Americans know very little have surprising gaps in their knowledge about themselves, and know even less about the world around them. These kinds of polls and “man on the street” interviews, showing shocking ignorance of even basic facts about the world (“Can you name the Vice President?” “What is the capital of France?” “Where is the Panama Canal located?”), are at once saddening and the source of some Schadenfreude. One of the more popular shows on TV popular game shows on TV deliberately plays on the ignorance of Americans about such matters. But more seriously, one of the books that I’m reading at the moment suggests that this ignorance is the result of disinterest – and that this disinterest is a very dangerous sign of national decline. We cannot hope to engage the world around us without at least trying to understand it first.