Even though this book is about beliefs, it has a huge whopping load of science, especially neurology and psychology. It doesn’t address specific beliefs so much as describe how people form conjectures about the world. It talks about pattern recognition, and confirmation biases, and the common fallacies that lead people to believe things, whether it’s believing that clouds generally bring rain or believing that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Bush administration.
I got the audiobook, which Shermer reads himself. He doesn’t have a trained voice, and there are odd pauses that occasionally distract from the reading, but not enough for me to advise people to avoid this version. I would avoid it for difficult driving, however, because when Shermer was discussing why humans have a dualist view of themselves rather than a moniacal view of themselves (not sure if those are the right words) some one who thought he was above turn signals tried to come into my lane and I had to stop listening, and I never got a chance to go back and repeat that section. It’s not a terrible commute book though, because most of the subject matter isn’t heavy. For the most part, this book was a refreshing mix of facts I had heard and didn’t mind a refresher on, and facts which were either new, or presented in a new enough way that they felt new.
Shermer’s an atheist, but he is a former Christian who has a lot of sympathy for believers. He has more sympathy than you would expect, given the subject matter. He includes himself in the subset of flawed humans who believe despite evidence to the contrary, though he doesn’t admit to any of these beliefs himself.
I might have given it four stars, except that the last 40 minutes or so was very astronomy-heavy. Only one sentence seemed to tie the history of astronomical discoveries into the main theme of the book, and I found it a tenuous tie at best. Maybe for other people, this isn’t a drawback, but astronomy bores me, which is why I generally seek out books on subjects like neurology and psychology and even occasionally philosophy. Why discuss the distance of nebulas and ponder the existence of multiverses and talk about galaxy rotational speeds and spectronomy? What does this have to do with the believing brain? It felt like sushi at a pizzeria: sure, everyone else in the world seems to like sushi, but I came here for the cheese and garlic. For me the astronomy section meant a very boring half hour in an otherwise entertaining book.
I recommend this for skeptics, agnostics, athiests, and for people with friends who are really annoying and go on and on about conspiracy theories.