A fine exploration of the brain’s ability to draw the story of our life, from experience and from thin air.




A neurologist tours current research on the mysteries of perception, habit, learning, memory, and language—our very selfhood and identity—and their underlying brain mechanics.

In our subconscious, there are innumerable systems that process the countless sensations we experience and add their input into the conscious stimuli we use to make sense of our surroundings. Sternberg (My Brain Made Me Do It: The Rise of Neuroscience and the Threat to Moral Responsibility, 2010, etc.), a resident neurologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital, explores the research that has been getting inside our heads, into the neurosystems at work, both conscious and unconscious. This is an enchanting journey, and the author writes with brio and dash. Of course, neuroscience is young, and Sternberg is quick to admit that much of this is preliminary investigation. However, it is not without footing, so it is well worth the effort to analyze these experiments. Sternberg presents intriguing anecdotes—how the blind conjure visualizations, why one person yawning often triggers others to yawn, how visualizations aid in competitive sports, what is behind alien abductions and hallucinations—and then follows the evidence, both historical and up-to-the-minute, to explain a variety of phenomena, including how “the precise stimulation of the temporal lobe can create the perception of a foreign presence in your vicinity.” Some of the anecdotes are incomplete and therefore unconvincing—e.g., how did a man whose “visual system had been destroyed” after a stroke negotiate his way into a doctor’s office to pretend he still had normal eyesight?—but Sternberg’s delineations of mirror neurons (a network to create simulations) and “beautiful indifference” (the inability to discern the peculiarity of one’s unnatural condition) are enthralling and highly thought-provoking.

A fine exploration of the brain’s ability to draw the story of our life, from experience and from thin air.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-90877-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2015

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.


The creator and host of the titular podcast recounts his lifelong struggles with depression.

With the increasing success of his podcast, Moe, a longtime radio personality and author whose books include The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton: A Parody (2015), was encouraged to open up further about his own battles with depression and delve deeper into characteristics of the disease itself. Moe writes about how he has struggled with depression throughout his life, and he recounts similar experiences from the various people he has interviewed in the past, many of whom are high-profile entertainers and writers—e.g. Dick Cavett and Andy Richter, novelist John Green. The narrative unfolds in a fairly linear fashion, and the author relates his family’s long history with depression and substance abuse. His father was an alcoholic, and one of his brothers was a drug addict. Moe tracks how he came to recognize his own signs of depression while in middle school, as he experienced the travails of OCD and social anxiety. These early chapters alternate with brief thematic “According to THWoD” sections that expand on his experiences, providing relevant anecdotal stories from some of his podcast guests. In this early section of the book, the author sometimes rambles. Though his experiences as an adolescent are accessible, he provides too many long examples, overstating his message, and some of the humor feels forced. What may sound naturally breezy in his podcast interviews doesn’t always strike the same note on the written page. The narrative gains considerable momentum when Moe shifts into his adult years and the challenges of balancing family and career while also confronting the devastating loss of his brother from suicide. As he grieved, he writes, his depression caused him to experience “a salad of regret, anger, confusion, and horror.” Here, the author focuses more attention on the origins and evolution of his series, stories that prove compelling as well.

The book would have benefited from a tighter structure, but it’s inspiring and relatable for readers with depression.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20928-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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