Ignorance: Everything You Need To Know About Not Knowing by Robert Graef (book review)

Should I say that Robert Graef’s book, ‘Ignorance: Everything You Need To Know About Not Knowing’ is targeted at an American audience? Of course, it is. However, the subject matter applies world-wide and everyone benefits from it. If nothing else, it will make you think and remind you that ignorance isn’t bliss. Knowledge is power and without it, well, you get the picture.

Graef explores the knowledge of mindsets and how Americans don’t necessarily see how other types work. I think I would add to that this is more to do what is ingrained at local level. If you don’t see anything else, you assume everywhere else is the same. The discovery that it isn’t does change your perspective. We literally all live in pocket universes.

Don’t confuse ignorance with stupidity. As Graef points out, stupidity is a lacking in brain power, ignorance simply doesn’t have the information to know the difference. Ergo, you can be bright and ignorant, just that you’re not doing anything about it.

I was surprised to see Science Fiction mentioned so early in this book, especially as I wasn’t expecting it. After all, a lot of the reasons why I include non-fiction in the SFCrowsnest remit is the seeking of knowledge. It’s the geekiness we all share. At least, I hope it is. Graef confirms that by being the way we are is what makes us speculative thinkers and we take thinking outside of the box as a matter of course. By his definition, we’re doing the right thing. I would add that you should always be prepared to keep learning and not get stuck in one area of knowledge. More is better.

As you might have spotted a long time ago that I’m not afraid to question everything, including myself. According to Graef, this type of behaviour is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, although people invariably over-estimate themselves. I don’t think I’m quite there yet as I tend to under-estimate myself. In the UK, what he describes we call ‘The Peter Principle’ where people rise through the job ranks to a height above their talent to cope. Mind you, in the UK, it was often used to remove the incompetent off the work floor although quite why turning them into incompetent bosses does seem counter-productive.

There are large sections of this book where you come away feeling angry and occasionally cheer. The best example here is where the three main publishers of educational books refused to remove text to please Texans so it would match their world view.

Oddly, Graef doesn’t mention the current President but if you thought that there the drop in standards only happened in his time, think again. The first act happened in 1994 when Newt Gingrich removed the Office of Technological Assistance which kept Congress up to date with scientific and technological issues and reduced the USA’s ability to be globally competitive. I expect those of you who buy this book to get increasingly angry from this point. I mean, if you don’t know anything about a subject then at least have some consultants there who will give good advice is sensible. Removing them so they won’t show your own ignorance is well…you know what I mean. Then again, political parties don’t always like smart politicians because they are harder to manipulate. I wonder if they’re regretting that now?

Seeing the statistics that over 40% of the American population under the age of 44 hasn’t read a book in over a year is rather worrying. I hope the statistics precluded geeks or you people across the pond are having some serious problems stimulating their imaginations. Logistically, I hope that was a cross-section of the general public. You can’t get it all from films. Add to that the statistic that 47% of US Conservatives get their news exclusively from Fox News, then you have to wonder how easy it is to be manipulated to a certain way of thinking when you people over there don’t have a Right To Reply Law like we have in the UK.

Gods, I’m getting angry over just reading about the dropping in American education standards and how pupils aren’t interested in their subjects and here I thought that only happened in the TV media shows. None of which is helped by the reduction of mandatory courses. The conclusion I agree totally with Graef about is that the curriculum should not be dictated by politicians. The teachers say it takes too long to change things over and then another set of dictates come along. There is a good sign. Educational books are now being redirected to South Africa in all formats so I expect their grades will soar.

Don’t think Graef is continually critical as he does give pointers like pupils must be encouraged to question what they are told so they think about their subjects. The only worry about that is whether teachers will give that much time when they have so many SATS to get their students through all the time. Likewise, not all students want or be capable of going through the route, especially if only a few dominate discussions. Been there, got the red card when I was young.

Graef also explores examples of how a population can be manipulated away from the truth by being told a lie enough times. It’s hardly surprising that he points out how Hitler used to do that. Here, he uses genetically modified food but it could be any subject. From my perspective, it’s a very subtle brainwashing technique in persuasion often helped along if you’re unsure in the first place. Once the element of doubt is raised and sticks, it’ll take a lot of counter-persuasion to reassess that stance. Although Graef doesn’t raise it, I do have to wonder how long President Trump’s rants on ‘fake news’ will sink into the American psyche and not be swayed.

As you can tell from the length and my reactions in this review, that this is an important book for you to read and digest. It’s just a shame that the people this book should be read by are the ones less likely to pick it up or worse, not realise its being addressed at them. Remember that 40% under 40 who don’t read books.

I’ll end with his quote from a Puget Sound school board meeting sign: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’ Knowledge and learning is power, folks. Highly recommended,

GF Willmetts

December 2017

(pub: Prometheus Books. 325 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US), $19.00 (CAN). £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63388-321-5. Ebook: Price: $11.99 (US), $13.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-322-2)

check out website:


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.