Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate — with the best teachers — the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society. —Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World : Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), p. 357.
The Demon-Haunted World is filled with good insights about thinking and learning, and Sagan, as usual, is highly quotable. My favorite bit: “[Books] allow people long dead to talk inside our heads.” What a great description of reading, and a pithy explanation of why books matter.
Sagan’s skepticism informs his love of reading: Books “permit us to interrogate the past” — and one can imagine the conversation inside one’s head, the reader asking the author, “What do you know and how do you know it?”