When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish And Other Speculations About This and That

Martin Gardner

Hill and Wang

0374532419

9780374532413

Trade Paperback

256 Pages

$18.00

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As the longtime writer of the Mathematical Games column for Scientific American, Martin Gardner has concentrated decades on debunking what he has dubbed “fads and fallacies in the name of science.”

In his collection of essays, Gardner takes aim at a gallery of targets, ranging from Ann Coulter’s qualifications as an evolutionary biologist to the logical fallacies of precognition and extrasensory perception, from Santa Claus to The Wizard of Oz, from mutilated chessboards to the book's eponymous poem on evolution by Langdon Smith. The writings assembled here fall naturally into seven broad categories: Science, Bogus Science, Mathematics, Logic, Literature, Religion and Philosophy, and Politics. Under each heading, Gardner displays a level of erudition infused with a witty sense of humor.

REVIEWS

Praise for When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish

“From Ann Coulter to the Anthropic Principle, Martin Gardner is a magician’s magician, opening our minds to the crazy world around us. These essays are fun to read, and have deep roots and pointers to follow if you want to know more.”—Persi Diaconis, Stanford University

"If you're already addicted to Martin Gardner's plain prose, gentle, reasonable voice, exhaustive research and relentless logic, you will want to add this book to your collection . . . While [he] has always called himself 'strictly a journalist,' he should really be honored as one of this country's greatest cultural treasures."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Both Mr. Gardner’s insight and his prose continue to sparkle . . . The book is divided into seven sections: Science; Bogus Science; Mathematics; Logic; Literature; Religions; and a very short one on Politics, all of which contain a virtual groaning board of food for thought, especially on a cold winter’s day. Readers will find themselves contemplating some subjects not tackled since college bull sessions . . . Whether or not a particular topic is to your liking, you will still find much to enjoy in the way Mr. Gardner expresses his ideas."—John Greenya, The Washington Times
"Smart, witty essays on science and culture."—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
"When you figure out the answer [to one of Gardner's puzzles], you know you've found something that is indisputably true anywhere, anytime. For a brief moment, the universe makes perfect sense."—John Tierney, The New York Times
"When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish combines many of the most salient elements of Gardner’s impressive literary legacy, from the sinking of the Titanic to the Fibonacci Sequence, from Isaac Newton to Barack Obama . . . [These essays] all reflect an exhaustive devotion to logic, a relentless and profound curiosity, and an unabashed love of reason that comes through in  prose that sparkles in its pointed simplicity and forcefulness. The book includes columns on logic and mathematics, scalding and astute articles that bash what Gardner calls 'bogus science' (see 'Why I Am Not a Paranormalist,' and 'Was the Sinking of the Titanic Foretold?'), and poignant introductions to children’s writer L. Frank Baum’s classics The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Particularly entertaining are the clever and occasionally caustic denunciations of politically conservative religious fundamentalists, thinly veiled as book reviews and magazine articles . . . Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is one from which the book gets its title. 'When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish' details Gardner’s quest to learn more about the life of mysterious poet-journalist Langdon Smith, whose only known poem, 'Evolution' he considers to be a forgotten classic, and worthy of a full reprinting within the text. The poem’s catchy yet masterfully meaningful stanzas ('When you were a tadpole and I was a fish/ In the Paleozoic time,/ and side by side on the ebbing tide/ We sprawled through the ooze and slime') represent a billion-year-old love affair with life and its ever-changing reincarnations . . . A more than worthwhile introduction to one of the most underappreciated polymaths of the last 50 years."—Christopher Vola, The Brooklyn Rail

"If you're already addicted to Martin Gardner's plain prose, gentle, reasonable voice, exhaustive research and relentless logic, you will want to add this book to your collection . . . While [he] has always called himself 'strictly a journalist,' he should really be honored as one of this country's greatest cultural treasures."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

“Martin Gardner is indispensable. Here’s the perfect introduction to the range of his obsessions—from Ann Coulter to the Wizard of Oz. With Gardner, the exercise of reason and taste is always a virtuoso performance.”—William Poundstone, bestselling author of 12 books, including the forthcoming Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

“Martin Gardner keeps knocking my socks off. After all these years, I thought I knew his work inside and out, but this latest collection is full of surprises. Alongside some Gardner classics (a celebration of the Fibonacci numbers, a debunking of parapsychology) we are treated to essays on Santa Claus, the sinking of the Titanic, and a ‘one-poem poet’ who turned the evolution of life on earth into a love story.”—Brain Hayes, author of Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions

“Another provocative set of debunking essays from Mr. Gardner. Golden oldies, platinum perennials, contemporary cuties—however characterized, the pieces reveal once again the limpidity of his thought and the engagingness of his prose. Good stuff!”—John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy and Irreligion

“From Ann Coulter to the Anthropic Principle, Martin Gardner is a magician’s magician, opening our minds to the crazy world around us. These essays are fun to read, and have deep roots and pointers to follow if you want to know more.”—Persi Diaconis, Stanford University

"With more than 70 books to his credit, Gardner remains thoroughly enjoyable to read. This latest is a collection of 24 articles, book reviews and other pieces on subjects like science, bogus science, mathematics, logic, literature, religion and politics. The range demonstrates that Gardner should be well-known for more than his remarkable 'Mathematical Games' column published for 25 years in Scientific American. Gardner is a debunker who begs folks to think critically and carefully, usually doing so himself with wit and wisdom. He takes on Ann Coulter for her pronouncements on intelligent design and those who claim the sinking of the Titanic was foretold by numerous people. He is most personal in the book's longest piece, 'Why I Am Not an Atheist,' in which he explores the nature of belief. His essays on The Wizard of Oz, Santa Claus and the book's eponymous poem on evolution by Langdon Smith are of a different genre than the rest, but no less interesting . . . The collection represents Gardner at his best."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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PART ISCIENCE
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1. ANN COULTER TAKES ON DARWIN
Ann Coulter has made a fortune by writing books that viciously insult liberals, by defending her ultra-conservative views on television talk shows, and by traveling the country giving barbed lectures. A friend recently described her with one word: cobra.
I never took Ann seriously until I read her fifth book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. I wanted to find out what she had to say about evolution and intelligent design. My review of her new role as science writer first appeared in The Skeptical Inquirer
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Martin Gardner

  • Martin Gardner is the author of more than seventy books, as well as countless magazine articles and other shorter works. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.
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