Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World”: In Defense of the Pocket Protector and Slide Rule

Carl Sagan’s writing is hopelessly nerdy. It’s also pretty time-stamped -even without the rather frequent references to current events, it’s not hard to tell what part of the twentieth century the man was writing. That said, it’s not a bad read. This was my first venture into anything book-length (I’d read a few excerpts of his writing) and I’m not opposed to reading something else by him, which seems to me to be the most objective test of my personal response to any given author.

I’m not particularly scientific in my formal education, although I spent a lot of time with analogue electronics for a few years and even took some college classes in electrical engineering. I’ve always struggled with an mathematics beyond algebra, and my requisite science classes during my undergrad were mostly selected based on how little math and/or physics I would have to subject myself to. Nonetheless, I’ve followed scientific advances in a handful of areas with decent focus in the last 4 or 5 years, and I’ve tried to educate myself on the broad scientific consensus in as many fields as I can handle -I grew up in a strict Evangelical Fundamentalist environment with a decided lack of interest in all things scientific, so I feel like I’m always playing catch-up.

This is why books like Sagan’s are so interesting to me, in spite of their rather limited literary merits. Sagan is a wonderful educator and evangelist for science, and, although he can sometimes be overly pop-science and age rather badly, he can be counted on to explain complex ideas in an accessible way, with passion and educational experience. As much as I love it, not all prose need be literary and not all strings of words should need to be savored slowly. Sagan’s prose is not distractingly bad, and the amount of information he communicates is impressive.

Recommendation: Try it, unless you have a need for reading things that are in vogue, or science isn’t your bag.

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