendy Kaminer. Pantheon Books, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44243-1

In this provocative collection of eight essays, social critic Kaminer grapples with the many manifestations of ""irrationalism""--believing in something without material proof--in contemporary culture. The targets for her witty, unsparing critiques range from the New Age spiritualism of Deepak Chopra and The Celestine Prophecy, contemporary angel lore and accounts of alien abduction to the recovered memory movement, from school vouchers to the ""junk science"" basis for the ""war on drugs."" Kaminer makes clear that she is not criticizing the personal beliefs of individuals (and admits that she herself believes in the benefits of homeopathy, contrary to most scientific opinion), but rather is concerned with ""the possible public consequence"" of such beliefs, especially when held by a dominant or influential group in the body politic. With unrelenting logic and easy grace, Kaminer poses questions that may upset many readers. For instance, she asks why Americans were dumbfounded by the suicides of the Heaven's Gate ""cult"" members who presumed they would go to heaven in a flying saucer, when only a few weeks later millions of people celebrated the ""irrational"" belief in ""Christ's ascent into heaven."" Kaminer is most entertaining when debunking commonly held pieties, such as when she contends that we often ignore that organized religins ""sanctify bad behavior, along with the good."" Behind her cool prose and entertainingly casual manner loom important and necessary questions about what it means to live in a democracy based on justice and reason. Agent, Esther Newberg, ICM. (Oct.)