At the edges where popular science and popular social criticism meet, with interesting if not always sharply limned...

THE HACKING OF THE AMERICAN MIND

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF OUR BODIES AND BRAINS

I want my MTV—and my doughnuts and my meth. Thus the American mind, racing to attain rewards that entire industries are glad to supply.

Lustig (Pediatric Endocrinology/Univ. of California, San Francisco; Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease, 2012, etc.), the chief officer of the nonprofit EatREAL, has written widely on the obesity epidemic, particularly among younger Americans. Here, branching out into realms such as neuroscience, sociology, and even theology, he looks at the reward system whereby the brain lives and dies via serotonin, cortisol, and dopamine, chemicals that drive us to have that one piece of cake too many—or to smoke, snort cocaine, stare into our cellphones, and watch game shows. Medical specialists treat effects, he argues, whereas we should be looking into root causes: not just the chemistry of the brain, driven to seek reward and vulnerable to falling into addiction, but also the economic machine that creates vast industries devoted to choking processed foods with reward-delivering sugar and putting an opioid-supplying pharmacy on every street corner. That economic machine is massively parasitic and spectacularly successful. Lustig leaves it to readers to connect the dots—as he writes, early on, “I’m not going to stick my neck so far out as to say that there has been a conspiracy between different industries and the government to purposefully inflict malice on the public”—and there are plenty of dots to connect. With so much to condemn, the argument is sometimes loose and scattershot, but there’s a lot to write about in the vast subject of how the brain works and how capitalism aims to satisfy its every craving, no matter how harmful to body, mind, and society.

At the edges where popular science and popular social criticism meet, with interesting if not always sharply limned arguments.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-98258-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Avery

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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 riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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