Information swirls around us at an ever-increasing pace: We listen to the news on radio or TV, we read magazines and newspapers of every stripe, we carry multiple internet sources in our pockets, and the age-old rumor mill continues to turn at unthinkable rates. But not all sources agree with each other, and it is a formidable challenge to decide whom to believe. Nuggets presented as fact may be incorrect or slanted; the fine line between opinion and truth becomes blurred. If this is confusing for adults, it is far more so for young people. How can we teach them to sort fact from fiction, persuasion from information? Mark Kurlansky puts these issues in perspective so that students can sift through the noise and begin to form their own beliefs.
In a conversational manner, Kurlansky delves into history, sociology, and related disciplines in an attempt to make order out of chaos. He reminds us of Descartes’s admonition to question everything, of Orville’s famous epigram that includes the phrase “telling the truth is a revolutionary act,” and of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Gimpel the fool who believed whatever he was told. He compares humanity to the animal world, citing animals’ deceptive behaviors — such as aggression, mimicry, and camouflage — that ensure their safety. This richly textured work also draws on the Bible, modern advertisements, politicians both ancient and modern, dictators, and, significantly, social media.
Kurlansky devotes much space to antisemitism, focusing on the Dreyfus Affair, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and genocide throughout the ages. He also discusses the uses of national myths, the period of the Cold War, and the controversy surrounding the use of Wikipedia due to its unique history and structure.
This book features humor, art, fascinating sidebars, and an overall engaging tone. It would be a tremendous asset to a classroom or library, aiding teachers and librarians in presenting important educational concepts and sparking powerful student discussions.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.