The free world is being destroyed at least in part due to an inability to think clearly or well. If Dr. Ransom—the fictional author of Doug and Nathan Wilson's new book on logical fallacies—is to be believed, this inability is the result of a bunch of delightful but deadly creatures with huge eyes and sharp claws bent on distorting human reason and creating general intellectual mayhem.
The Amazing Dr. Ransom's Bestiary of Adorable Fallacies: A Field Guide for Clear Thinkers is the handbook you need to navigate a safe course through this destructive fauna. The Wilsons devote a brief chapter to each of 40 well-known traditional fallacies grouped as though by natural kingdom: Fallacies of Distraction, Fallacies of Ambiguity, and Fallacies of Form. A fourth section covers ten "Millennial Fallacies" that may be new in a book like this but are instantly recognizable in today's cultural milieu.
Each fallacy is explained two ways—once in terms of Dr. Ransom's fantastical naturalistic endeavors, and once in terms of the actual logical fallacy under consideration. The authors avoid a lot of terminology (other than the actual names of the fallacies), but they provide enough examples for readers to know exactly what they're talking about.
There's also a concise non-humorous definition of each fallacy, a list of its alternate names, and discussion questions and exercises at the end of every chapter (with a short answer key in the back of the book). A suggested schedule offers a timeline for completing this as a school course in one year, and quizzes can be downloaded for free from the publisher's website, as well as two cheat sheets showing some basic examples of fallacies used on behalf of abortion and gay rights.
Several black and white ink drawings appear throughout (on average, two per chapter), giving form to the cuddly but carnivorous creatures cataloged for clear cogitators. (There's also a lot of alliteration.) And there's the Wilsons' trademark witty remarks and sly humor, presented mostly in the form of the aged but still spry Dr. Ransom's remarks about the society he finds himself in. Readers learn at the outset that Dr. Ransom is about 200 years old, and his Victorian English sensibilities are constantly contrasted to those of the current zeitgeist.
Unlike Doug Wilson's previous work in logic, this book is entirely whimsical and not very rigorous. Which makes it perfect for a contemporary audience: while readers will learn much about logical fallacies and how to avoid them, they'll also be entertained and won't think that they're being force-fed a bunch of irrelevant nerdy information. For those already familiar with logical fallacies, this can be a fun romp with plenty of inside jokes and references that will cause thee yea and verily to geeketh out.
At the same time, those who just want to learn about fallacies and don't want a bunch of silliness thrown in are bound to be frustrated by this book. The Wilsons (a father and son) are clearly a little intoxicated by their own cleverness here, and sometimes the jokes just seem piled on because they can be. Even newcomers may want them to get to the point a little more frequently, but it's also possible for the most part to just skip the first page or so of each chapter and read the descriptions and examples.
By far the best part of the book is the fourth section, on "Millennial fallacies." The Wilsons identify and give name to several types of arguments (or lack thereof) that we hear all the time and know are wrong but can't quite classify. Anyone who's spent any time debating anything online ever, or even simply reading such debates, will be in for a good laugh and a sigh of recognition as they read these fallacies, which include "Milquetoastery" and the rage-inducing "Sensitivity Shamming."
This is probably best for middle school or early high school students still awaiting introduction to the tenets of logic. Even if you don't plan on teaching logic as a formal discipline, your kids need to learn how to think clearly and defend their beliefs against the attacks any rational idea must constantly undergo in today's hostile environment. That's a pretty sobering task—why not make it a little fun?
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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