The Power of Stupidity

The book in English

Giancarlo Livraghi – May 2009

Is this new? Yes and no. The “news” is that today, May 25, 2009, for the first time, The Power of Stupidity is published as a book – in English. What isn’t new is that this book in Italian has been around for five years. And readers of this website know that there are several things online on this subject, in English, since its beginning.

Will this remain a tiny, scarcely known edition, bravely offered to a few very curious people by a small local publisher that has no distribution outside Italy? Or will it, somehow, find its way around the world? Time will tell – and readers will decide.


Obviously I would be happy if it had lots of readers. But if they will be only a few (as is very likely, especially at the beginning) I shall be very interested in their opinions. It will depend mostly on their appreciation if this book will find more readers (as it has been, and still is, for the Italian edition.)

Some people asked me to write it. For me, they are important. If it were only for them, it would be worth the effort. Should other people want it, how can they get it? It’s unlikely that they will find it in neighborhood shops anywhere. But they can order it from the publisher. Or from Hoepli and other online bookstores.

*   *   *

Sooner or later, this had to happen. It’s a development of what started thirteen years ago, when my first comments on the power of stupidity appeared online, in English, in 1996 – as explained in the introduction.

After several developments it became a book, in Italian, in 2004 – third edition a year ago, in May 2008.

But this isn’t just “back to the beginning”. Work on this subject is in constant evolution.

*   *   *

The Power of Stupidity isn’t a translation. I have re-written practically everything. The basic concepts are the same, but there are developments that weren’t included in the Italian book (they will be if, I wonder when, I shall work on a fourth edition.)

People who unerstand both languages, and have read both books, tell me that this one is better. I really hope so, because I have always wanted it that way. There is no end to learning. Every time I go to work on the same subject I find that something can be added, explored in greater depth or explained better.

Much to my surprise, while English is structurally shorter than Italian (and in some parts I have deliberately reduced some unnecessary length) this book ha 32 more pages. I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened – and this means that I had more things to say. (This subject is inexhaustible, but I never had any temptation to over-develop it – or to write an encyclopedia, that would take more than a lifetime and could never be complete.)

One thing that I did deliberately is to develop a little more “antidotes and prevention” (not only in the final chapter.) Because readers asked me to do so. But also because I have been learning that it isn’t enough to be aware of the problem. We must also look for solutions. As I have always said, since the first comments that I published thirteen years ago, stupidity can’ t be totally eliminated, but there is a lot that we can do to understand it – and so prevent or reduce its hideous effects.

This book was never intended to be a survival guide or a “how to” manual, but it helps to find practical solutions and to improve those human qualities that counteract stupidity. This is how the last chapter ends.

Disturbing as this may be, the first and crucial step is to understand that stupidity isn’t a joke. It doesn’t belong only in funny stories, entertainment, mockery or folklore fables. It’s silly to believe that it’s somewhere else, in an imaginary land of the fools, as separate from the world we live in. But it’s a widespread habit to stay away from the problem – and so avoid the embarrassment.

If we know how to listen, we can learn many interesting things. It helps us also to catch the early signs of stupidity symptoms – and so avoid its worst consequences.

The more we know how to understand stupidity, the better we can reduce its power. We can’t defeat it completely, but there is a lot that we can do to reduce the discomfort and the danger of living with this basic characteristic of human nature.

Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it isn’t, but learning to be less stupid is a jolly good reason for good humor.

(See also the Epilogue)

An analysis of the stupidity problem must necessarily start with worrying. We need to understand that it’s serious, dangerous, underestimated – and nobody is immune. But from this unpleasant beginning we can gradually develop a more positive attitude. That can’t be unjustified “optimism”, but it’s encouraging to have a perception of “what we can do”.

We can learn a lot, every day, from our own stupidity as well as everyone else’s. That, per se, isn’t pleasant. But it’s comforting to learn – and so become less stupid. The more we understand this, the more we find that it isn’t only useful, it’s also a pleasant mental exercise.

Readers tell me that they start, in the initial chapters, by being embarrassed and concerned, as they realize how serious this problem is. But, as they read on, their mood gradually changes to good humor, because they realize that they can find solutions.

I always hoped that it would be so. And, the more I think and write about this subject, the more I feel that it can be quite pleasant, even amusing, to understand stupidity and so reduce its insidious power.



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