What We Are Reading Today: The Knowledge Illusion

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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: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

How Iceland Changed the World takes readers on a tour of history, showing them how Iceland played a pivotal role in events as diverse as the French Revolution and the Moon Landing. 

It is an in-depth, informative, and fascinating chronicle of Iceland’s mostly unknown contributions to the world.

“Again and again, one humble nation has found itself at the frontline of historic events, shaping the world as we know it. How Iceland Changed the World paints a lively picture of just how it all happened,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

Author Egill Bjarnason is an Icelandic journalist, based in Reykjavík.

As a Fulbright Foreign Student grantee, he earned a master’s degree in social documentation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in photography and statistics for two years.

Bjarnason “places Iceland at the center of everything, and his narrative not only entertains but enlightens, uncovering unexpected connections,” said Andri Magnason, author of On Time and Water, in a recent review.

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

Updated 14 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

In Extra Life, Steven Johnson, a writer of popular books on science and technology, tells the stories behind what he calls, in an understatement, “one of the greatest achievements in the history of our species.” 

As in his previous books Where Good Ideas Come From and How We Got to Now, Johnson argues convincingly that critical changes occur not from the endeavors of lone geniuses but from a network of researchers, activists, reformers, publicists, producers, and marketers.

Human interest aside, Extra Life is an important book, said a review in The New York Times. 

Johnson “shakes us out of our damnable ingratitude and explains features of modernity that are reviled by sectors of the right and left: Government regulation, processed food, high-tech farming, big data and bureaucracies like the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. He is open about their shortcomings and dangers. But much depends on whether we see them as evils that must be abolished or as lifesavers with flaws that must be mitigated.”

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Updated 13 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. 

The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. 

The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: The epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up.

The book delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads — a historical feast for anyone interested in how the US came into being.

S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

Updated 12 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

In Blood, Sweat and Chalk, Tim Layden takes readers into the meeting rooms where football’s most significant ideas were hatched. He goes to the coaches and to the players who inspired them, and lets them tell their stories. 

The modern game of football is filled with plays and formations with names like the Counter Trey, the Wildcat, the Zone Blitz and the Cover Two. 

They have become part of the sport’s vernacular, and yet for many fans they remain just names, often confusing ones. To rectify that, Layden has drilled deep into the core of the game to reveal not only how these chalkboard X’s and O’s really work on the field, but also where they came from and who dreamed them up. 

These playbook schemes, many of them illuminated by diagrams, bear the insignia of some of the game’s great innovators, men like Vince Lombardi, Don Coryell, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy and Buddy Ryan. 

In this book, Layden provides a fascinating guide to the game, helping fans to better see the subtleties of America’s favorite sport.

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

Updated 11 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Gridiron Genius by Michael Lombard

In Gridiron Genius, former NFL general manager and three-time Super Bowl winner Michael Lombardi reveals what makes football organizations tick at the championship level. 

From personnel to practice to game-day decisions that win titles, Lombardi shares what he learned working with coaching legends Bill Walsh of the 49ers, Al Davis of the Raiders, and Bill Belichick of the Patriots, among others, during his three decades in football.

In this book, Lombardi provides the blueprint that makes a successful organization click and win — and the mistakes unsuccessful organizations make that keep them on the losing side time and again.  

He explains how the smartest leaders script everything: From an afternoon’s special-teams practice to a season’s playoff run to a decade-long organizational blueprint. From how to build a team, to how to watch a game, to understanding the essential qualities of great leaders, Gridiron Genius gives football fans the knowledge to be the smartest person in the room every Sunday.