What Makes Fanatics Tick? Exploring the Psyches of People on the Fringe

By Diane Cole

July/August 2014

Review of The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science

By Will Storr
Overlook Press. 416 pp.
ISBN: 9781468308181

I began journalist Will Storr’s The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science with high expectations for learning how fringe ideas get embedded in people’s minds and why they’re so hard to displace. His interviews with a broad spectrum of fanatical men and women who’ve dedicated their lives to proving any number of antiscientific and antihistorical claims promised to be an insider’s guide to the twisted reasoning that fuels such passions. After all, Storr describes himself as a skeptic who specializes in writing about “adventures with men and women whose beliefs about the world I find strange.” In his previous book, Will Storr vs. the Supernatural, he sought to debunk ghosts and the paranormal, and now he was going to challenge unsavory types like Holocaust denier David Irving (who declares the gas chamber at the Nazi death camp Majdanek a “mock-up”) and climate-change denier Lord Christopher Monckton (who asserts that DDT is so harmless “you can eat the stuff by the tablespoon”).

My expectations were partly met—enough to keep me reading, but not enough to keep me from longing for more answers. On the plus side, Storr’s chronicle is both intriguing and informative. His attempts to engage in rational conversation with people whose…

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