Simply Smart Two

How to Get Smarter Across the Board

Simply Smart Two—How to Get Smarter Across the Board

By Robert DiYanni, New York University





PART ONE                 Getting Smarter About Humanities

Chapter One                 Getting Smart About Philosophy

Chapter Two                 Getting Smart About Religion

Chapter Three              Getting Smart About History

Chapter Four                Getting Smart About Languages

Chapter Five                 Getting Smart About Literature & Theory


Interlude 1        A Fragment of Film

Interlude 2        A Dram of Dance


PART TWO                Getting Smarter About Social Sciences

Chapter Six                   Getting Smart About Psychology


Interlude 3        A Bit of Behavioral Economics


Chapter Seven              Getting Smart About Political Science

Chapter Eight                Getting Smart About Sociology


Interlude 4        A Touch of Anthropology


PART THREE             Getting Smarter About Science and Mathematics

Chapter Nine                Getting Smart About Science


Interlude 5        Scientific Research and Bias


Chapter Ten                  Getting Smart About Big Ideas in Science

Chapter Eleven             Getting Smart About Math and Numbers


Interlude 6        Some Interesting Numbers


Chapter Twelve             Getting Smart About Geometry






This volume takes up the challenge of getting smarter about different subjects and disciplines; it follows a companion book: Simply Smart One—How to Get Smarter Fast. That earlier work explains how to develop smart skills—critical and creative thinking, critical reading and writing, effective listening and speaking. Simply Smart Two emphasizes knowledge—how to become smarter through understanding different broad subjects. It explores fundamental ideas about a suite of disciplines across the humanities, social and natural sciences, and mathematics.

Individual chapters explore basic questions and concerns of philosophy and religion; history and languages; literature and critical theory; psychology, political science, and sociology; natural sciences, mathematics, and numbers. My goal is to get you thinking productively, in a preliminary way, about each subject’s central issues and interests.

            In his Analects, Confucius says: “Learning without thinking is useless; thinking without learning is dangerous.” For Confucius, thinking needs to be wedded to learning, and learning needs to be linked to thinking. Thinking and learning are inseparable. We can’t learn without thinking, and we don’t think without learning. Simply Smart Two—How to Get Smart Across the Board makes Confucius’ idea a fundamental axiom–that learning develops best in context, in terms of different fields of study. Immersing yourself in the differing perspectives of a range of disciplines will make your smarter. (And it will also prepare you to converse intelligently on those social occasions when you are meeting new people with many different backgrounds and interests—the “cocktail party” scenario.)

Each disciplinary domain contains a rich vein of specialized topics becoming smarter. Though I take a wide view of the disciplines included, I make no attempt to discuss every major topic. Nor do I try to go deeply into any one aspect of any particular discipline. I offer, instead, a taste of the disciplines included and an opportunity to get acquainted—or re-acquainted—with their fundamental facets and essential elements.

Simply Smart Two—How to Get Smarter Across the Board asks: What approaches to knowledge do different disciplines take? What matters most for each of those disciplines? What questions are central to different disciplines? What makes each discipline what it is and not something else? What makes philosophy, for example, philosophy, and not religion or psychology? Considering these and related questions provides you with an opportunity to brush to consolidate what you already know while broadening your knowledge base and deepening your understanding of key humanities, science, mathematics, and social science disciplines.

 My consideration of disciplinary knowledge is both eclectic and synthetic. I consolidate and synthesize a wide range of sources, many of them recent books. Getting Smart Two—How to Get Smarter Across the Board offers a dozen chapters and a half dozen interludes to exercise your thinking, discover new ideas, and engage in thoughtful inquiry—all while helping you become smarter. I hope that you find in the following pages many intellectual pleasures and significant rewards while making yourself smarter across the board.


Current Writing Projects

My current writing projects are linked below: (1) a book on reading literature (Improvisations); (2) two books on getting smarter (fast and across the board); (3) a pair of memoirs about my teaching life (50 years+) and my life with music (even more years!). Also included is information about my biggest work-in-progress: an encyclopedic summa pedagogica, with the current title: Provocative Pairs—Learning with the World’s Masters (152 chapters—and counting—each chapter a dozen double-spaced pages, with most chapters devoted to a pair of great masters past and present).

For each of these works in the making, I have provided a table of contents and preface. A couple of them also include a sample chapter. An additional book I have in the works is Poems to Live By, for which I’ve included about a third of what I’ve written so far—also with a brief TOC and prefatory note.

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume I:
Major Influencers Past and Present

Provocative Pairs—Learning with the Masters

Volume II:
Humanities, Sciences, and More

Simply Smart One

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart Two

How to Get Smarter Across the Board

Improvisations on Reading Literature

The Teaching Life: Why Teaching Matters

Living with Music: A Glorious Journey

Poems to Live By

Robert DiYanni

Robert DiYanni

Author ⪢ | Professor ⪢ | Consultant ⪢

Robert DiYanni is a professor of humanities at New York University, having served as an  instructional consultant at the NYU Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Center for Faculty Advancement. For these centers he conducted workshops and seminars on all aspects of pedagogy, consulted with faculty about teaching concerns, visited and observed classes, and provided a wide range of pedagogical consultative services. Professor DiYanni serves on the faculties of the School of Professional Studies and the Stern School of Business at NYU. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Rutgers University, attended a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, and received a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the City University of New York Graduate Center.  

In addition to his work at NYU, Dr. DiYanni has taught at City University of New York, at Pace University, and as a Visiting Professor at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and at Harvard University. As a high school teacher for four years and a college professor for more than four decades, Professor DiYanni has taught students from eighth grade through doctoral candidates. Most of his teaching, however, has been with college and university undergraduates. His numerous workshops, offered in more than twenty countries, have been attended by secondary school teachers and administrators, as well as by undergraduate college and university faculty and administrators.

Dr. DiYanni has written and edited numerous textbooks, among them, Literature: An Introduction; The Scribner Handbook for Writers (with Pat C. Hoy II); Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, (with Janetta Rebold Benton), the basis for a series of lectures given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, which served as a companion text for the PBS television series Voices and Vision, which aired in the late 1980s.

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