Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic
‘A delightful compendium of the kind of facts you immediately want to share with anyone you encounter’ New York Times
‘An ebullient, irrepressible spirit invests this book. It is erudite and sprightly’Sunday Times
From the creation of the first encyclopedia to Wikipedia, from ancient museums to modern kindergarten classes—here is award-winning writer Simon Winchester’s brilliant and all-encompassing look at how humans acquire, retain, and pass on information and data, and how technology continues to change our lives and our minds.
With the advent of the internet, any topic we want to know about is instantly available with the touch of a smartphone button. With so much knowledge at our fingertips, what is there left for our brains to do? At a time when we seem to be stripping all value from the idea of knowing things – no need for maths, no need for map reading, no need for memorisation – are we risking our ability to think? As we empty our minds, will we one day be incapable of thoughtfulness?
Addressing these questions, Simon Winchester explores how humans have attained, stored and disseminated knowledge. Examining such disciplines as education, journalism, encyclopedia creation, museum curation, photography and broadcasting, he looks at a whole range of knowledge diffusion – from the cuneiform writings of Babylon to the machine-made genius of artificial intelligence, by way of Gutenberg, Google and Wikipedia to the huge Victorian assemblage of the Mundaneum, the collection of everything ever known, currently stored in a damp basement in northern Belgium.
Studded with strange and fascinating details, Knowing What We Know is a deep dive into learning and the human mind. Throughout this fascinating tour, Winchester forces us to ponder what rational humans are becoming. What good is all this knowledge if it leads to lack of thought? What is information without wisdom? Does René Descartes’ ‘Cogito, ergo sum’—’I think, therefore I am’, the foundation for human knowledge widely accepted since the Enlightenment—still hold?
And what will the world be like if no one in it is wise?
PRAISE FOR KNOWING WHAT WE KNOW: -
”'An ebullient, irrepressible spirit invests this book. It is erudite and sprightly in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has read Winchester’s wonderful histories of the Krakatoa eruption, the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Atlantic (among others)” - Sunday Times
”'A book about transmitting knowledge by someone who has made his name by doing just that in the most erudite and entertaining way possible . . . a delightful compendium of the kind of facts you immediately want to share with anyone you encounter . . . Simon Winchester has firmly earned his place in history . . . as a promulgator of knowledge of every variety, perhaps the last of the famous explorers who crisscrossed the now-vanished British Empire and reported what they found to an astonished world” - New York Times
”'From schoolhouses in ancient Sumeria and Aboriginal 'songlines' to GPS, Wikipedia, Google and beyond, Winchester traverses the human history of information storage and transmission in a pageant of colourful, eloquent tableaux… Don’t pigeonhole Knowing What We Know as 'information science'. Rather, think of it as an intellectual autobiography: one richly stocked, ever-curious mind’s account of the multiple ways in which stored knowledge may open the road to understanding” - Financial Times
”'Winchester is a knowledge keeper for our times, and he does us all a service by writing it down” - Wall Street Journal
”'[Winchester] might be appropriately dubbed the One-Man Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge of our own era. Whatever his subject, Winchester leavens deep research and the crisp factual writing of a reporter . . . with an abundance of curious anecdotes, footnotes and digressions. His prose is always clear, but it is also invigorated with pleasingly elegant diction … Informative and entertaining throughout” - Washington Post