CONVERSATIONS WITH NEIL'S BRAIN

THE NEURAL NATURE OF THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE

A demanding but rewarding report that illuminates what neurology can now tell us about the human brain. Calvin (Neurophysiology/Univ. of Washington) and Ojemann, a neurosurgeon, collaborated previously on Inside the Brain (not reviewed), which, like the present book, followed a patient named Neil through neurosurgery. Here, Neil is a composite of several temporal-lobe epileptics. Calvin, who narrates this first-person account, opens with an operating room scene in which Ojemann will remove part of Neil's brain in an attempt to end his epileptic seizures. During part of the procedure, Neil is awake and participating actively in various tests, some designed to locate specific areas in his brain that will be either spared or removed by the surgeon, and some conducted in the interests of research. Calvin presents Neil as an intelligent, curious layman with whom he meets regularly in the hospital cafeteria, where Neil asks leading questions about the brain and Calvin answers them at considerable length. All but one of these conversations take place before Neil's operation, and they make up most of the book. Subjects explored include the functional organization of the brain, why strokes in certain areas have certain effects, consciousness, memory, mood and thought disorders, vision, and language. Though written for the general reader, the text occasionally assumes considerable familiarity with the concepts and terminology of neurology. Black-and-white drawings intended to clarify the text unfortunately sometimes have the opposite effect, for they can be discouragingly technical, but this a relatively minor flaw. For the persistent and serious reader the text is full of information that indicates how far the human mind has come in understanding the brain and yet how much remains to be learned. High marks for being both instructive and entertaining.

Pub Date: May 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-201-63217-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1994

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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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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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