[UCP Books]: The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe

“What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? Believe it or not, it’s a hard question to answer. Michael D. Gordin’s The Pseudoscience Wars is the best single volume I have come across in my vast reading on the topic. He clearly and succinctly captures all sides of the debate, is rigorous in his research and fair to both believers and skeptics, and his narrative reconstruction of the Velikovsky affair makes for gripping reading. The Pseudoscience Wars is destined to become a classic.”

Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain

The Pseudoscience Wars
Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
by Michael D. Gordin

Publication Date: October 15, 2012 978-0-226-30442-7
UK Publication Date: October 29, 2012 $26.00/£18.50

Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision dominated the best-seller lists from the moment it was published in 1950, offering an alternative history of the Earth and humanity in which—as revealed by close readings of myth and religion—a comet swung dangerously close to Earth in 1500 BC, triggering the Biblical flood and other natural disasters and threatening all planetary life before settling into place as Venus. It sounds completely implausible, but readers ate it up—and in The Pseudoscience Wars, Michael Gordin uses Velikovsky’s work and its public (and scientific) reception to open a wide-ranging inquiry into just what science is and isn’t, and how we draw the line between legitimate inquiry and pseudoscience. He recounts Velikovsky’s life and career—including his rise in the ’60s as a countercultural icon and his heated public battles with Carl Sagan in the ’70s—and offers glimpses of other fringe doctrines and their adherents, including creationism, Lysenkoism, and parapsychology. And he shows how the scientific community’s outrage over Velikovsky’s success reveals the largely unexamined difficulties we face when we try to separate real and fake, science and pseudoscience.

The Pseudoscience Wars is simultaneously a fascinating history of a midcentury pop culture phenomenon and a fiercely intelligent analysis of an issue that remains crucial in our day.

Michael D. Gordin is professor of history at Princeton University and the author of a number of books, including Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly.

Please contact Levi Stahl at (773) 702-0289 or lstahl@press.uchicago.edu for more information.


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