Weekend Book Picks: The Unpersuadables

August 28, 2014

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An argument. Photo by Flickr user Dmitris Papazimouris through a Creative Commons license.
An argument. Photo by Flickr user Dmitris Papazimouris through a Creative Commons license.

Do you have that uncle with a Ph.D. in physics who believes climate change is a big hoax? And who remains unmoved by your reasonable and evidence-based arguments?

Journalist Will Storr dives deep into this realm in the  thoughtful and thought-provoking Unpersuadables, spending quality time with people who hold unscientific, strange and even repugnant beliefs.

And who can’t be persuaded otherwise, no matter how many facts you throw at them.

He talks to climate skeptics, digs fossils with a man who believes humans frolicked with dinosaurs, interviews psychologists who are convinced of vast baby-eating cult conspiracy. He even tours World War II sites with a band of Holocaust deniers.

Along the way, he shares insights on how our brain works and why people believe such strange things. Unlike Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, he doesn’t mock people who would, admittedly, be easy to mock.

Instead, he treats them with kindness and generosity. And here’s why: when Storr delves into the science, he finds that none of us are strictly rational beings.

We all write stories in our head, and we all can be prone to finding the evidence that best fits our worldviews. That includes the author, and me, and you.

That knowledge should rightly cause us to be skeptical, but it should also make us a little more generous towards those who believe differently.unpersuadables cover

In the end, Storr’s book works as a book of compelling journalism for its stories of truly unusual characters.

But it’s equally compelling as a work of science communications, reminding us that at our most evidence-based, we’re still a product of our wonderful, irrational brains.


Matt Miller

Matt Miller is a senior science writer for the Conservancy. He writes features and blogs about the conservation research being conducted by the Conservancy’s 550 scientists. He has served on the national board of directors of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, and has published widely on conservation, nature and outdoor sports. More from Matt

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