A lucid exploration of thinking, perceiving, and being human.

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OUT OF MY HEAD

ON THE TRAIL OF CONSCIOUSNESS

What accounts for our experience of reality?

British novelist and nonfiction writer Parks (In Extremis, 2017, etc.) turns his attention from Italy, the cherished landscape he has evoked in several previous books, to Heidelberg, Germany, where he journeys into the dazzling, mysterious landscape of the mind. The author went to Heidelberg to participate in an interdisciplinary project focused “on the business of being conscious,” and he was guided by an overarching question: “do the models, the explanations, whatever that we have of consciousness, the version of events that our various authorities sign up to, make sense?” Parks recounts with generous and eager openness his conversations with leading philosophers and neuroscientists from whom he gleaned three positions about consciousness, defined “simply as the feeling that accompanies our being alive, aware of perceptive experience.” The most prevalent view holds that consciousness is produced in the brain by physical and chemical processes; a minority view, known as “enactivist,” holds that consciousness emerges from interaction with the world, requiring “both subject and object to happen”; and a smaller minority puts forth the Spread Mind view, “in which experience is made possible by the meeting of perceptive system and the world” and “located at the object perceived.” Since the proponent of the Spread Mind view is the author’s friend and confidant, he tries mightily to give credence to a perspective that he finds intuitively difficult to accept. Parks is fascinated by the work of neuroscientists but frustrated by the notion “that all our experience is internal to the brain and everything that we are is essentially a matter of what goes on in those three pounds of grey jelly.” In brain studies, he adds, there is a “gap between facts and storyline,” between “the nitty gritty” of scientific findings and speculation about “what these findings mean.” In the end, the author advises readers to test scientific theories against their own lived experience. “When it comes to consciousness,” he asserts, “we are all repositories of quantities of evidence far richer than any available in the neuroscientist’s laboratory.”

A lucid exploration of thinking, perceiving, and being human.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-397-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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