THE POWER OF LANGUAGE

HOW THE CODES WE USE TO THINK, SPEAK, AND LIVE TRANSFORM OUR MINDS

Full of delightful insights, this book is thoroughly researched and compulsively readable.

An absorbing account of how language wires the brain.

Marian, director of Northwestern’s Bilingualism and Psycholinguistics Research Lab, is an expert on the relationship between language and the human brain. In this eye-opening account, she describes the results of decades of research in accessible, engaging prose. Some of the most intriguing conclusions are related to bilingualism and multilingualism, which have been shown to delay Alzheimer’s, increase the brain’s gray matter, and positively impact social cognition in children. Bilingual babies can better distinguish between musical notes, suggesting that the powerful effects of multilingualism on the brain are present even in nonverbal areas. Furthermore, languages bring cultural connotations, memories, and connections. “Learning another language doesn’t just give you different words or more words,” writes the author. “It rewires your brain and transforms it, creating a denser tapestry of connectivity.” This radical transformation means that multilinguals communicate and even vote differently depending on which language they are using, allowing them to become a somewhat different version of themselves. Memories and emotions differ across linguistic and cultural experience and have clear manifestations in bilinguals. For example, people tend to be more emotional when speaking in their native language. On the individual level, being bilingual improves creativity, executive function, and aging. Socially, politically, and psychologically, understanding how languages affect the brain is just as essential, especially in the U.S., where more than 350 languages and dialects are spoken. “Engaging with a variety of languages,” writes the author, “gives us crucial abilities that the human race will need to heal burgeoning social discord and to formulate solutions to looming global problems.” Thoroughly researched and carried by Marian’s own experiences as a multilingual who speaks fluent Romanian, Russian, and English, the narrative is both fascinating and fluid.

Full of delightful insights, this book is thoroughly researched and compulsively readable.

Pub Date: April 4, 2023

ISBN: 9780593187074

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2023

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

MAGIC WORDS

WHAT TO SAY TO GET YOUR WAY

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Want to get ahead in business? Consult a dictionary.

By Wharton School professor Berger’s account, much of the art of persuasion lies in the art of choosing the right word. Want to jump ahead of others waiting in line to use a photocopy machine, even if they’re grizzled New Yorkers? Throw a because into the equation (“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”), and you’re likely to get your way. Want someone to do your copying for you? Then change your verbs to nouns: not “Can you help me?” but “Can you be a helper?” As Berger notes, there’s a subtle psychological shift at play when a person becomes not a mere instrument in helping but instead acquires an identity as a helper. It’s the little things, one supposes, and the author offers some interesting strategies that eager readers will want to try out. Instead of alienating a listener with the omniscient should, as in “You should do this,” try could instead: “Well, you could…” induces all concerned “to recognize that there might be other possibilities.” Berger’s counsel that one should use abstractions contradicts his admonition to use concrete language, and it doesn’t help matters to say that each is appropriate to a particular situation, while grammarians will wince at his suggestion that a nerve-calming exercise to “try talking to yourself in the third person (‘You can do it!’)” in fact invokes the second person. Still, there are plenty of useful insights, particularly for students of advertising and public speaking. It’s intriguing to note that appeals to God are less effective in securing a loan than a simple affirmative such as “I pay all bills…on time”), and it’s helpful to keep in mind that “the right words used at the right time can have immense power.”

Perhaps not magic but appealing nonetheless.

Pub Date: March 7, 2023

ISBN: 9780063204935

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harper Business

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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