Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human - Michael Kaplan, Ellen Kaplan ___________________________________
I won this in a GR giveaway, huzzah, huzzah!

Part of the "price" is that they'd like me to review it when I'm done. Since I've tried to review every book I read since joining GR that's a small price to pay.

It'll have to wait, however, until I'm done with Empires and Barbarians.

Bozo Sapiens isn’t bad but it isn’t very interesting. That’s not because the topics aren’t interesting, and it’s not because there aren’t factoids of intriguing information. It’s largely because it is – at best – a superficial treatment of a wide-ranging topic: Why do humans appear to be so ill suited to their environment? Their eyes – their primary sense – deceive them. Their other senses are comparatively dull. Their conscious minds are unaware of 90% of what goes on in the brain, and tendentiously edit what little is perceived. And those unconscious machinations govern some decidedly self-destructive behaviors, ranging from environmental rape to unhealthy eating habits to dysfunctional relationships.

Often I felt like I was watching one of those popular science shows (e.g., “Beakman’s World”) that pop up on cable TV. The book barrages you with a fusillade of facts with little integration – all flash and glitter and whizzing things. This would be a perfect primer if you wanted to become a real-life Cliff, the know-it-all character from “Cheers.” (To be fair to the Kaplans, most of the info derived from them has some basis in reality.)

Two examples illustrate my point. The first is the Kaplan’s treatment of the human mind’s response to complexity. Essentially, we simplify and try to establish patterns that can carry us through without conscious application. They recount the story of a Boeing aircraft that crashes because its crew – thoroughly trained and competent with the previous model – hadn’t integrated the different procedures of the newer aircraft. When an engine catches fire, they responded with the old, ingrained SOP and crash the plane.* Then we get two more anecdotes in a similar vein, and move on to a section on frames of reference.

The second example shows up in the penultimate chapter, “Fresh off the Pleistocene Bus,” where the authors discuss the basis for male-female, long-term relationships and the utility of romantic love. They imply that the difficulty of maintaining relationships rests on the conditions of modern social life: Men and women don’t need each other in the same supportive, complementary way our ancestors did. Once the period of limerence passes and romantic passions are spent, why remain together? Don’t ask me to elaborate; the Kaplans certainly don’t. The next paragraph explores overeating.

Perhaps what irritated me more than the superficial nature of the book was the writing. I’m tired of reading books aimed at an adult, general audience written at a sixth-grade level. If I wanted to read a sixth-grade science book, I’d seek out a sixth-grade science book. It’s frustrating that a book wanting to expand people’s horizons writes down to the lowest common denominator.

And one final, if minor, quibble: The “Notes” section is thorough and interested readers can mine it for further reading but it would have been nice to have a bibliography and/or a “suggested reading” section.

I’ve been swaying back and forth but can’t recommend the book, certainly not for purchase. If you’re at the library or browsing a bookstore shelf, you might kill some time leafing through its chapters or, better, mining the Notes for more focused literature.

* I can’t pass up the opportunity to insert a further example of why all life’s answers can be found in “Star Trek” – In “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” the refitted Enterprise gets caught in a wormhole with an asteroid that’s going to collide with it. Kirk orders Chekov to fire phasers, and Decker countermands the order. It turns out that the new phasers route power through the warp drive; firing them would have blown the ship up. Kirk, a master of the old Enterprise’s capabilities lacked the unconscious familiarity with the new one’s and nearly destroyed the vessel.