A digestible, intriguing academic read on a complex subject.

BRAINSCAPES

THE WARPED, WONDROUS MAPS WRITTEN IN YOUR BRAIN―AND HOW THEY GUIDE YOU

A thorough delineation of neural representations, or brain maps, that affect our sensory, motor, cognitive, and emotional capacities.

Schwarzlose, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, explores literal brain maps, within human and animal brains, comprised of cells. Unlike traditional geographical maps, they are dynamic by virtue of electricity and time. "Neighboring neurons in your brain represent neighboring plots of land on your skin,” she writes. “The result? A beautiful, honest-to-goodness map of the surfaces of your body built into your brain." The author uses the metaphor of subway tunnels in not only explaining  how brain maps affect our sight and feeling, but also to demonstrate that a map's inherent two-dimensional distortion sometimes makes it better at magnifying important information. "Vision as you know it is born in the darkness at the back of your skull, reflecting what is happening in your visual brain maps more than what is happening in your two eyes,” she writes. “This is why it matters so much exactly how your maps are warped: these maps, in turn, warp your conscious perception." Schwarzlose illuminates four primary themes of brain maps: their universality, respective uniqueness, the idea that they are created out of necessity, and their ability to give organisms the opportunity to adapt. Not only are brain maps spatial, but they can also use nonspatial phenomena, such as vibrations, to reveal where a source of sound is located. Human brain maps were discovered in 19th-century London through experiments on patients who experienced seizures and the study of their paths. The parietal lobe, writes the author, holds maps that do not belong to a single category: “They actually combine and align information from touch, vision, and hearing with information about body position and space around the body to which actions might be guided." The scope of the book is staggering, as is the potential of technology's role in decoding minds, and yet Schwarzlose successfully and enthusiastically relays the research in relevant, understandable, and absorbing language. The black-and-white illustrations are also helpful.

A digestible, intriguing academic read on a complex subject.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-94996-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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