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See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 3

Recommended: The Age of Insight

Books and recommendations from Scientific American


 

Editor's Note (8/1/12): In July 2012 Jonah Lehrer admitted that he  fabricated quotes in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. The review of his work in this article was posted before his admission.

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
by Eric R. Kandel. Random House, 2012

Neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Kandel has crafted a fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day. Kandel describes the psychological and biological insights reflected in their paintings, as well as the neuroscience behind how the beholder perceives the paintings. He concludes by calling for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner. Penguin Press, 2012

Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe
by George Dyson. Pantheon Books, 2012

These two books on the mid-20th-century information revolution take readers back to a time when New Jersey, not Silicon Valley, was the center of American innovation. Gertner’s The Idea Factory is a lively account of the minds behind Bell Labs, then the research and development wing of AT&T, and how the scientists created the network of copper cables, microwave links and glass fibers that made the company’s dream of “universal” connectivity a reality. Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral focuses on the creative geniuses at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton who invented computer code. In doing so, they realized the theoretical construct that mathematician Alan Turing dubbed the universal machine. Together they would pave the way for today’s digital universe.

Imagine: How Creativity Works
by Jonah Lehrer. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Imagine argues that modern science allows us to identify and harness the many different thought processes from which creativity emerges. The book is least convincing when Lehrer makes sweeping claims: he fixates on Elizabethan England as an age of “excess genius,” as though no artists have equaled its accomplishments since, and he relies too heavily on patents as measures of creativity. The book’s strength lies in specific examples—detailed stories about 3M, Pixar, Bob Dylan and Don Lee, the computer programmer who became a master mixer of quirky cocktails. These insightful tales make Imagine well worth the read. ­ —Ferris Jabr

MULTIMEDIA

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Universal Pictures, March 2. This animated feature voiced by Danny DeVito, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift and others brings to life the classic Seussian parable of greed and environ­-­mental destruction.

Frozen Planet. Discovery Channel/BBC, March 18. Alec Baldwin nar­rates the highly anticipated seven-part documentary about life at Earth’s two poles.

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