Whaddya gonna do?

January 16, 2014 • 12:26 pm

There are some types of creationist ignorance that can’t be overcome because of sheer laziness of the benighted. Reader Barry sent me one example from his Twi**er feed:

Jerry CoyneI make the same suggestion all the time to creationists who pretend to want information but really want to save my soul. And not one of them has ever gotten back to me saying that they read my book.

Or, if I wanted to be charitable, I could point out that, according to a HuffPo/YouGov poll in 2013, 28% of Americans hadn’t read a single book over the past year, while 42% had not read a nonfiction book.  That’s from a poll of 1000 people, and I suspect those numbers are underestimates.

173 thoughts on “Whaddya gonna do?

  1. Bill Hicks gag: at the bus station after a gig in the South.

    Rough-looking local sidles up to him.

    “Why you reading?”


    1. “I was in Nashville, Tennessee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. And I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest f***in’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm…I dunno…I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a f***in’ waffle waitress.”

      – Bill Hicks

      1. But book larnin’ is of the Devil!!
        Why y’all need infrumation when JESUS!! put whut ya need strate to ya hart!!

      2. I’m no longer shocked by willful, even boasted ignorance. Flaccid minds are the new norm. I would have complimented the waitress about something and started a conversation about the book that kept her coming back to my table. And I would have called her “darlin'”.

        1. “And I would have called her “darlin’”

          Or perhaps, as Uhura would say in a Star Trek blooper, “Sugah.”

  2. At this site, we must be the freaks because I’m sure most of us read all the time & many here have expressed a preference of non fiction.

    I am going to read some relaxing science fiction after I finish my sociopath book because it’s been years and I’ll get through it relatively quickly. Fiction also gets my mind working in a different way so I can better look at the information I’ve absorbed through my non fiction books.

    1. I must admit that I get most of my reading done online these days. There’s simply so much good stuff out there.

      I do miss the submersive experience you get from good books though, fiction or non-fiction.

      1. When I read up to here: “I must admit that I get most of my reading done on”, my brain filled in “the toilet”. I’m glad it was online. 😀

            1. 🙂 Ha ha! I liked the double negative!

              People with good bowels don’t have time for reading though. 🙂

          1. I give my brother-in-law a new book every Christmas, one of those with short essays and anecdotes and such. I would worry for his health if I didn’t.

        1. I’m firmly convinced reading on the john helped advance technology. Think about it – after lugging a couple dozen clay tablets to the outhouse and then using a handful of leaves to finish the business, humans had a double incentive to invent paper.

          1. I thought of Diana when I was recently directed to this web page:


            Which led to this…


            Sorry for the digression–those links issued from a post on the useful purposes to which the Old Farmers’ Almanac and the Sears catalog have historically been put…Not the most enlightening reading material, alas.

            1. I loved that! Thanks for posting it! It’s going on Twitter now.

              I actually think about toilet paper and what people used a lot since it does seem luxurious. And the Ancient Greeks used clay and stones!? They weren’t Spartans, were they? THIS IS GRITTY! 😀

              1. I once had somebody explain to me how the Romans used corn cobs to wipe with, part of a dissertation on how advanced Roman hygiene was in general. I tried to explain to them that it was not possible because corn was a New World plant. They just wouldn’t believe me for some reason. I figured they must have used Asterix & Obelix as their source material.

              2. Instead of a corn cob, maybe a Roman used an obelix on his asterix.

                My rather parsimonious grandfather informed me that in choosing which of two corn cobs to use first, a white or a red one, one should use the red one first. Then, to evaluate the efficacy of ones efforts, test with the white one, a good enough job with the red one allowing one to save the white one for future use.

              3. All you Asterix fans will enjoy this site where this nice fellow explains the Latin jokes.

                I recently bought a volume of Asterix Obelix that I need to read. I’m pretty sure we read some of it as a treat in high school Latin class but I can’t be sure; the Cambridge Latin course (British version not the American version) was entertaining itself with the characters of Caecilius and Grumio the cook and everyone. I want to find a copy of the series but it’s hard to locate the British version (I have the American version which is probably better in that it uses real Latin but I want the amusing stories of my childhood!)

              4. I first discovered Asterix & Obelix as a young teen and (dare I say it?) loved it even then (as a young teen). I thought it was hilarious. Haven’t seen one in decades though.

              5. No shame in that, as a teen I read and enjoyed Valhalla comics and it was a tremendous pleasure for a young aspiring heathen like me.

                Asterix was another favourite.

              6. You can buy the anthologies from Amazon (I bought one that is one of my poor overwhelmed shelves).

                Take a look at the link to the web site that explains the Latin jokes that I put somewhere else in this post. If you love Asterix, you’ll probably enjoy that site!

  3. By “reliable source” Creationists often mean “something which will immediately appeal to my intuition.”

    A Christian at a creationism booth at the county fair once challenged me to show him an instance — any example at all — of life coming from non-life (yes, that’s abiogenesis not evolution but the conversation had wandered.) I told him “Every living thing is made of nothing but molecules, and no molecule is alive. Life from non-life.”

    No, that’s not what I meant.

    Yeah, I said — but you should think about it anyway. The more you think about it, the more it will bother you. And I kept hammering at it.

    Because they know that religion can sell itself on sound bites that’s what they’re expecting with science. Sometimes you can find a quick thought experiment or example. Most of the time, though, you can’t.

      1. There’s a second part to it that makes sense with slight change in wording, “”Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.”

  4. Though I personally despise the notion, maybe this is why some people need atheist “churches.” Possibly the only means of enlightenment for those who require authority figures and social approbation (and can’t think for themselves).

  5. I throw that compressed video of “Why Evolution is True” at them every time a creationist comes on to my FB page. It really is sad how little people read – which makes it even sadder when bs gets published. Creationists are always telling me how well-read they are – but the books always turn out to be creationist crap that they accept as actual science.

  6. When I decided I wanted to learn about evolution, and not just accept what was being said by the creationists….

    I started by typing “evolution” in my browser. Up came a link which I clicked on and began reading. Within minutes, I knew more about the topic than I had learned in my whole life.

    From there, I went to the library, and started checking out books by Dawkins, Miller, Prothero, Coyne, Eugenie Scott, etc.

    It wasn’t hard to find the information.

    Anyone who asks you to show them where the information is, is just being lazy, and or dishonest. It’s takes about 2 seconds to access the info.

      1. Well, to be fair, most of us are ignorant of a lot of things: ignorance is the default human condition. I suspect that even in my own field there’s more that I don’t know than I do. I know that’s true. I hope I’m not alone in having that problem.

        The problem is people who are ignorant of nearly everything and yet who are dogmatic about things they don’t understand at all.

        1. In the context of this discussion, ignorance refers to refusing to look up facts for oneself (as in evolution) and instead believing what one is told, especially when a simple Google search would reveal just how incorrect one’s information is.

      2. While I agree with your sentiment the reality is that for poor people the Internet isn’t readily available. And poor people are more likely to be ignorant. It’s a vicious circle. Which is why I am extremely pissed off that we continue to make it more difficult for people to get a decent high-school, let alone a college, education.

        1. True but it isn’t just poor people and having been a poor person I find it is often too easy to dismiss ignorance as “only the poor”. The poor are often less ignorant and more willing to work hard to learn fact than the middle class who have more easy access to all kinds of technology and information.

        1. I agree it’s a double-edged sword, but I think the overall effect of the web is a good one.

          Sure there’s tons of misinformation, propaganda and downright mischief out there, but that doesn’t negate the value of all the brilliant and otherwise inaccesible material also available, both fiction and non-fiction.

        2. Yes, I’ve often wondered if the garbage out there outweighs the good stuff. If misinformation tends to trump information.

        3. The problem with this being the Information Age because of the tremendous availability now, is that it is also the Misinformation Age.

  7. I wonder how many of those 28% and 42% are right-wing Republicans and/or fundagelicals?

    I stopped reading fiction books about five years ago. There’s plenty of non-fiction to keep somebody interested for life.

    1. Up until a few years ago (I’m working on my sixth decade), I was a 99% NF guy.

      Now, I’m closer to 50-50. I’ve found some novels that are worth my time and I’ve also found that, as work stress increases, I need some mental down time. I can’t abide TV, so novels have to do. Some are simple entertainment (e.g. Stieg Larson’s books).

      I can’t reocommend highly enough Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novel series. Some of the most interesting and engaging works in English I’ve ever read. Intersting on many levels.

      1. Funny, I did the same thing. Spent ~ 3 decades reading nothing but non-fiction; then started reading fiction again. Not literary fiction, though.

  8. A couple of years ago I offered to loan my copy of Francis Collins’ “Language of God” to a creationist acquaintance, thinking it would ease him into the science. Learning that Collins accepts evolution (well, mostly), my acquaintance refused my offer, saying “I don’t need to read anything I don’t agree with.”

    1. Upon offering for his consideration Martin Gardner’s “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener,” I was met with the reply (based only on a glance at the title), “That book has nothing to say to me.”

      1. You’d think anything with “Scrivener” in the title would be appealing too! But clearly I’m out of touch with what is popular!

    1. Perhaps some readers hear have seen this scene in years past: a group of men standin’ around, chewin’ the fat, spittin,’ perhaps outside the courthouse. Nuthin’ much to do, so most if not all of them whoop out that thar cigarette and commence to lighten’ up and smokin,’ lookin’ down at ther feet and contemplatin’ thuh mysteries of thuh unuhverse.

      I’ve occasionally had the vision of them instead whipping out Aristotle’s “Poetics,” or Plato’s “Republic,” or Thomas More’s “Utopia,” or Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” or Thoreau’s “Walden,” or Kafka’s “The Prisoner, “or Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat,” or scores of others. Sorta like Monty Python’s “Philosophers Football Game.”

    1. Dena:

      I agree, all those marvelous answers should be collected into a kind of anthology of the “Famous Sayings of Dumbos”.
      As Dawkins often proclaimed, we should often prefer to spotlight the ridiculous statements of the intellectually incurious rather than try to beat them into a rational pulp.

  9. Last time I checked, the average number of books (of any sort) in the American home was 4. (Yes, that’s not a typo: four (4).)

    My home alone would account for about 500 book-less homes. Yikes! And if you count my Mom and siblings, you can triple or quadruple that number. Scary. But it explains many things from the poulatrity of video games to the content of commercial television and current top-40 music.

    1. OMG! I’m running out of book space. My shelves are warping!

      I have a friend whose husband insists she reads so much just so they will need to move to a bigger house to accommodate her books! 😀

      1. We are pretty much there too. I have very bad BAS (book acquisition syndrome). I have multiple (large) piles of books that need to be re-sold laying around. Must get to them some day … 🙂

        My son’s friends that come to our house sometimes look around in wonder and ask, “did you READ all those books?!” (Of course!)

        1. My answer would have to be “Not yet”. I’m often tempted by special offers to buy 2 books only one of which I really wanted. Then there are the ones that were in charity shops and just too cheap to pass up.

        2. My bf and I have maybe 5000 books in our house, maybe 2/3 read. I have that horrible habit, too, of buying too many books (amazon is deadly) but I’m getting more disciplined about passing on most of those I’ve already read either to the library or to friends. My bf not so much…

          1. I believe it was Schopenhauer who said (or wrote): When we buy books, we think we are buying the time to read them.

        1. Yeah I have those too. When they are on your beside table, they can fall in the night & scare you.

          I just bought 3 more books tonight because I had a coupon. All were recommendations from this site.

          1. Embarrassingly personal post, but here goes.

            When I first copped of with my future wife, I was laid in her bed in her bed-sit while she was in the loo. Surrounding the bed were all her books haphazardly stacked on dodgy home-made and rickety shelves.

            She’d been gone a long time: “ooh, this looks interesting,” I thought as I drunkenly picked out a novel from the middle of the pack.

            And all 400 or so books fell in domino-fashion inwards to the centre of the room. On the bed.

            Carol entered. The mood was lost.


      2. Leigh Van Valen (late Chicago biologist known to both Jerry and myself) bought the house next door to him to accommodate his books.

        1. Just for his books or he moved into that house and sold his original house. If the former, I’m really really impressed! 🙂

      3. Thinned out my collection recently… you know, the not-very-good books, waaay out of date technical stuff etc. Took them to the local used book shop to trade, came back with more than I took!
        My SWMBO asked about it, I said they gave me a few extra to take to my Mum in the seniors home. How many 93 yr olds read New Scientist and subscribed since 1957!

          1. Our place is living proof. We have about 4,000 books in a small condo. About half are ours, and half we are selling on-line. My wife (along with her sister) buys storage units and makes a few bucks selling what she gets.

            A few months ago, she and her sister came into an enormous library–a retired professor was getting too old to even visit his storage unit, and gave it to them for free, just so he would not have to continue to pay $500/month to store the books. When we got there, there were about 25,000 books! They’ve gone through them, gotten rid of the junk, and put most of the rest up on-line to sell.

            However, there was one small subset of the books which were books that weren’t worth selling on-line, but which I could not bear to just throw away, and which were unlikely to sell at a garage sale. These are serious works of science (unfortunately few; the man was a professor of fiction, literature, and screenwriting), religion, philosophy, and literature. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get them into hands of people who would want them, without selling them. So, if anyone wants to contact me off-list, I’ll make up a list of what’s available (I have about 100 books or so); you can even swing by if you’re in the Los Angeles area.

            Nothing is really recent. The science books include, for example:
            “Mankind Evolving” by Dobzhansky
            “Population Species and Evolution: An Abridgement of Animal Species and Evolution” by Mayr
            “Man-Apes or Ape-Men?” by Le Gros Clark

            Hoping this isn’t out of line, and apologizing if it is.

            1. You can donate any books to school libraries. If they can’t use it, publishers will trade them for some book more in line with the school’s needs.

    2. Wow! I would have never guessed the number was that low. I shudder to think how much money I have spent on books in my life. Even with all the books I have given away or sold to used bookstores or at garage sales, I am drowning in books.

      That the typical US American home has only 4 books in it is mind boggling. Especially when one is surely the fricken bible. So really that is more like three. I wonder what the most common one after the fricken bible is? A phone book?

      1. My parents let me buy as many books as I liked as a kid. It was the only thing I had without restriction (as long as they were appropriate in: not adult content books). I remember always ordering books through a program in elementary school and I’d be the kid with a gigantic big pile when the order came in. I also lived next door to a library which helped too.

        1. I remember well the Scholastic Book Service from my grade school days. Once each grading period the teacher would hand out a catalogue, then you filled out the attached order form, got a check from the parents, passed in on to the teacher before the deadline, and a month or so later a big box of books would be delivered to the classroom. It was always exciting the day the books were delivered.

          The SBS magazine Dynamite was fun in early grade school, and is probably the most memorable thing from the SBS program for whole generations of US people.

              1. Yes they do. I’ve got grandkids and they have ‘bookdrives’ (that’s what they call them these days) a couple of times a year. The catalogs look just like they always did.

              2. Those catalogues would sure bring back the memories for me!

                I was heartened to see a mom with her 2 kids at the local bookstore. They were at the check out ahead of me and it appeared that they had saved up (the money was in a plastic bag) and had taken advantage of a sale. The kids were excited to be getting their books. Those kids are going to be alright! 🙂

    3. I estimated once (by counting the books in a square foot of shelf space and multiplying it up) that I had around 1500 books. But I think that may be an underestimate.

      I really do suffer from incurable collector’s mania. I *must* thin the collection out…

      1. Ebooks have helped with the amount of books piling up. Sometimes if I like a book though, I end up buying the physical book after I’ve read the ebook!

        1. If Ebooks were all in PDF format and not DRM’d, I’d buy them too. But I’d want to be able to transfer them freely to whatever gadget I wanted – laptop, Galaxy, whatever. I think if I’ve paid for it, I own it, I should be able to make a backup copy (‘cos digital media can go bad) and I should be able to read it on whatever gadget is most convenient for me.

          The idea of half my ‘library’ disappearing because the ‘publisher’ had some sort of legal spat or just made some digital error does not appeal to me.

          1. Oh, you need to download Calibre. I take the DRM off my ebooks and put them in my Calibre library so I can read them on any device. It even allows you to transfer books wirelessly & it has a Web interface into your library!

            1. Oh & to be clear, Calibre takes the DRM off. You may need to download some add ons to get it off the various formats.

              1. Thanks. And they make a Linux version. Definitely worth further investigation then.

  10. Yep. Definitely an underestimate of a much worse reality. The percentages have been systematically biased downward for the simple reason that responding to such a poll requires that one actually read it.

  11. This example is, in fact, the single greatest problem across every corner of our country: willful ignorance. But only when you couple willful ignorance with the daily deluge of misinformation, disinformation and outright bullshit that is thrown at the populous on a daily basis can you get a real sense of the danger that we face as a species.

    1. It is even worse than willful ignorance. What we have is a large subculture in which willful ignorance is something that wins you approbation from your peers.

      Makes me grind my teeth when someone proudly proclaims their ignorance.

    2. No more than in the past.
      In fact less than in the past.
      Before printing, nobody had access to books except the super-rich.
      Since then, an enormous amount of verifiable information has become available to the masses.
      Millions have had access to education, no matter if the percentages of the publishing business cited above now appear so alarming.

      There’s an illusion that the Enlightenment promoted and fostered, and which is still very much alive, that with education, superstitions, religions, and crazy beliefs would soon vanish. But it has proved to be not that simple.
      And with radio, papers, films, and now the Internet, a fantastic amount of valuable information is available to the masses, in a way that was unthinkable only 100 years ago.

      Steve Pinker could easily write another book showing that the level of positive and verifiable information has undoubtedly increased over the last 2000 years.

      Hoping that all of it will be immediately absorbed by people who still have to worry about the simple task of surviving economically is a dream.

      1. “There’s an illusion that the Enlightenment promoted and fostered, and which is still very much alive, that with education, superstitions, religions, and crazy beliefs would soon vanish.”

        Yes, perhaps the human mammal has been too optimistically “misoverestimated.”

        1. Exactly. I don’t think the species would have enough mindless worker bees to prosper if everyone were capable of critical thinking.

      2. On the other hand the opportunities for misinformation & bollocks have multplied enormously. Try “How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World” by Francis Wheen.

        1. In percentage, superstition has not increased more than it was before. It can be argued, à la Steve Pinker, that in fact the immensity of positive information has multiplied much faster than misinformation and superstitions.

          Before the advent of books, EVERYBODY lived in superstitions and misinformation.
          Modern information diffusion and transmission have resulted in a sharply decrease of superstitions, religions, and misinformation.

          In this thread, there are quoted only the negative witnesses of dumbo sayings, and nobody has mentioned the fantastic progress of knowledge, research, and positive science. Because it’s easy (and more amusing) to discuss ignorance and stupidity than expert knowledge and advanced research.

          Steven Pinker would be absolutely right. The percentage of positive and verifiable knowledge has increased tremendously in the last 20 years, in the last 100 years, and in the last 2,000 years.

          What are the effective percentages? That is hard to define precisely.
          But look at Aristotle and his school, the Lyceum (founded ca.335 BC), which had collected 10,000 books of knowledge and research. How many students in that school? Dozens, probably not hundreds. Outside of that school, what were the knowledge and beliefs of the rest of the population, not just in Greece, not just in the West, but in the whole world, including India, China, and all the cultures not yet discovered at the time. It was next to 100% superstitions, religions, and fancy imaginations.

          Rational knowledge has been fighting against the current ever since, and making progress steadily overall (in spite of the horrendous accident of Christianity in the Roman Empire and medieval Europe).

          Steven Pinker has an easy case.
          Sure, we have all those dimwitted Hollywood actors and actresses flocking to Scientology, and we have the rampant superstitions of the masses, but on another hand (and it is the other hand that is not mentioned by you or anybody else), how many universities in the States, the West, even now in India and China? How many medical schools? Institutes of technology? Research centers?
          All those countries were practically entirely monopolized by religious beliefs, and many still are now. But the rationalist component of society has increased, not just in the US and the West, but worldwide.

          Daniel Kahneman has studied “Thinking fast and thinking slow”. Thinking fast is universal and immediate. Thinking slow takes time, effort, and special conditions and training.

          The miracle is that it became a systematic effort in ancient Greece, among the Ionian physicists, as Sagan (and me along) never ceased to marvel. Thinking slow, rational and critical thinking is on the ascent, steadily nibbling at the immensity of darkness and phoniness, starting from a zero position, or next to zero, 2,600 years ago.

          Quoting only the craziness of our modern America is a tilted image. Printing, movies, television, recording, and now the Internet have certainly multiplied the diffusion of crazy content, but this diffusion has affected people who were already living with crazy and ignorant ideas anyway. It has not significantly increased the pool of ignorance, supernatural beliefs and irrationality. It has simply provided more entertaining and seductive forms to imagination.

          When rational ideas and knowledge make progress, it’s with a net positive increase of the pool of valid knowledge and information among the educated elite and the masses who have access through education and popularization to the new rational and scientific ideas.
          So, yes, Pinker may write this new book after all. He loves the history of percentages.

  12. Here are some sobering statistics from Statistic Brain:

    Total percent of U.S. high school graduates who will never read a book after high school 33%

    Total percentage of (U.S.) college students who will never read another book after they graduate 42%

    Total percentage of U.S. families who did not buy a book this year 80%

    Total percentage of (U.S.) adults that have not been in a book store in the past 5 years 70%

      1. Well, in the office where I work, there are about 100 people. When I find a good used book sale (there are three excellent ones each year in our area, in addition to the used book stores), I can only send the flyer out to 5 or 6 people who I know are readers. The rest sit around and discuss what was on TV last night. So, I’m depressed and perturbed, but not surprised.

    1. The bookstore stat doesn’t really mean anything. Everything I’ve read in the past few years has either been ordered from amazon, downloaded to my kindle, or read online as a webpage or pdf.

  13. I was going to offer up a link to The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name, the best essay length summary of the evidence for evolution I am aware of, but a quick search turned up some dead web pages.

  14. Well just to be optimistic Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries” has sold about 80,000 copies in New Zealand (yeh I know that doesn’t mean they all read it) which is about 1.7 per cent of the population. And of course something of an exception-well a bloody great enormous exception really.

  15. Back in 1958, I was riding the grey dog. A young guy got on somewhere in Tennessee. We stopped for lunch, and I sat at a table with him. He had a soft porn pocket book, “Lust Mistress”, I think it was. He told me it was the first book he had ever read. It was a good’un, and he was going to get another book to read after he finised this one.

    I thought I had seen a possible solution to the problem of getting people to read

    1. Hey, that’s perfectly cromulent in my book! As an occasional Dan Brown reader, I won’t judge anyone’s tastes. Or as the Prof says in Educating Rita – “Read it, by all means read it. But don’t mention it in an exam.”

  16. Years ago, as an undergraduate I moved into a new flat and ended up in a conversation with the neighbour.

    He said “I expect being at university you read a lot of books.”

    Then added: “I read a book once.”

    I asked him what it was – he could not remember.

  17. Perhaps, before recommending a book to a creationist, you should inquire if they are able to read. If yes, then recommend the book.

  18. When people come to my house, I know right away if they’re readers or not. The non-readers say, “Have you read all these books?!” and the readers say, “Ohhh, look at your library!”. There are 14 bookcases downstairs, 7 upstairs. And I just cleaned out the stash in the basement recently. There’s something very comforting about being surrounded by books. Plus, they add another layer of insulation to the walls!

    1. On outside walls this can be a problem, at least theoretically. If the books provide enough insulation to lower the temperature behind them to below the dew point, condensation will form and moisture and mildew will damage the walls and the books. This is the rationale behind the use of vapour barriers when insulating walls.

        1. If the books are effective insulation on an outside wall, the vapour barrier would need to be between them and the interior of the building. In practice, there is probably more than enough air circulation behind the books to keep the condensation from forming.

          All this nitpicking could only apply in a cold climate. If the main use of house insulation is for summer air conditioning, then the more books the better.

          1. Vapor barriers are tricky. Much more often than not even architects get it wrong and end up with dew points in undesirable locations. Like inside the wall. And having two vapor barriers at different locations in a wall assembly is pretty much guaranteed to cause serious problems. To have a good chance at not making things worse by adding a vapor barrier to a wall it is best to have a water vapor transmission analysis done.

      1. “The non-readers say, “Have you read all these books?!”

        But they won’t similarly incredulously critique one if one has multiple curio cabinets or shelves of “Special Moments” figurines or other such bric-a-brac.

  19. Neil Kinnock (former leader of the Labour Party in Britain) used to tell an anecdote of how he once went one some kind of official political visit to the USA and stayed at the house of a Republican politician who, despite their political differences, was very friendly and hospitable. At the end of Kinnock’s visit he said to his host, “I’ve really enjoyed staying here, and I’d like to buy you some sort of gift -maybe there’s a book you’d like?” To which the host replied: “No thanks, I got one of those.”

  20. When I see someone expressing doubt about biological evolution in an online discussion, I usually suggest reading the link


    (29+ Evidences for Macroevolution) and then reporting back later with what the commenter has learned from reading that. So far, I don’t recall anyone coming back with a report on their reading, and ordinarily I don’t recall seeing the same commenter again in the online community where I have the most occasion to make that suggestion. I wish I had known all the points made in that site, or in Jerry’s book (which I own and encourage all my homeschooled children to read) or in Richard Dawkins’s point on the same issue (which I also own and have read aloud to my children) at a much earlier age. Better late than never. I encourage people to check the evidence, and perhaps sooner or later some of them do, as I did once upon a time.

  21. I don’t understand people who say they “love books” or “love reading”. This seems about as informative a statement as “I love shirts!”

    Really? Just shirts in general? Any old shirt?

    If the content of the book is something I agree with or is interesting to me then I like it. I don’t really have feelings about just books qua books one way or the other.

    1. Well I’m a compulsive reader. I see something, I can’t resist reading it. Even Readers Digest, sports pages, the backs of corn flakes packets – till I took a firm grip on myself and decided that, if I had time to read rubbish, I had time to grab a book and read something worthwhile.

      1. Libri Antichi is an old/rare book distributor. They have a FB page devoted to posting pictures of old libraries and old books. The comments on these often take the form of “wow, all those books, my idea of heaven”.

        What if every single one of those books was Bill O’Reilly’s “A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity”?

        (Many of the libraries they highlight are architectural gems.)

        1. I am often guilty of “I love reading.” It distinguishes me from the herd of other USians who are glued to screens (I used to say cathode ray tubes).

          Walk any neighborhood in the US at night and see the natives huddled around that BLUE FIRE.

          Yes, with a knwledgable person, I’ll instantly go to specific books, long lists of which I can spew out pretty quickly.

        2. ‘Bill O’Reilly’s “A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity”? ‘

          I do not know the book. I know the name and that’s enough. Shudder. (I’m amazed he managed to put enough words together to make a book…)

          I’m afraid Sturgeon’s Law (95% of everything is rubbish) applies to books as well. This is why I don’t frequent (new) bookshops much. If you took away all the cookbooks, the sports books, and the computer books with a six-month shelf life (‘How to master WhizzBang 3.0 in ten weeks’) – then there’d be nothing left but toys and magazines. Don’t get me started on magazines.

          I much prefer old second-hand bookshops in run-down parts of town where the rent is cheap, even though Sturgeon’s Law still applies there’s enough variety that you can usually find something worth buying (and, more importantly to me, worth the time and the precious bookshelf space).

  22. In my fifteen years in the book and magazine business, back before the internet, I noticed that while many people bought magazines (that impulse grab at the grocery checkstand), far fewer people bought books, and a few people bought a lot of books (talking mainly your non-bookstore outlets here)

    If you could find/talk to the few people who were buying the most of the books, you could increase sales in that location.

    Just reading through this thread reminds me of that. Most of us posting have 1,000’s of books and will pick one up just because it’s a book that your/any library ought to have. When we visit people, we always look to see what books they have. And you kind of get used to those ratios: a small number of people have a lot of books; a fair number of people have a few books; a shocking number of people have no books

  23. @Jerry,

    The luddite on the Twitters is right! You really need to (co)produce and narrate a “Why Evolution is True” documentary! In the style of those BBC series maybe, with lots of stop-motion shots of Chicago traffic, and you staring at squirrels in the sunset. It’ll be awesome!

    1. That would be nice but there are plenty of good documentaries of that ilk. Those people refuse to see what is infront of them because they have closed minds. Alas…

  24. Maybe more people are listening to books and they do not include themslves as book readers? That is probably not the main reason people do not read books. Internet is a one reason. People read almost as much, just sorter amounts of anything.

    I have not read a book in twenty years but I have listened to hundreds. There are now voices (Mac/Kindle/etc) that will read just about anything and the real time AI reading abilities are improving.

    1. I used to listen to books quite a bit myself. I have a long commute so you get a lot “read” in the car. I find that since I am an aural learner, I also tend to understand difficult concepts better when I hear them so I sometimes find myself reading a book then if it is something I need to think carefully about (like quantum physics), I’ll buy the audio book as well & listen to it.

      I’m such a consumer of media! I just hope some of the money I throw at it trickles down to the pockets of the authors & not just the publishers!

      1. A quantum physics audio book? 😀

        “Consider that the probability equals the integral over the space of the modulus squared of the function which we had defined three minutes ago multiplied by the factor rho defined in chapter 2”

        time to rewind!!!

        1. LOL! The kind of quantum physics books I read are light on the math and if they aren’t, I won’t spend too much time trying to figure it out & will probably instead start ranting. 🙂

        2. I used to read my quantum physics books to go to sleep. That worked ok. But then I started to read them aloud to my wife…that put her to sleep in less than 10 seconds. I think there is a market for this stuff…

    1. George R. R. Martin even slipped a few pro-books messages into his A Song of Ice and Fire

      “Sleep is good,” he said. “And books are better.” (A Clash of Kings)

      Knowledge is a weapon, Jon. Arm yourself well before you ride forth to battle. (A Feast for Crows)

      “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.” (A Dance With Dragons)

      And, while I’m at it, Martin does not have much use for religion, either:

      The old gods paid no more heed to prayer than the new ones, it would seem. Perhaps he should take comfort in that. (A Storm of Swords)

      Nothing discourages unwanted questions as much as a flow of pious bleating. (A Storm of Swords)

  25. I went to an Edward Tufte lecture and got to at least view a first English edition Euclid’s Geometry. That sent my greed nerves jangling! It was a true thing of beauty.

    The toppper for me would be a first edition of On the Origin of Species.

  26. OK, lots of readers here. Name ten favorite books! Please note the criteria you are applying (e.g. most enjoyable, most important, had the greatest effect on your thinking, etc.)

    Not in rank order, simply (some of my)my favorites:

    Desert Solitaire (Abbey)
    Jupiter’s Travels (Simon; sent me around the world)
    Seven Years in Tibet (Harrer)
    The Outline of History (Wells)
    The Log of the Sea of Cortez (Steinbeck)
    Salt (Kurlansky)
    A Sand County Almanac (Leopold)
    The Botany of Desire (Pollan)
    The Gallic War (Caesar)
    A World Lit Only by Fire (Manchester)
    Why We Get Sick (Nesse, Williams)

    1. I don’t know about listing ten, but if you had asked me to list one, that would have been easy: The Phantom Tollbooth. Life as a search for Rhyme and Reason, in a perfectly told tale.

      Other easy choices (I don’t guarantee I’ll end up with ten):

      Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
      Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (particularly appropriate for a thread about books!)
      The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
      Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
      A selection of books on evolution, including Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne (you may have heard of this one ;-), The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald Prothero, and The Making of the Fittest by Sean Carroll.
      A selection of books on logic and critical thinking, including Crimes Against Logic by Jamie Whyte, How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich, and A Concise Introduction to Logic by Patrick Hurley (yes, it’s a textbook).

    2. Oh dear, just 10?

      Loved these two because the first cemented my love of Classics (I first read the Aeneid in Latin class in High School) & every time I’ve read them, I seem to think of the hero differently, which reflects my own maturity I think:
      The Aeneid (Virgil)
      The Odyssey (Homer)

      This one because it was one of the first science books I read as a kid that made me become entrenched in science. I read at a higher level than the other kids so I think I read this in grade 7 during our silent reading time. Since other kids were reading kid books, it was the first time I was clearly marked as a big weird nerd:

      The Gardens of Eden (Carl Sagan)

      Because I love Middle English:
      The Canturbury Tales (Chaucer)

      Because I think of this book often including kepple, the duplicate police station full of androids, the theme of self awareness:

      Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Philip K Dick)

      Because of the way Ender was written. He destroyed others by becoming so empathic to them that he loved them as he loved himself. So when he destroyed them, he destroyed a bit of himself:
      Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)

      Because it was just fun & I loved the idea of “good life”:
      Berserker Series (Saberhagen)

      Because it is so smart:
      HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

      Because it was the first time I seriously thought lack of free will was a possibility:

      Free Will (Sam Harris)

      Because I bought it for myself as a treat after exams & I still use it today:
      The Oxford Classical Dictionary

      2 Bonuses: A kid’s book called How the Chipmunk Got it’s Stripes – This was a book I got in the scholastic program. It was an old native legend & I thought it was bullshit when I read it because it’s basically Lamarckism (though I didn’t know the word at the time). I remember complaining to my parents that a bear couldn’t scratch a chipmunk and then the chipmunk have kids with stripes because of it. I was totally ticked off.

      Because I wanted to do graduate work on this and I loved it so much, I scooped this book that was meant for students in a graduate Classics class (sorry whoever missed out but you have to be quick). I still reference it and well the topic is interesting to me:

      Images in the Age of Augustus (Zanker)

  27. There is some heavy duty irony in the fact that the e-mail I read just before this one was one of religious e-chain-mails, saying that none of us spend enough time in prayer and we have all but forgotten God, and we read e-mail and all kinds of books but won’t read the bible and if I make a wish and forwarded the message, my wish would come true. This kind of mixed metaphor drives me nuts! If it had said my prayer would be answered, it wouldn’t bother me so much, but these are educated, intelligent, supposedly sophisticated Christians (and I know you don’t believe there are any of those) that try to hook someone with superstitions and ‘luck’, etc. really bug me! One of the things most of you should appreciate is that I doubt you get many of these.
    But that has nothing to do with why I am sending this comment. If it makes you feel any better, I read a lot of books, fiction and non. There is one I’m having a lot of trouble reading now, though. I am only telling you this because so many of you made kind and helpful comments and suggestion concerning my attempts to ‘save’ my daughter-in-law from the evil clutches of the LDS (Mormons) and I thought I would give you an update. First, I’m having a lot of trouble reading The Book of Mormon (one those ‘sacred’ books the afore mentioned e-mail complains that none of us take the time to read. Too bad they never did Cliff Notes for it. But my daughter-in-law was thrilled that I asked her for a copy. She has also volunteered to work in the nursery at temple, so she isn’t attending services. And they have stopped paying her bills. This gives me some hope. She is also off all her prescription meds except one and she is getting off of it, too, but it must be done gradually. But what truly has me thrilled is the new missionaries (they cycle new ones through every 6 months or so.) My son has made the agreement with his wife that the missionaries are always welcome, as long as no one tried to convert him. Not only did the new guys verbally accost him for over an hour, they are making tentative advances toward Jake and me. This has my son very, very angry. You already know how I feel about it, and the one time in more than 40 years that I asked Jake about his religious beliefs he told me he wasn’t sure if he believes God exists, but if he does, then Jake hates him for all the terrible things that happen to children all over the world. It’s kinda odd; the only thing I have ever heard that he prayed for was given. (I lived) Whenever the missionaries come over, he either leaves or hides in the bedroom. If they ever trap him, it will get explosive. It’s going slowly, but I think as long as I don’t push, I will prevail.

  28. I’d say, make it quite clear to the missionaries you’re not interested, but go easy on the daughter-in-law. If she has any sense of proportion on the issue (i.e. if she isn’t a hopeless case), then she won’t be happy about them approaching you either. Let her make the running. I think…

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