Book Review by Roy E. Perry: Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”

Editor’s Note: This week, long-time “Tennessean” and “Nashville Banner” book reviewer Roy E. Perry takes a temporary break from reviewing works of Southern literature to turn his attention to the last book published by legendary American astronomist Carl Sagan. Mr. Perry gives the work a huge “thumbs up.” Here’s why:


“One of my favorite cartoons shows a fortune-teller scrutinizing the mark’s palm and gravely concluding, ‘You are very gullible.’” Thus writes Carl Sagan (1934-1996) in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

Sagan refers to the pseudoscientific gullibility that swallows hook, line, and sinker numerous scams, hoaxes, and bunkum such as demons, ghosts, UFOs, alien abductions, witches, fairies, religious apparitions, the Bermuda Triangle, astrology, and other foolishness.

“Baloney, bamboozles, careless thinking, flimflams, and wishes disguised as facts,” writes Sagan, “are not restricted to parlor magic and ambiguous advice on matters of the heart. Unfortunately, they ripple through mainstream political, social, religious, and economic issues in every nation.”

Seemingly, there’s no end to the irrational nonsense believed by unthinking, non-critical people. Sagan writes, “The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.” Exposing quacks, cranks, crackpots, and charlatans, Sagan—wielding the sharp blade of scientific skepticism—cuts through such nonsense like a sharp knife slicing through butter.

The Demon-Haunted World, however, is much more than a critique of superstition and a debunking of pseudoscience; more importantly, it is a celebration of science and the scientific method.

By means of numerous case histories, metaphors, images, analogies, anecdotes, and quotations from many sources, Sagan reveals how scientific and critical thinking is “a candle in the dark.” The tools in his “baloney detection kit”—including a description of the most common and perilous logical and rhetorical fallacies—show how to distinguish real science from pseudoscience.

Sagan points out that the scientific method—free inquiry, free exchange of information, optimism, self-criticism, pragmatism, objectivity—has a kinship and affinity with democracy, and opposes absolutist, dogmatic, closed-minded, authoritarian, totalitarian systems.

The key to scientific thinking, Sagan asserts, is “the marriage of skepticism and wonder.” Just as a key ingredient of a successful retail establishment is “Location! Location! Location,” so do valid claims to knowledge require “Evidence! Evidence! Evidence!”  Faith, appeals to so-called authority, the testimony of “experts,” and wishful thinking do not qualify as scientific thinking or square with the scientific method.

Published in 1996, the year of Sagan’s death, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark is the last work by the man who popularized astronomy in his best-selling book and fascinating TV series Cosmos. Many critics hail this as his best work. Highly recommended!

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit:

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: