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The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present

4.21  ·  Rating Details  ·  792 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.

At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Eur
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Random House (first published 2012)
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Kandel's topic is one of the most ambitious. Here he an attempt to link together the arts and the sciences. Where and how does he do this?

This is a book in two parts. the first is an overview of fin de siècle Vienna and all of its accomplishments at that time. Our author lived there when he was a boy, so he holds a fond attachment for this image of the city as it was before 1918 (and before 1938).

There he begins with the great discoveries on medicine and psychology which were made in that city.

--The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

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Dec 30, 2013 Adrian rated it it was amazing
Best book about bridging the two cultures: art(humanitarian) and science. The author already has a Nobel prize, so you know you are in good hands. We should invent a new award for books like these actually. It is even better if you read the book in Vienna as you can also see some of the paintings in the Upper Belvedere and visit the other 2 museums (Josephinum and Freud) that had a big role in Kandel's life and in the early history of the ideas behind this book. Will try to read it again after I ...more
Kunal Sen
Dec 30, 2013 Kunal Sen rated it it was amazing
My year ended on a high note, by finishing this most remarkable book – Eric R Kandel’s The Age of Insight – The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present. The timing of this book was remarkable for me because it happened on the same year when my primary focus was to find a bridge that I can use to cross at will between my two passions – science and art. Right after I wrote a blog on this topic (Artists without Science), my Art Historian friend Ar ...more
Oct 14, 2012 Carol rated it it was amazing
Because I have listened to Eric Kandel several times when he discusses what neuroscience knows about human brain behavior when a specific area of the brain has been damaged, I anticipated this book would follow that scientific endeavor. However, Kandel (a recipient of the 2000 Nobel in physiology) centers this book on understanding the unconscious as well as the conscious in art and begins with art in Vienna in the early 20th Century. He addresses what those artists were portraying as they shift ...more
Frank Spencer
Apr 15, 2012 Frank Spencer rated it it was amazing
This book has a good combination of information about neuroscience and about art. The author uses three artists who worked around the time of Freud in Vienna to show how our brains process art and how processes outside of our conscious awareness are at work all of the time. He hopes that the new advances in neuroscience will allow more cooperation between those working in several fields to develop a theory of how we respond to art. There are implications for how we help people to cope and manage ...more
Aug 07, 2013 Janne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
It took me a while to read this whole book: I had to intersperse it with lighter fare, but it was totally worth the weight of the hardcover book on my chest. The first half of the book was my favorite. In it Kandel narrates the history of the artistic and scientific world in the Vienna of the turn of the 20th century. With his neuroscience background, Kandel tries to explain how our brain respond to visual art, and how great artists have an intuitive understanding of that. Also, during that exci ...more
This is, quite honestly, the best book I have read this year. It will probably be the best book I read all year too. It combined so many of my interests (art, psychology, neurology, art criticism, and art history) and was written so beautifully and convincingly that I enjoyed every page of it. I picked it up from the library because I was researching Klimt, and this was just a whimsical find. I need to give in to flights of whimsy more often. I think I have a greater appreciation for Freud and h ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Stephen rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite books of recent times. Kandel is a neurologist, and a great writer. His neurology books are thus terrific. I was suspicious of this book: a general theory of art and in particular, an analysis of Viennese Expressionism? My suspicion was linked to those artists being some of my favorites ever. Well, it turns out Kandel has an amazingly sensitive eye for art and also avoids any sense of reductionism. He uses Gombrich a lot here. This book is colossal. Brilliant art history, bril ...more
Feb 10, 2015 Susan rated it it was amazing
Actually three books in one. The first is Vienna 1900 and includes a fine introduction to Freud as well as three artists – Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele. (The latter can be quite off-putting, but is a good example for some of the points made later in the book). The largest part of the book is devoted to understanding how the senses and brain perceive and interpret art and includes a truly phenomenal overview of about a century of brain research. The third book is more philosophical and explores ...more
Jan 09, 2015 Monica rated it it was amazing
A well structured treatise on the conceivable (perhaps necessary) convergence of disciplines from the arts and sciences to reach a more comprehensive understanding of the human mind. In the context of the subjects the author has chosen, he offers illustrations and case studies as examples to supplement his compelling arguments. Kandel's “Insight” gives one pause to reflect on and gain a deeper appreciation of not only art forms, but the world in general.
Apr 02, 2013 Marzie rated it it was amazing

This promises to be a long, dense read but I already am fascinated after the first two chapters....
Randol Schoenberg
Jul 29, 2012 Randol Schoenberg rated it it was amazing
This is an incredible book, a real tour de force in explaining in layman's terms some of the most amazing and important recent developments in neuroscience, biology and psychology, at the same time relating them to the artistic achievements of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka in Vienna 1900. If there is a flaw, it is Kandel's avoidance of any discussion of music, and especially of Schoenberg, who also painted artworks that fit much better into his thesis than those of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. T ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Erin rated it did not like it
By far, this is one of the worst books I have ever read. I thought I was getting an interesting piece on how the brain reacts when viewing art..instead I got a hero worship guide to some of the most questionable people in art & science. This book really shows how dangerous it is that a few wealthy elite can virtually take over the arts and sciences in a city and use that wealth and influence to propagate garbage. The "artists" the author worships are literally,a man who not onl ...more
Apr 28, 2013 Jeremy rated it really liked it
I'm almost finished with this book and I recommend it. It's not as good as his previous book, In Search of Memory, but how can it be? That was his life's work. This one is about the scientific and artistic accomplishments of turn of the century Austria, and how they contributed (or relate) to neuroscience developments. Kandel did as good a job as he could linking the two subjects: Austrian history and modern neuroscience. But they are two different subjects. If you like them both, it's a good re ...more
Rob Boone
Jan 29, 2014 Rob Boone rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most fascinating things I've read, and it's remarkably well-written. By exploring early 20th century Vienna (Klimt, Freud, Kokoshka), Kandel explores all of us. The book is primarily about our relationship to art, but ultimately, it's about our striving, if you subscribe to the belief that art is the highest point in the pyramid of human achievement. What we strive for defines us more accurately than any other measure, and Kandel explains quite well how what we currently striv ...more
Feb 08, 2014 Alejo rated it it was amazing
A century after the conversation between neuroscience, art an psychology began a few questions have been already answered and this book presents them in a fascinating way.

The most interesting thing about this book though, is the possibility of contemplating the vastness of the mysteries of the brain and to take a sneak peek at the new questions posed by this conversation that scientists and thinkers are challenged to tackle in the years to come.

Sep 24, 2012 Robert rated it it was amazing
An amazing book that bridges science with the arts; beautifully illustrated and challenges the reader to understand the connection between the rational and emotional parts of our brain. A real tour de force.
Sep 17, 2012 Rickey rated it it was amazing
"Art is best understood as a distillation of pure existence. It therefore provides and excellent and desirable complement to, and enrichment of, the science of mind." (p.501)
Mar 01, 2014 Dror rated it it was amazing
One of the most interesting books about beauty, brain structure and art. Requires the ability to read "thich English books:)"
May 04, 2016 Qi rated it it was ok
Neuroscientist Eric Kandel’s ambitious tome “The age of insight” aims to link the development of the unconscious between science and art. The linking bridge is the brain biology and works from three fin-de-siècle Viennese painters: Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. Even with all its polite caveats, this tome is a reductionist attempt that only partially achieved its goal. It is insightful, up to a point. But that point has been enthusiastically passed as the author overreaching fo ...more
Nov 26, 2015 Merilee rated it it was amazing
This book was difficult to rate. It is physically a beautiful book, with glorious art prints. Nobel Laureate brain scientist Eric Kandel is brilliant and extremely ambitious in trying to bring together art and the brain, all of which contributed to my giving the book 5 stars. In terms of my enjoyment of the book, it would probably be 3.5 stars. I guess I don't have enough of a professional's understanding or interest in all the details of the brain's pathways to be the ideal reader for the book.
Kim Lacey
Apr 30, 2012 Kim Lacey rated it it was amazing

My favorite book of the year, so far. Kandel is truly champions the conversation between the sciences and the humanities. Age of Insight is a beautifully written and illustrated book (in other words, I'm glad I splurged on the hardcover instead of the Kindle version--there are hundreds of full color images). If you have any interest in how art and science influence each other, this is a must read.
Karen Kobie
Apr 16, 2013 Karen Kobie rated it it was amazing
I read this book a few months ago before I traveled to Vienna. It was an excellent introduction to Vienna at the turn of the last century. In addition, "The Age of Insight" also provides a rich historical guide to major thinkers in neuroscience. Be sure to read the last chapter, "Knowing Ourselves: The New Dialogue Between Art and Science." That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
Syed Ashrafulla
Nov 08, 2014 Syed Ashrafulla rated it really liked it
This is a very good in-depth read for those who want a middle-level view of brain science with regards to art (vision + creativity + interpretation, to use brain science system terms). I very much enjoyed the careful description of Viennese art in 1900 as well as the careful description of cognitive neuroscience in 2000. I also thought that it was well-organized in that it linked the two fields much in the same way that I presume Kandel links them when using art in his research.

Because it is a p
Nov 02, 2012 Asha rated it it was amazing
Enthralled by Dr. Kandel's easy juxtaposition of biology and art.

Dec 22, 2013 Ling rated it it was amazing
A great book.
Brain Science, psychology, and art.
Bob Haar
Mar 11, 2013 Bob Haar rated it it was amazing
Wow. Bought this book after reading it. Very rare for me.
Jun 30, 2013 Laurie rated it really liked it
Fascinating! The section about Messerschmidt's creativity while suffering from mental illness must be shared; not only did his "internal conflicts not hinder his imagination," but they actually seemed to be "more original than the excellent work" done prior to illness. One writer commented, "Messerschmidt's madness proved to be strangely liberating...he began to make art that was true to himself...his demons were now his muses, and he made the creative best of them by portraying them" in his scu ...more
David Redden
Jun 25, 2013 David Redden rated it really liked it
This is a great book if you're interested in Viennese expressionist art and/or neuroscience, otherwise it will be one heck of a slog. In this book, Kandel, a Nobel Prize winner, explores ways in which art and neuroscience have or might in the future connect to inform each other, focusing specifically on the expressionist painters, Klimmt, and Schiele. I read this mostly as a follow-up to Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method, which presents a more purely philosophical view on how we interpret an ...more
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Eric R. Kandel is an American neuropsychiatrist who was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

Kandel, who had studied psychoanalysis, wanted to understand how memory works. His mentor, Harry Grundfest, said, “If you want to understand the brai
More about Eric R. Kandel...

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