We have nothing to fear but fear itself

PUBLISHED: 16:22 29 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 07 September 2010

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, Franklin D Roosevelt said more than 70 years ago and it seems truer today than ever. At least that s the conclusion of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner (Virgin, £8.99). Gardner, a columnist and

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, Franklin D Roosevelt said more than 70 years ago and it seems truer today than ever.

At least that's the conclusion of Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner (Virgin, £8.99).

Gardner, a columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, argues that statistics show we are the safest humans who ever lived.

And yet despite that we seem to worry about more and more.

Speaking to psychologists, economists and scientists, he throws light on our paranoia about everything from paedophiles and chemical contamination to suicide bombs and germs and explains why the most significant threats we face are actually the mundane risks to which we pay little attention.

It's a book which could be duller than the proverbial ditchwater but is in fact hugely readable. Gardner grabs you virtually from the first page. He explains, for example, how following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many people took to their cars in order to avoid what they perceived as the danger of flying.

As a result, in the year following September 11, more than 1,500 people died in car crashes in America - far more than might be termed 'usual' and more than half the number killed in the terrorist attacks themselves.

And, Gardner says, what killed them wasn't so much the routine causes of car accidents. It was fear of flying.

Gardner's conclusion, essentially that we should all stop worrying as there's never been a better time to be alive, is a powerful filip in these times. I can heartily recommend it (especially for those who believe every word they read in the Daily Mail).

While we're in Science Corner mode, another fascinating read can be had with Natalie Angier's The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science (Faber and Faber, £9.99), an inspiring and imaginative tour through the basics of science from astronomy to biology and beyond.

David Crozier


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