A playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain’s chemical realities and emotional intangibles.

AN ALCHEMY OF MIND

THE MARVEL AND MYSTERY OF THE BRAIN

A search for how the brain works, and where it ends and the mind begins.

It must be tough for Ackerman (Cultivating Delight, 2001, etc.) to get through the day, enraptured as she is by the buzzing synethesia of sight, sound, and smell around her all the time. Fortunately, she writes quite well about the sheer wonder of being and manages to pose a few meaningful questions about it along the way. She tackles a fairly massive subject, the brain, but she manages to break the quest down into some basic categories of inquiry. “Why We Ask ‘Why’?” and “ ‘Hello,’ He Lied” are typical chapter headings in a work divided between sections discussing evolution, the physical brain, memory, the self (“and other fictions”), emotions, language, and the world we share. As she wrangles with the subject of memory, how it’s gained, lost, and used, Ackerman folds some particularly interesting research into her narratives, especially when she gets into the area of shared or false memories and the fact that people are more likely to remember things they have talked about. Although she comes down pretty squarely in the middle on the nature/nurture divide, the author does cite some intriguing studies about how predetermined our lives are; one looked at a group of nuns and discovered that you could pretty well predict which of them would develop Alzheimer’s later in life simply by studying their writing styles. Ackerman has a tendency to wander, dazed and marveling, through the gardens of her own reckoning, and this is at once her greatest strength and besetting weakness. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and most readers will quickly be engaged by her fascination with the brain, “that mouse-gray parliament of cells,” but occasionally her reveries can seem like extended diary entries, or plain old wheel-spinning.

A playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain’s chemical realities and emotional intangibles.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-4672-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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