Knowing What We Know: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic

Book review by Deane Barker tags: epistimology, libraries

This is a “meditation” book. It’s not an exhaustive look at any subject, but rather it’s a meandering tour of some of the things we have to consider when examine something.

And what’s we’re examining here is big: how do we know things, and how to we transmit that knowledge? It’s basically discussing all of epistemology.

Here’s a list of some of the subjects, in rough order:

  • How do we teach knowledge to children?
  • How do we gather knowledge in libraries and other repositories?
  • How do we publish news and other time-sensitive information?
  • How is information manipulated to deceive?
  • How have computers and automation affected how we know things?

I read this at the same time I read Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, and the two books are similar but different. They’re both distant looks at a subject, but this one strives to be more all-encompassing. It tries to wrap its arms around knowledge – to “bookend” it. Whereas Grunt was just a playful dive into specific, interesting topics.

Also, the writer is an older English man, and – frankly – he sounds like it. He’s a little dry. (Although there are some very interesting observations about misinformation based on his personal experience as a journalist on the ground during Bloody Sunday).

The chapters are interesting – all very long, but divided into clear, numbered sections which effectively become “subchapters.” I often stopped in the middle of a chapter, at one of these subchapter markings, which is something I’m loathe to do (I have to complete a chapter in a sitting, for whatever reason).

A good book. Never boring. But, like most books of this type, it’s tough to come away with specific knowledge (ha!) that you can retain and put to practical use.

Book Info

Simon Winchester
432

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