by James Randi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Flim-Flam / 0-87975-198-3
Having been born in the 80's and relatively insulated from the majority of the claims presented in the book, I can honestly say that James Randi's book is still useful today, if only as a guidebook to the past. If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then similarly those who do not read Randi's book are doomed to fall prey to such schemes as fake fairies and make-believe aliens who provide blueprints on rocks of open-heart surgery...for a small fee, of course. This book is an incredible and fascinating catalog of the search for faeries, UFOs, spoon-benders, card-readers, and faith healers through the years, as well as several interesting applicants to the famous Randi Challenge.
James Randi has been criticized in the past for his somewhat hectoring authorial tone and his sometimes open disdain for the believers he deals with. I am sympathetic to both points, as I certainly believe in the use of honey rather than vinegar, yet I sympathize also with Randi faced with the frustrating hurdles he must clear. Consider all the Uri Geller believers who not only refuse to consider the evidence that James Randi presents, but who also persist in the belief that Randi, too, is 'the real thing' because of his duplication of the tricks of the false 'psychics' - even in the face of his repeated insistence that he is not a psychic but just an entertainer. How frustrating that would be!
Or consider the hundreds of people Randi has seen stop taking their medications on the say so of men he knows to be charlatans, only to watch these poor souls die weeks later, often ignoring the pleas of their loved ones and convinced that all they need is more faith. How can Randi *not* be angry, frustrated, and - yes - hectoring toward the charlatans who steal and lie and kill, and even against those who facilitate them by saying that they don't really 'hurt' anyone, so what is the problem? These uncritical followers provide them the necessary media attention to perform more and more damage to the human race as a whole.
So if Randi is no saint or angel, it is equally true that a saint or angel is not what is required. What is needed is a man wielding the sledgehammers of logic and stage-magic, and Randi provides this, superbly. This book is both fascinating and entertaining to read, and definitely worth checking out even at this much later date.
~ Ana Mardoll
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