After reading a few of Mary Roach’s books, I figured Elephants on Acid would be a similarly quirky look at the scientific community. Alex Boese is no Mary Roach. While Roach can balance her irreverent wit against sometimes sad subject material, Boese handles tragedy with the deftness of Dane Cook’s badly constructed and horrendously ill timed Aurora shooting “joke”.
The first chapter in Elephants on Acid is the most gruesome. This introduction to Boese’s sense of humor may leave you nauseous. Unfortunately, he can’t be blamed with the subject matter, so with it’s presentation. This chapter deals with Frankenstein like experiments committed in the name of science, none for the feint of heart. Oh, and there are pictures. I don’t want to advocate burying heads into the sand and ignoring awful and terrible things in the world, but when I sit down to read a book and weird science, I general don’t expect to see a decapitated dog’s head within a few pages of opening the book.
As for the titular Elephants on Acid, the first elephant died. While Boese capers around yelling, “Ha Ha! Those stoopid scientists killed an elephant, What a trip. GET IT?!?!?!”, I’m left feeling like the Debbie Downer because all I can focus on is the fact that an endangered species just died on the whim of an idiot. There’s schadenfreude and then there’s being an asshole.
I wouldn’t be nearly as critical of the book if Boese had made any type of critical analysis of experiments he reported; for him, his effort was extended on thinking up crafty one-liners that would even make Horatio Caine shake his head in disgust. Furthermore, having read of some of these experiments in college, specifically the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, I also suspect Boese to be guilty of lackadaisical research. Several of the details mentioned by Boese in regards to the Prison Experiment are false, if the documentary (that I’ve probably seen eight times) is any indication. He also focused too heavily on the shock and awe factor of these experiments and not the impact they had on science and the world at large. Did you know that the “prisoner” that had to be released early from the experiment was so deeply effected by it that he went on to work with real prisoners with mental health issues? Or that Zimbardo then went on to do groundbreaking work on shyness, the exact opposite of authority? Basically, if you want to read something for the sheer point and laugh value, stick to Cracked.com articles. They are better researched and better written.