An elegant tour de force that combines neuropsychology with liberal references to Shakespeare and Homer.

THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT

WHAT NEUROSCIENCE CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE GOOD LIFE

Edelman (Psychology/Cornell Univ.; Computing the Mind: How the Mind Really Works, 2008, etc.) asks readers to discard the “familiar ‘computer metaphor' that halfheartedly likens the brain to a computer,” and accept his argument that “the mind is computational in the literal sense.”

Before dealing with the question of happiness, the author elaborates on his contention that human minds could evolve “to support foresight” because of the brain's ability to “compute by learning and using the statistics of the world in which we live.” He explains this with examples such as the ability of a baseball pitcher's brain to specify the location of his body and control its action by directing his shoulder according to horizontal and vertical planes and rotation, while anticipating a ball's trajectory; or the more mundane ability of a shopper to estimate which is the fastest check-out lane. Our brains are continually deluged with data that must be evaluated for cognition to occur. Survival of the organism depends on its ability to foresee the future and act accordingly. Edelman writes that this is the basis for the pursuit of happiness in humans, and by extension all living beings. On a more sophisticated level, humans retain memories and develop foresight, which the author felicitously describes as “remembering the future.” We build up expectations while savoring the past and imagining possible futures, with episodic memory acting as “the mind's personal space-time machine—a perfect vehicle for scouting and harvesting happiness.” Edelman describes learning language as a similar process that depends on the brain’s use of statistics as a basis for inferences about meaning, and concludes that we derive our most sustained happiness from our predisposition to “enjoy every day learning.”

An elegant tour de force that combines neuropsychology with liberal references to Shakespeare and Homer.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-465-02224-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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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 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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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