Beware of popular writers. You need to think of them as sample trays of goodies rather than the final meal of knowledge.
On the positive side they simplify. Face it, we don’t need to know all the details. A good writer will do the homework for us and summarize in a form we have time to digest. Do you remember how to divide with fractions? You inverse and multiply. I was in an experimental math class and we worked through the steps to prove that before they would let us use it. Did I really need all the theory? Only to pass the test. All I really needed to know was to inverse and multiply and I am not sure I ever used that either.
I remember the class that nailed down my desire to teach history instead of science. It was an adult ed chemistry class that was designed for people in the nursing program who did not want to take a college level class. I am not sure they could have passed it if they had. It was dumbed down to the basics but it still went too far into the weeds for me. I did not need the exciting moment when my litmus paper changed colors. I did not need to learn to calculate how many molecules there were in a certain volume. I need to know that I should not mix bleach and ammonia. I needed to know not to light a match around concentrations of oxygen. Simple is good. Most of that I already knew.
On the negative side they simplify. Yes, I know I just said that was positive but it can also be a negative too.
Sometimes the simplification is publishing deadlines. They need to get something out. No one will know the difference. So go with it. As a result a lot of nonsense gets perpetuated. The sailors with Columbus were not afraid they would sail off the edge of the earth. The American Indians were not one with nature. Only about 6,000 German Jews were hauled to death camps. That is a lot of people but most of the 6,000,000 were from places like Poland. Paul Revere did not yell, “The British are coming.” Republicans are not the party of the rich and Democrats are not the party of the poor. I recently read in a book on nuclear disaster that one of the big myths is that all life on earth would be destroyed by a nuclear war. The list goes on.
Recently I read something interesting, It was buried in Plutarch’s Lives and was in the Chapter about Numa.
“Numa is said to have built the Temple of Vesta, which was to contain the sacred fire, in a circular form, imitating thereby not the shape of the earth, but that of the entire universe, in the midst of which the Pythagoreans place the element of fire, which they call Vesta and the Unit. The earth they say is not motionless, and not in the centre of its orbit, but revolves round the central fire, occupying by no means the first or the most honourable place in the system of the universe. These ideas are said to have been entertained by Plato also in his old age; for he too thought that the earth was in a subordinate position, and that the centre of the universe was occupied by some nobler body.” Kindle Location 2163-2167, page 83 in hardback.Plutarch was born in the middle of the first century. At that time he is talking about the earth orbiting around the sun. It was 1500 years before Copernicus got in trouble for this, yet most writers never bring that up. It is amazing what we can learn if we read and keep our brains in gear.
Today’s popular writers tend to erect straw men or feed our already existing ignorance. If you give them too much credit then you are their victim.
Don’t be a victim. Read. Think. Question. Be a healthy skeptic. It will make the world a better place.
homo unius libri