Putting Out the Discards

John Grant. A Directory of Discarded Ideas. Ashgrove Press. 1988.
Two book s seem to have been combined in this work; if just one of them had been allowed to develop fully it would have been far better. As it stands, a better title would have been 'A Directory of Discarded Ideas, and Some That Were Never Picked Up in the First Place'

Some of the ideas which are examined were once the accepted world view, the scientific orthodoxy that has been discarded as man's knowledge of the universe has expanded. A book devoted to a study of these - aether, the corpuscular theory of light, Lamarckism, caloric and phlogiston - would be both interesting in its own right, and a warning against too dogmatic a view of today's scientific orthodoxy. Although many of these discarded concepts are treated here, the coverage is lightweight, and their intermingling with the 'nut' theories tends to detract from the significance of their decline from favour.

The other 'book' hidden in these pages covers the ground previously tilled by Martin Gardner in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and more recently by Sladek, Patrick Moore and Chris Evans. Grant's coverage of many of these fringe theories is more balanced and less polemical than that of some other writers, and generally avoids the dismissive flippancy which mars, for instance, Sladek's New Apocrypha. This is not to say that Grant lacks a necessary sense of the ridiculous.

The section on ufology tells us nothing we did not know before, and the author seems unaware of the 'New Ufology', and there is the statutory piece about the Aetherius Society. This said, I enjoyed the book. I found a lot that I did not know before, one or two things I'd rather I didn't know, and a great deal of enjoyment. The book concludes with a good bibliography, which has one feature I recommend to all writers: books with inadequate or non-existent indexes are publicly castigated with a star bad-rating symbol.

John Rimmer, from Magonia 9, May 1982.

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