cover image From the Wandering Jew to William F. Buckley Jr.: On Science, Literature, and Religion

From the Wandering Jew to William F. Buckley Jr.: On Science, Literature, and Religion

Martin Gardner. Prometheus Books, $29.98 (300pp) ISBN 978-1-57392-852-6

Over his several decades of writing, Gardner has accomplished so much it's hard to believe there's just one of him. His 60-odd books have explained complex science and math, dissected UFOs and pseudoscience, analyzed and admired Alice in Wonderland, answered everyday questions about technology and collected 25 years of contributions to Scientific American's column ""Mathematical Games."" This compilation of previously published work adds postscripts and restores editorial cuts to 29 short essays and book reviews, reprinted from Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, Discover, the Los Angeles Times Book Review and elsewhere. Many pieces attack religious fundamentalists and claims of the supernatural, like the purported ""psychic surgeons"" from the Philippines. A three-part series examines the Seventh-Day Adventists and their breakaway sects, who set dates, since expired, for the apocalypse (the first Christians apparently did the same). Also in Gardner's sights are TV evangelists, Buckley's brand of Christianity and social constructionist theories of science and math. Readers who share Gardner's sentiments on all these matters may find his debunking essays repetitive, but they will turn with gratitude to his appreciations. The best of the essays and book reviews here are praise--for unjustly forgotten children's author and editor John Martin, for L. Frank Baum of Oz fame, for science-fiction editor and popular-science writer Hugo Gernsback, for H.G. Wells and for sharp-tongued Catholic novelist G.K. Chesterton, whose work Gardner knows inside and out. It is in these pieces that Gardner's readers will learn--as they may expect from him something new each time. (Oct.)