What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

Short Url
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: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

Updated 14 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

After the Fall is an excellently written book that is equally alarming and comforting in its diagnosis regarding the nationalist direction that both America and the world at large has taken in recent years.

From 2009 to 2017, author Ben Rhodes served as deputy national security adviser to former US President Barack Obama, overseeing the administration’s national security communications, speechwriting, public diplomacy, and global engagement programming. 

His book was a “fascinating look into America in context with the rest of the world (specifically in comparison to Hungary, Hong Kong and Russia),” said a review on goodreads.com. 

“It’s an inquiry into the rise of authoritarianism, with a lot of introspection into what has changed in the US, and what has not,” said the review. 

In the book’s most appealing passages, Rhodes “sits down with people very much like himself, chastened idealists who have come to know the world as it is but refuse to conform to its demands,” said a review in The New York Times.

Prior to joining the administration, Rhodes was a senior speechwriter and foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign from 2007 to 2008.

Related


What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

Updated 11 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Life on the Line by Emma Goldberg

In her new book, Life on the Line, New York Times journalist Emma Goldberg focuses on six young doctors during the COVID-19 surge in New York City last spring.
Woven together from in-depth interviews with the doctors, their notes, and Goldberg’s own extensive reporting, this page-turning narrative is an unforgettable depiction of a crisis unfolding in real time and a timeless and unique chronicle of the rite of passage of young doctors.
In this powerful book, Goldberg offers an up-close portrait of six bright yet inexperienced health professionals, each of whom defies a stereotype about who gets to don a doctor’s wArab Newshite coat.
Goldberg illuminates how the pandemic redefines what it means for them to undergo this trial by fire as caregivers, colleagues, classmates, friends, romantic partners and concerned family members.
This is a raw and emotional depiction of young professionals thrust into the middle of a crisis.
As the surge of cases “hit New York hospitals like a tsunami” in March and April 2020, some medical schools graduated fourth year students early so they could work at understaffed hospitals.


What We Are Reading Today: Blood and Treasure

Updated 09 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood and Treasure

Edited by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s Blood and Treasure is a fast-paced and fiery narrative which chronicles the explosive saga of the legendary figure Daniel Boone and the bloody struggle for America’s frontier.

It is the mid-eighteenth century, and in the 13 colonies founded by Great Britain, anxious colonists desperate to conquer and settle North America’s “First Frontier” beyond the Appalachian Mountains commence a series of bloody battles. These violent conflicts are waged against the Native American tribes whose lands they covet, the French, and finally against the mother country itself in an American Revolution destined to reverberate around the world.

This is the setting of Blood and Treasure, and the guide to this epic narrative is America’s first and arguably greatest pathfinder, Daniel Boone — not the coonskin cap-wearing caricature of popular culture but the flesh-and-blood frontiersman and Revolutionary War hero whose explorations into the forested frontier beyond the great mountains would become the stuff of legend.


What We Are Reading Today: Valcour by Jack Kelly

Updated 09 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Valcour by Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly’s Valcour is a wild and suspenseful story of one of the most crucial and least known campaigns of the Revolutionary War when America’s scrappy navy took on the full might of Britain’s sea power.

During the summer of 1776, a British incursion from Canada loomed. In response, citizen soldiers of the newly independent nation mounted a heroic defense. Patriots constructed a small fleet of gunboats on Lake Champlain in northern New York and confronted the Royal Navy in a desperate three-day battle near Valcour Island. 

Their effort surprised the arrogant British and forced the enemy to call off their invasion.

Valcour is a story of people. 

The northern campaign of 1776 was led by the underrated general Philip Schuyler (Hamilton’s father-in-law), the ambitious former British officer Horatio Gates, and the notorious Benedict Arnold. An experienced sea captain, Arnold devised a brilliant strategy that confounded his slow-witted opponents.


What We Are Reading Today: Unraveled by Maxine Bedat

Updated 08 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Unraveled by Maxine Bedat

In Unraveled, Maxine Bedat chronicles the birth — and death — of a pair of jeans, and exposes the fractures in our global supply chains, and our relationships to each other, ourselves, and the planet.

Take a look at your favorite pair of jeans. Maybe the tag says Made in Bangladesh or Made in Sri Lanka. But do you know where they really came from, how many thousands of miles they crossed, or the number of hands who picked, spun, wove, dyed, packaged, shipped, and sold them to get to you? The fashion industry operates with radical opacity, and it’s only getting worse to disguise countless environmental and labor abuses. It epitomizes the ravages inherent in the global economy, and all in the name of ensuring that we keep buying more.

Told with piercing insight and unprecedented reporting, Unraveled challenges us to use our relationship with our jeans — and all that we wear — to reclaim our central role as citizens to refashion a society in which all people can thrive and preserve the planet for generations to come.