A welcome new voice in the literature of consciousness and neuroscience.

A SENSE OF SELF

MEMORY, THE BRAIN, AND WHO WE ARE

A veteran psychiatrist examines how memories form to create accounts of who we are.

Memory is a function of both time and place. For very young children, writes O’Keane, a professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, time “doesn’t exist experientially.” The days constitute an eternal present. “Children are not so much adaptable as partly amnesic,” she adds, which helps explain why most adults have so few crystal-clear memories of their earliest years. Nonetheless, as she writes in this pleasing blend of psychiatric case studies and the latest findings of neuroscience—findings that, she observes, haven’t yet been fully embraced or even understood by most physicians—the early years are critical to who we become. Children born into poverty, for instance, suffer disproportionately from stress (and associated high levels of cortisol), which has detrimental effects on general health. As for older people, many are stressed and forgetful—but not necessarily because their minds are slipping. O’Keane counsels that things are not so much forgotten as that we “never laid down a memory for it in the first place,” an act that involves building dendritic connections in the brain. Whereas time stands still for the young, it flies by for the old, a matter of subjective sense. The author delivers interesting observations on nearly every page. For example, the brains of people who suffer from depression have a smaller left hippocampus than people who don’t, and a mark of human phylogenetics is the pruning of the jungle of information from childhood in our 20s and 30s, “enabling the developing brain to take shortcuts through learned pathways of knowledge.” A virtue of O’Keane’s complex but not daunting discussion is her insistence that our understanding of the science of the brain should, among other things, serve to remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, for “individuals with psychiatric illnesses have a great deal to tell neuroscience, and the larger world, about the processes involved in the organization of memory.”

A welcome new voice in the literature of consciousness and neuroscience.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54192-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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BROKEN (IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY)

The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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