Simon Winchester's book Knowing What We Know sitting on a wooden table next to a bibliography card and some notes written on index cards along with a black Mont Blanc fountain pen with gold trim.

Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic by Simon Winchester

In case some haven’t been watching, I’ll mention that Simon Winchester’s new book Knowing What We Know on knowledge to transmission was published by Harper on April 25th in North America. For zettelkasten fans, you’ll note that it has some familiar references and suggested readings including by our friends Markus Krajewski, Ann Blair, Iaian McGilchrist, Alex Wright, Anthony Grafton, Dennis Duncan, and Mortimer J. Adler to name but a few.

Many are certain to know his award winning 1998 book The Professor and the Madman which was also transformed into the eponymous 2019 film starring Sean Penn. Though he didn’t use the German word zettelkasten in the book, he tells the story of philologist James Murray’s late 1800s collaborative 6 million+ slip box collection of words and sentences which when edited into a text is better known today as the Oxford English Dictionary.

If you need some additional motivation to check out his book, I’ll use the fact that Winchester, as a writer, is one of the most talented non-linear storytellers I’ve ever come across, something which many who focus on zettelkasten output may have a keen interest in studying.

Book club anyone? (I’m sort of hoping that Dan Allosso’s group will pick it up as one of their next books after Donut Economics, but I’m game to read it with others before then.)

Book released on 4/25/2023; Book acquired on 4/26/2023

Published by

Chris Aldrich

I'm a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, IndieWeb, theoretical mathematics, and big history. I'm also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.

15 thoughts on “Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic by Simon Winchester”

  1. For info, Winchester’s ‘The Professor and the Madman’ is entitled ‘The Surgeon of Crowthorne’ in the U.K.

  2. It sounds as if this book might come in useful if ever I get to my next major project (after the current one), so I’ve just ordered a copy. Would be more than happy to do some sort of bookclub.

  3. Mark Wilson says:

    I’d like to join any book clubs. Book acquired.

  4. Muhammed Ali Kilic says:

    I am down to join the bookclub (before Dan even finishes his bookclub) (Since this aligns with my research interests!)


  • 💬 Book review: ‘Knowing What We Know’ by Simon Winchester

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