Synaptic pruning, folded proteins, adaptive habits: all fascinating stuff ably interpreted by a master.

READ REVIEW

THE DISORDERED MIND

WHAT UNUSUAL BRAINS TELL US ABOUT OURSELVES

The eminent neuroscientist examines what the injured or diseased brain can tell us about a healthy one.

“Today, as never before, the study of brain disorders is giving us new insight into how our mind normally functions,” writes Nobel Prize winner Kandel (Neuroscience/Columbia Univ.; Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures, 2016, etc.). That “normal function” is a complex process involving many parts of the brain, reflecting the emergent fact that consciousness is not a single function of the brain but instead a continuum of “different states of minds in different contexts.” Complex cognitive skills such as understanding speech require input from several widely separated areas of the brain, including the arcuate fasciculus and Broca’s area, while the generation and execution of emotion involve the hypothalamus, striatum, prefrontal cortex, and one tiny part of the brain whose functions are just being understood: “When we laugh or cry—when we experience any emotion—it is because these brain structures are responding to the amygdala, and acting on its instructions.” But just so, writes Kandel, problems such as addiction also involve several brain regions and neural circuits, requiring multiple approaches to any neuroscientific regime of treatment. Autism is another such area, manifesting itself in failures in the complex problem of interpreting “biological motion,” which in turn “enables us to recognize intention, which is critical to a theory of mind.” In the end, understanding various states of brain function in varying degrees of health helps address not just the question of consciousness, modern theories of which Kandel addresses in closing, but also the much larger issue of human nature and what it entails. Throughout, the author writes accessibly, though it may help readers to have some background in neuroscience and anatomy.

Synaptic pruning, folded proteins, adaptive habits: all fascinating stuff ably interpreted by a master.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-28786-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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

Did you like this book?

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more