What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain
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Updated 14 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Elephant in the Brain

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: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger
Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

What We Are Reading Today: Freedom by Sebastian Junger

In his past work, Sebastian Junger has focused on the experience of US troops, embedding with a platoon in Afghanistan and exploring post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans. 

His new book follows Junger and his companions — including a photographer and two Afghan War vets — as they walk along US East Coast railroads, relying on one another for survival and comfort. 

Moving between travelogue, history, nature writing, observation and philosophy, Freedom raises essential human questions in new frames. As Junger writes about the meanings of freedom and community, he occasionally swerves into boxing strategy, labor history and primatology.

“As we journey with Junger along the railways and riverways of Pennsylvania we delve into the idea and ideal of freedom and what it means to each of us,” said a review in goodreads.com.

“This little powerhouse of a book is at once a relaxing, meditative walk along the tracks while also providing a starting point for great, in depth conversations on what it means to be free.” Junger is also the author of non-fiction books such as War and The Perfect Storm.


What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason
Updated 15 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

What We Are Reading Today: How Iceland Changed the World by Egill Bjarnason

How Iceland Changed the World takes readers on a tour of history, showing them how Iceland played a pivotal role in events as diverse as the French Revolution and the Moon Landing. 

It is an in-depth, informative, and fascinating chronicle of Iceland’s mostly unknown contributions to the world.

“Again and again, one humble nation has found itself at the frontline of historic events, shaping the world as we know it. How Iceland Changed the World paints a lively picture of just how it all happened,” said a review on goodreads.com. 

Author Egill Bjarnason is an Icelandic journalist, based in Reykjavík.

As a Fulbright Foreign Student grantee, he earned a master’s degree in social documentation at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he also worked as a teaching assistant in photography and statistics for two years.

Bjarnason “places Iceland at the center of everything, and his narrative not only entertains but enlightens, uncovering unexpected connections,” said Andri Magnason, author of On Time and Water, in a recent review.


What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson
Updated 14 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

What We Are Reading Today: Extra Life by Steven Johnson

In Extra Life, Steven Johnson, a writer of popular books on science and technology, tells the stories behind what he calls, in an understatement, “one of the greatest achievements in the history of our species.” 

As in his previous books Where Good Ideas Come From and How We Got to Now, Johnson argues convincingly that critical changes occur not from the endeavors of lone geniuses but from a network of researchers, activists, reformers, publicists, producers, and marketers.

Human interest aside, Extra Life is an important book, said a review in The New York Times. 

Johnson “shakes us out of our damnable ingratitude and explains features of modernity that are reviled by sectors of the right and left: Government regulation, processed food, high-tech farming, big data and bureaucracies like the US Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. He is open about their shortcomings and dangers. But much depends on whether we see them as evils that must be abolished or as lifesavers with flaws that must be mitigated.”


What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
Updated 13 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. 

The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. 

The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: The epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up.

The book delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads — a historical feast for anyone interested in how the US came into being.

S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.


What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden
Updated 12 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

What We Are Reading Today: Blood, Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden

In Blood, Sweat and Chalk, Tim Layden takes readers into the meeting rooms where football’s most significant ideas were hatched. He goes to the coaches and to the players who inspired them, and lets them tell their stories. 

The modern game of football is filled with plays and formations with names like the Counter Trey, the Wildcat, the Zone Blitz and the Cover Two. 

They have become part of the sport’s vernacular, and yet for many fans they remain just names, often confusing ones. To rectify that, Layden has drilled deep into the core of the game to reveal not only how these chalkboard X’s and O’s really work on the field, but also where they came from and who dreamed them up. 

These playbook schemes, many of them illuminated by diagrams, bear the insignia of some of the game’s great innovators, men like Vince Lombardi, Don Coryell, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh, Tony Dungy and Buddy Ryan. 

In this book, Layden provides a fascinating guide to the game, helping fans to better see the subtleties of America’s favorite sport.