Monday, February 6, 2012

The New York Times presents Smarter by Sunday: 52 Weekends of Essential Knowledge for the Curious Mind

By the staff of Elizabeth Publishing (and a group of academic and professional writers.)  General Editor: John W. Wright; Executive Editor: Matt Fisher

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

I liked this book.  Any book designed to increase the knowledge and information of readers is to be encouraged.  Also, The New York Times is a trusted source of information throughout the world. (As is always true with knowledge and information, facts may need to be checked but, in general, the credibility of the source does not require investigation.)

Admittedly, I did not read every one of its 550 pages.  Also, there was a great deal of information here with which I was already familiar and a great deal, too, with which I had no interest whatever.  For example, I really had no interest in a brief history of Japan, a political and cultural history of Ancient Egypt, a brief history of physics, the European novel, painting in the 19th century, ancient Rome, or mathematics.  Many of these cover subjects I took in high school or college, and I don’t need a summary/review of previous course work.

There was a great deal of information I found interesting such as “The Computer Revolution,” “The Written Word,” “The Renaissance,” “Great American Writers,” “American Popular Music,” “Philosophy: The Life of the Mind,” “Modern Thought,” “Languages of the World,” and “American Film.”  What I enjoyed as much as the review of information and ideas is how the material would make me stop and think.  I wasn’t particularly challenged as much as simply engaged.  (Whether or not I can actually make use of the knowledge/information in the writing I do is yet to be determined.)

I am not suggesting that it would not have benefitted me to have read the information on subjects that held no current interest, but as in all things in life, I simply have to devote my time to things of interest.

I found the information throughout this book well presented and clear—better, in fact, than most of my classroom teachers presented their information.  Remember, it is the editor’s objective “to present our readers with essential information on a variety of subjects that together make up the basic elements of what is commonly called a ‘well-rounded education’” (p. x).  The format of the book “is based on the 52 weekends in a calendar year.  Each weekend is centered on a single topic (‘The Universe,’ ‘Rome,’ ‘The Renaissance,’ ‘The Novel,’ ‘American Popular Music,’ etc.) . . .” (p. x).

What I found most interesting was that readers could pick and choose among topics.  One does not build on any other.  If someone were to read everything in this book, however, they would surely possess rudimentary knowledge in art, music, literature, history, religion, economics, philosophy, and science.  Because most of the readers of The New York Times live in North America, the book is overly devoted to matters that concern Western history, art, literature, and science.

This book is a “must read” for high school or college students, and I think it could be a source book (reference work?) for a capstone seminar (or workshop) on “Essential Knowledge.”  Why not make the command of knowledge/information such as this a requirement (with attendant examinations) for graduation?

The New York Times Presents Smarter by Sunday: 52 Weekends of Essential Knowledge for the Curious Mind at

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