Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries?: Discourses on Gödel, Magic Hexagrams, Little Red Riding Hood, and Other Mathematical and Pseudoscientific Topics

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
February 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Martin Gardner
Total Pages: 

For 25 of his 95 years, Martin Gardner (1914-2010) wrote 'Mathematical Games and Recreations', a monthly column for Scientific American magazine. He made significant contributions to magic, philosophy, debunking pseudoscience, and children's literature. This was a gift book.

The Amazon website for the paperback edition I was given is:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The home page has a brief review (click on ‘Read more’). This page has two other brief reviews that I recommend. One is under the title Editorial Reviews. The other, the first Top customer review by M. Skarkansky, reflects my assessment of this book. Had I looked at these reviews for this book, I know I wouldn’t have bought it. My friend sent it to me to see if I would agree with his assessment of three stars. For the reasons given by M. Skarkansky, I do agree with his critique of this book.

I had been an avid reader of Martin Gardner’s monthly columns in Scientific American when I was in junior high school through my first four years in college. While in grad school, I was too busy so I ended my subscription, renewing it only after my retirement – that is, long after he had left Scientific American.

I recommend using Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down to the page of praise, most of which reflect on Gardner’s past writings and his well-earned reputation more than on this particular book. Next comes the 2-pp list of his books as of 2004 – a few of which I had read long before beginning my website, so they don’t appear on it. Scroll to the 2-pp Contents. Here are my comments to the book’s five Parts and 31 Chapters:

Part I – Science – has five chapters and I enjoyed each one. Chapters 1 and 5 confirmed what I already knew, but Gardner’s discussion of the speculations about multiverses and time had enough humor to make them delightful to read. Chapter 4 is an especially good scientific and philosophical focus on induction. Chapters 2 and 3 gave me good critical comments about Karl Popper and Rudolf Carnap.

Part II – Mathematics – has six chapters. I was familiar with the topics of Chapters 6-10 and I enjoyed the ease with which Gardner described these topics. Chapter 11 – New Results on Magic Hexagrams – did not reveal any ‘magic’ and my interest in hexagrams had faded away when I was in college, so I didn’t get excited about the few new results of this chapter.

Part III – Religion – has four chapters. There was not much new in them, except for Oahspe, which was new to me. I did not find his commentary informative. These chapters were more a cure for insomnia than anything else for me. I can’t recommend reading Part III.

Part IV – Literature – has six chapters. Chapters 16 and 17 were somewhat interesting. Chapters 19-21 focused on stories for children. I was unaware of Gardner’s interest and writing of such stories. I had not heard of The Green Archer or the various books about Oz. At my age what Gardner had to say here about literature for children did not raise any interest in me. I can’t recommend reading Part IV.

Part V – Moonshine – has 10 chapters, most of which concern “the foolishness and cruelties of phony science” to quote from the Los Angeles Times one-sentence comment about this book. I had never known that there were so many versions of Little Red Riding Hood, but Chapter 22 only told me a bit about why. I found Chapters 24-31 to provide reasonable comments about the ‘false science’ of mediums and other psycho stuff but nothing that was new to me. Reading about the tricks and deceptions of magicians was still of interest and how a talented magician (like the Great Randi) could reveal how the fakery had been observed in some detail. But some of the topics were so obviously fakery that I found it hard to believe that so many people had been fooled. I remain a critical skeptic about any claim of science or pseudoscience. As the author describes in this lengthy Part V, it can be easy to falsify the claims of most ‘psycho stuff’ by simple observations, aided when possible by a talented magician. But I already knew about the things the author describes in Part V. So I can recommend Part V only as a good summary of often well-known deception. Being a scientific and intuitive thinker, I had heard and used critical examination of claims of scientists (who have been taught to ponder at length how to verify or, most important, falsify claims).

In spite of having a high regard for Martin Gardner’s critical work over many years on debunking false claims and teaching me new insights in science, math, and logic, I rate this book at just three stars.