STRANGE BRAINS AND GENIUS by Clifford A. Pickover

STRANGE BRAINS AND GENIUS

The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A haphazardly assembled collection of profiles of inventors, philosophers, writers, artists, and just plain brilliant madmen. The bulk of the book consists of gossipy portraits of a rather diverse group of men that ranges from the famous to the relatively obscure: Nikola Tesla, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Oliver Heaviside (an inventor), Samuel Johnson, Richard Kirwan (a scientist), Jeremy Bentham, Henry Cavendish, Francis Galton (a jack of all trades), Geoffrey Pyke (ditto). The link among all these men is tenuous at best: They all displayed obsessive-compulsive behavior, some more than others. Pickover, author of the mind-boggler column in Discover, assigns each of his subjects rather irksome nicknames: Samuel Johnson is known as “The Rabbit-Eater from Litchfield” and Nikola Tesla is called “The Pigeon Man of Manhattan.” Each profile begins with a quick sketch of the subject, including marital status and “favorite quotes” about the man. Pickover then breathlessly goes through several anecdotes that illustrate the particular subject’s weirdness but fails to shed much light on him. The last section of the book is an attempt to link obsessive-compulsive disorder with genius. Here, again, Pickover’s lack of a clear narrative line subtracts from the overall effect of the book. The second to last chapter is entitled, “Curiosity Smorgasbord,” and that is indeed how the whole book feels—a collection of profiles, anecdotes, interviews, and factoids. While some of the anecdotes are entertaining, they—re not assisted by Pickover’s hackneyed writing, nor does his random use of the first and second person bring the reader closer to the material. More of a —greatest hits— of madmen than a measured look at madness and genius.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1998
ISBN: 0-306-45784-9
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1998




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