A friendly primer for would-be oneirologists.

WHY WE DREAM

THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF OUR NIGHTLY JOURNEY

What happens inside one’s brain during sleep? Answering that question, as journalist Robb’s inviting exploration makes clear, takes some work, but it yields some fascinating answers.

Telling someone that he or she was in your dream last night is a timeworn, even cheesy pickup line. Why do we dream? Ask a neurophysiologist, and you may get a suitably mechanistic answer: Dreaming is a way for the brain to do a reboot and flush its cache. Robb, a columnist for New York magazine, is more given to metaphor and lyric in looking at the ways dreams tell us what we’re really thinking about—for, by another theory, dreams are ways the brain processes bits of information gleaned in waking life and uses "them to make guesses about the future.” Granted, she writes, that in-my-dream line is “still basically an innuendo,” especially if the dream-inhabiting person in question was climbing a ladder, a pure Freudian trope for intercourse. That person may figure in an innocent dream that still has meaning, just as the content of dreams of patients about to undergo surgery speaks to “anxieties and fears, in symbols and metaphors if not literally.” (Robb adds that if you’re dreaming about “broken knives and blocked-up sewers” before undergoing the procedures, you’re anxious for sure.) The author tends toward the softer side of the neuropsychological spectrum; there’s been much hard neuroscience work on the sleeping and dreaming brain, for instance, that doesn’t figure here. She writes at some length of “lucid dreaming” and ways to cultivate a better understanding of what’s happening inside our minds when the lights are out. Even if we don’t quite know why certain ingredients may be in a dream or “why our brains choose a particular night to play a particular scene,” the content can be made more meaningful—and thus more useful to the dreamer who’s paying attention, making dreamtime a time “imbued with a sense of opportunity instead of anxiety.”

A friendly primer for would-be oneirologists.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-93121-3

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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