Saturday, November 1, 2008

What I've been reading

1. A Brief Tour of Human Conciousness by V. S. Ramanchandran. This book was pretty short, and fairly lucid explanation of some technical subjects. However, what it gains in expository power it may have given up in accuracy. He certianly was very off target with his mirror neuron digression, given the evidence. How much doubt must you cast on the rest of the book if you are quite sure that the author is off on one subject? The best part of the book was its account of synesthesia, where patients associate numbers with colors. This occurs in about 1 out of every 200 people, and is seven times more common among artists, poets, and novelists. Weird.

2. A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein. This book starts out fairly engaging, but it soon digresses into a strange religious philosophy. I don't know why it is considered such a classic and I'd stay away. Oddly, I was almost relieved to read a bad book, because so many of the books that I had been reading were good that I was beginning to wonder if I was just a push-over.

3. McCain's Promise by David Foster Wallace. More of an essay than a book. The best line is when he explains that young voters are less likely to vote, and adds that "there's hard demographic and voter-pattern data backing this up... assuming you give a shit about data." I held off from buying any DFW after his suicide because I don't want to contribute to the sad trend of author's works becoming much more famous after they commit suicide, but it was a gift from a friend so it's not my fault.

4. The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks. This book is a classic in psychology and neurology for a reason. Dr. Sacks takes clinical tales, gives them surprising depth, and speculates about their implications. It is especially good in the respect that Sacks is clear about when he about to delve into a speculatory mode. Highly recommended.

5. In Search of Memory by Eric R. Kandel. Reading this book really was a pleasure, and I'm not sure why. Kandel mixes in his personal experience when he escaped Austria during WWII and refreshingly doesn't attempt to explain these broad events in terms of reductionist science, which never ends well. There are so many facts in neuroscience, this book brings many of them together and gives a historical context. It is also inspirational that he didn't seriously study science until his senior year in college, yet he won the Nobel anyways. It's never too late!

6. Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Enough has been said of this book elsewhere, but let me add my (mostly) independent observation that it is all well-deserved. I wrote a note to myself on nearly every page.

I take individual book recommendations seriously because there is no aggregator to tell me what I should be reading, so if you have any ideas please leave a comment or send me an e-mail.