HEAD IN THE CLOUD by William Poundstone

HEAD IN THE CLOUD

Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The story of the dumbing-down of the American brain, as we have all become increasingly dependent on letting our computers think for us.

This breezy, pop-research overview of the decline of basic knowledge in the age of information overdrive could provide plenty of nuggets for journalists and hand-wringers over how many more millennials are familiar with the Kardashians than Descartes and can’t name a single South American novelist or locate most African countries on a map. So what? Whatever we need to know, we can Google, right? While Poundstone (Rock Breaks Scissors: A Practical Guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody, 2014, etc.) is careful not to confuse correlation with causation, he suggests that, where general knowledge is concerned, “high scores correlate with high income, good health, and sometimes other positive attributes” (including happiness, in some studies). In a voting democracy, it’s sad to note that little more than a third of Americans can name the three branches of government and that some of those with the strongest reservations about immigration, global warming, or evolution are among the least knowledgeable in general. However, Poundstone’s primary tone is less alarmist than amusing, since it’s clear that he’s including all of us among those who could stand to know more than we do. As he heads one section, “True or False: You and Everyone You Know Are Idiots.” Some of the author’s ways of determining knowledge or lack thereof can seem, as he describes some of his results, “arbitrary and puzzling.” For example, one chapter seems to equate knowledge with recognizing historical portraits and says that it’s quite possible that those who don’t recognize a photo of Bach (“about half of the American public”) might well be familiar with his music. (Though perhaps it's more remarkable that even half of Americans surveyed recognize a photo of Bach.)

The book reads like an extended game of Trivial Pursuit, featuring some who play very well and many more who play very poorly.

Pub Date: July 19th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-316-25654-4
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2016




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