Knowing What We Know by Simon Winchester [8/10]

Simon Winchester is the perfect author to attempt a discursive, comprehensive, “knowledgeable” book about humanity’s history with information (distinguishing between information, knowledge, and wisdom). Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic is no dry treatise but an almost chatty, story-led tour through its subject matter. Winchester cannot write a dull sentence, so the reading experience itself is pure pleasure, and if he sometimes detours on a narrative side path just in order to yarn a fine yarn, well, the reader inevitably chuckles and travels with the flow. Fascinating sections include polymaths, encyclopaedias, libraries, paper, the Internet, AI, oral traditions … the list goes on and on. Eventually his narrative goal is to quiz whether, in our modern age of all knowledge being virtually at our fingerprints, knowledge is now useless, and if he never quite comes to a conclusion on that issue, he raises it wonderfully and provocatively. Knowing What We Know is a minor gem of broad-brush history and reportage.

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