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Book Review of: Bozo Sapiens

Why to Err is Human

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Review of Bozo Sapiens, by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan (Softcover, 2009)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

I found Bozo Sapiens to be engaging, informative, well-written, and occasionally humorous. It was a pleasure to read. It's also very timely material. The nation is in the midst of a stupidity epidemic that shows no signs of abating any time soon, and this epidemic appears to be driven by deliberate choices. Among other things, this book helps shed light on why those particular choices get made.

This book intrigued me, because I have a strong interest in books on human intelligence or the lack thereof. Bozo Sapiens talks about the mistakes we make and misperceptions we have, and the reasons behind them. It explained some things I have been wondering about and caused me to think about other things I hadn't previously considered.

Bozo Sapiens was also well-researched. Since it draws from the literature in areas of brain research, neurochemistry, behavioral science, evolutionary biology, and other related topics, many of its references will be familiar to a person who is reasonably well-read in these topics.

One of the key concepts this book brought to me is there are good reasons for why we get things wrong. The brain adapts and alters its perceptions of reality to fit its expectations of reality. If we can account for that, we can avoid pointless self-flagellation and get on with things. We can also understand others better by recognizing that people can see the same facts or situation differently for reasons that have nothing to do with comparative intelligence.

The authors devote a significant amount of page space to exploring how and why our illusions and delusions serve good purposes. This concept that such mechanisms are helpful is a fundamental assumption behind treating maladaptive coping behaviors with talk therapy (what used to work no longer works).

This book consists of seven chapters and an extensive notes section.

Chapter One is titled From the Logbook of the Ship of Fools. It doesn't have a single theme or thrust. Mostly, it explores some basic concepts of logic and reasoning. This includes discussions of fallacious reasoning, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, word connotations in arguments, and the scientific method.

Chapter Two is titled Idols of the Marketplace. Here, the authors say things that would make any Libertarian pause. A major point in this chapter is that the markets are not rational. Computers (which are purely rational) make choices one way and humans make them in another way. Therefore, the market on its own won't produce the best outcomes. But for the same reasons, neither will a centrally-controlled economy. This chapter is full of great stuff for fascinating dinner conversation. For example, loss aversion typically causes people to cheat themselves.

Chapter Three is titled Tinted Glasses. This chapter draws heavily on recent works (of original research) to explain why the brain sees a different version of reality than what's actually there. I like the way the authors thread things together. I've read many of the works they reference, but then I read more books in a year than 40% of Americans read in their adult lifetimes. It simply is not possible to write accurately on this topic without drawing from authoritative works.

Chapter Four is titled Off the Rails. It naturally follows the previous chapter. In this chapter, the authors look at what we do with the distorted information our brains produce from our senses. One subtitle in "Complex systems, simple mistakes." That is the territory where this chapter takes you.

Chapter Five is titled One of Us. The focus here is on kinship, group formation, belonging, and various aspects of becoming "us" as opposed to "them."

Chapter Six is titled Fresh Off the Pleistocene Bus. Subtopics include sex, marriage, and food. The authors discuss cultures, anxiety, and the tragedy of the commons. They briefly discuss why the French use a great deal of butter and sugar in their cooking, but manage to stay lean.

Chapter Seven is titled Living Right. Here, they discuss how people arrive at different views about what's right. They discuss moral axioms, national characters, altruism, and polarized politics. Quite a discussion of ethics, and not just in the human realm. One subheading is "Why the Great are Rarely the Good." The discussion that ensues helps explain the Dilbert work environment.

This book is a good one to add to your collection. It helps you understand more about what makes us human, and why we do some of the crazy things we do.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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