As a culture we like to pretend that Halloween is just for children, but we all know that isn't true; adults also like to dress up as vampires, witches, goblins, ghosts, and monsters. We also like to carve pumpkins, as you can see from the picture on the left, a winning entry in a recent AAAS staff pumpkin carving contest!
What is it about Halloween that captures our imagination? The books below don't really answer that question, but we thought they would make appropriate recommendations for this time of year.
America's Neighborhood Bats: Understanding and Learning to Live in Harmony with Them, by Merlin Tuttle.
Bats are ubiquitous symbols of Halloween, but are they really scary? Merlin D. Tuttle, has devoted his life to studying bats and to educating the public about them. He founded Bat Conservation International as part of his dedication to combating misconceptions and misunderstandings about bats. Since its first publication in 1988, America's Neighborhood Bats has changed the way we look at bats by underscoring their harmless and beneficial nature. In the 2005 second revised edition, Tuttle offers bat lovers the most up-to-date facts, including a wealth of new information on bat house design and current threats to bat survival.
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan.
In this classic work, Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained. However, he does so with the understanding that both science and pseudoscience arouse a sense of wonder that the latter may actually be filling what he calls an "unrequited" passion for science among the public at large. A very good read and still relevant today as it was when first published in 1996.
Halloween, edited by Paula Guran.
Scary Halloween stories are a staple of horror writers. This collection of short fiction includes stories by masters of horror such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, and Nancy Kilpatrick. An introduction by the editor provides a concise history of Halloween's history and traditions.
Kepler's Witch, by James A. Connor.
Set against the backdrop of the witchcraft trial of his mother, this biography of Johannes Kepler reveals the surprisingly spiritual nature of Kepler's quest for scientific knowledge. An interesting aspect of this biography is the recounting of how Kepler had to participate in the defense of his seventy-year-old mother, who was jailed and tried on a charge of witchcraft,
Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there, by Richard Wiseman.
Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. He started his professional life as a magician, before graduating in Psychology from University College London and obtaining a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Edinburgh. He is known for his critical examination and frequent debunking of unusual phenomena. In this book he takes on the paranormal.
The Private Life of Spiders, by Paul Hillyard.
Spiders and their webs are iconic Halloween symbols. Authored by Paul Hillyard, former curator at the Natural History Museum in London, The Private Life of Spiders is a highly informative, visually stunning survey of spider biology, diversity, and behavior. It is a revealing glimpse into the fierce, beautiful, and sometimes weird world of spiders.
The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs, by Bruce M. Hood.
The author of The Science of Superstition and is one of the leading international authorities on child development and supernatural thinking in adults. In this book he examines the ways in which humans understand the supernatural, revealing what makes us believe in the unbelievable.
Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach.
Mary Roach's Spook is a fun read that examines the way that science has explored the afterlife through the years. She investigates contemporary research, including studies into "near death" experiences; but perhaps the most engaging chapters are those that deal with historical scientific studies of mediums and ghosts, some of which were published in reputable journals. As such, this extremely funny and irreverent book is also an exploration of how science has tackled the unknown throughout its history.
The Trial of Tempel Anneke: Records of a Witchcraft Trial in Brunswick, Germany, 1663, by Peter A. Morton.
Consisting of direct translations of trial testimony, The Trial of Tempel Anneke tells the story of a historical 17th century witchcraft trial. The accused, Tempel Anneke, emerges as a complex and controversial figure, intelligent and literate; she maintained her innocence until a confession was extracted from her by torture. This English translation provides an archival account of the twists and turns of her trial, showing how an entire community can be swept up into a witch hunt.
Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, by Michael Shermer.
Why People Believe Strange Things is dedicated to Carl Sagan, with a foreword by Stephen Jay Gould. Sherman, a science historian, is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and the director of the Skeptics Lecture Series at California Institute of Technology. In this book he explores why people find supernatural phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing, and debunks these claims using an easy-to-read, common sense approach.
16 Oct 2012 12:22 PM