What We Are Reading Today: Promoting Peace with Information by Dan Lindley

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Updated 28 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Promoting Peace with Information by Dan Lindley

It is normally assumed that international security regimes such as the UN can reduce the risk of war by increasing transparency among adversarial nations. 

The more adversaries understand each other’s intentions and capabilities, the thinking goes, the less likely they are to be led to war by miscalculations and unwarranted fears. But how is transparency provided, how does it actually work, and how effective is it in preserving or restoring peace? 

In Promoting Peace with Information, Dan Lindley provides the first scholarly answer to these important questions, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Lindley rigorously examines a wide range of cases, including UN peacekeeping operations in Cyprus, the Golan Heights, Namibia, and Cambodia; arms-control agreements, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and the historical example of the Concert of Europe, which sought to keep the peace following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. 

Making nuanced arguments based on extensive use of primary sources, interviews, and field research, Lindley shows when transparency succeeds in promoting peace, and when it fails.


What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

Updated 14 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

Edited by Kevin Simler & Robin Hanson

In “The Elephant in the Brain,” Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson argue that human beings are primates that are political animals. Our brains, therefore, are designed not just to hunt and gather, but also to help us get ahead socially, often via deception and self-deception. 

But while we may be self-interested schemers, we benefit by pretending otherwise. The less we know about our ugly motives, the better — and thus we don’t like to talk or even think about our selfishness. This is “the elephant in the brain.” 

Such an introspective taboo makes it hard for us to think clearly about our nature and the explanations for our behavior. This book confronts our hidden motives directly and tracks down the darker, unexamined corners of our psyches and blast them with floodlights.

Our unconscious motives drive more than just our private behavior; they also infect our venerated social institutions. You won’t see yourself — or the world — the same after confronting the elephant in the brain.


What We Are Reading Today: The Knowledge Illusion

Updated 13 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Knowledge Illusion

Edited by Steven Sloman & Philip Fernbach

In “The Knowledge Illusion,” cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that we survive and thrive despite our mental shortcomings because we live in a rich community of knowledge. The key to our intelligence lies in things around us. We’re constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads.

The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic. We have mastered fire, created democratic institutions, stood on the moon, and sequenced our genome. 

And yet each of us is error prone, sometimes irrational, and often ignorant. The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individually oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things. 

This book contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us.


What We Are Reading Today: High Conflict by Amanda Ripley

Updated 12 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: High Conflict by Amanda Ripley

New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Amanda Ripley investigates how good people get captured by high conflict — and how they break free.

The concept of high conflict is portrayed in a well-researched and relatable manner.  Ripley “is an eloquent writer and her organization of ideas and stories is brilliant,” a critic commented in goodreads.com.

Yascha Mounk said in a review for The New York Times: “In High Conflict, Ripley tells the harrowing tales of people who got drawn into fights that consume their lives and make them capable of committing terrible injustices, from a gang leader on the South Side of Chicago to a guerrilla fighter in the Colombian jungle.” 

Mounk added: But with a scrupulous eye for scientific evidence that is rare in a book this entertaining, Ripley also explains how it is possible for hardened combatants to leave behind the conflicts that once defined the core of their identity.”

Conflict, Ripley argues, can be productive. 

“It is often good for people who disagree to state their differences and advocate for their own interests,” said the review.


What We Are Reading Today: The Hospital by Brian Alexander

Updated 11 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Hospital by Brian Alexander

The Hospital by Brian Alexander is an eye opening account of America’s healthcare system as it plays out in a community hospital in Bryan, Ohio.

“It brings to life the fact that America’s healthcare system is in trouble and until we begin to address the root causes of this healthcare crisis, things will never change. Alexander gave a face to this issue by introducing us to people who are struggling right now,” said a review in goodreads.com. 

Alexander “has given us an unflinching, uncomfortable look at our healthcare system and challenges us to face the obvious: So many people in our country suffer from poor health and the role that we allow poverty to play in that neglect is costly,” said the review.

“The narratives of the Bryan residents and patients that are woven throughout the text are heartfelt and often tragic. Some die, some suffer needlessly, some recover. But it always seems to come down to systemic poverty,” the review added. 

“This is an excellent account of what it takes to keep a smaller hospital in business.”


What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

Updated 09 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

A World on the Wing is a fascinating read, full of facts, maps and statistics about migratory birds and the effect that human-caused climate change is having on their various habitats around the world.
It’s a long book, but it’s packed with information and truly globe-trotting.
“Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork, in A World on the Wing Weidensaul unveils with dazzling prose the miracle of nature taking place over our heads,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Author Scott Weidensaul “tasks himself with communicating to both the knowing birder and the layman the epic scale of what’s happening in our skies every year, the whys and hows, while offering rays of hope through the gloomy storm clouds,” said Christian Cooper in a review for The New York Times.
“The success of A World on the Wing in navigating that challenge rivals the astonishing feats of the birds he chronicles,” said Cooper.
“A World on the Wing finds some of its most moving moments early on, when he charts the development of his own interest in birds.”