I don't try to subvert the Goodreads rating system: 3 stars means "I liked it." And I did like this book.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits and faI don't try to subvert the Goodreads rating system: 3 stars means "I liked it." And I did like this book.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits and factoids about why genius flowers in specific places and about creativity in general. Unfortunately, they are weighed down by busy-ness where Weiner meets people and drinks copious amounts of caffeine. He could have easily chopped 1/4 of this book out and no one would miss it. I don't care that his guide talks to her French car in German while in Austria, or other such irrelevant details.
The entire last section about Silicon Valley also feels like it's overreaching because it doesn't really make the point of the title's premise. In fact, it does just the opposite by underscoring that people in Silicon Valley don't really create anything, they just repackage existing ideas in order to make money. That's well-done marketing but hardly genius.
By virtue of the the fact this is a book and not an ongoing series of magazine articles, there are numerous places left out of consideration which would more closely align with the premise. The sudden explosion of physicists in Germany at the dawn of the 20th century, for instance. The equally impressive soaring achievements by inventors in Dayton, Ohio, at the same time. Rochester, New York. Cape Town, South Africa. Hollywood, California.
It happens over and over, too. If someone can crack the specific social elements which foster genius, we could have another golden age, a Second Enlightenment.
So far it seems like you need to have constant stimulation with a free flow of ideas and the vigor of new blood coming in. Immigration is key. You also need to have some sort of physical hardship that places limitations on the populace, but not so many limitations that everyone is scrambling to survive. You also need patrons and mentors willing to give genius a place to flourish, but teachers who challenge rather than coddle you.
You have to be safe but not comfortable.
All of the places he talks about -- Athens, Greece; Vienna, Austria; Hangzhou, China; Calcutta, India; Silicon Valley -- all have these things. Immigrants, uncomfortable landscapes, uncertain political times, a support system, etc.
What was really missing from the book is women. He finally addressed this near the end. Mozart's sister was apparently every bit as talented as he was, but was never given a chance. They did, however, name Apricot schnapps after her.
Again and again women were ignored by the powers that be, to our great detriment. They've effectively been erased from history as a result. Watson and Crick could not have had their breakthrough with DNA without Rosalind Franklin. They basically took credit for her work. Actress Hedy Lamarr came up with the basics that make cell phones work but needed to pair with a man in order to get her ideas heard.
I wonder how many geniuses have been marginalized simply because they were women?
Weiner and one of his guides (it might even be the car-talking one) point out this unfairness but he kind of just leaves it lying there. Part of the reason for that is his claim that there are no undiscovered geniuses. You have to be smart but also you have to be marketed. Without the hype, your genius goes unrecognized, so we therefore can't call you a genius.
I don't buy into that at all. History is littered with unrecognized geniuses, just like the two women mentioned above. Ada Lovelace's programming skills on the very first computer, difference engine, went unremarked for nearly 150 years, but she was still a genius. Whoever came up with smelting ore was a nearly unparalleled genius. How many of us would conceive of the idea of digging up rock and putting it into a fire until it melted and then shaping it into a tool? I'm guessing the answer is "none of us." Yet one person did at some point, kicking off the Bronze Age and creating metallurgy. But even then it's doubtful that he did it alone. More likely he built on the work of others.
History is full of geniuses who just missed the cut. Alexander Graham Bell got to the patent office just a few hours before another guy who also invented the telephone. I could find out his name but it's not something many of us know, and most people aren't even aware he existed. Yet he still invented the telephone! He's still a genius. Darwin didn't come up with the concept of evolution on his own. Lots of people had that same idea, and many of them wrote books about it. Darwin is just the most famous one. The other people were also geniuses who saw the same thing in nature.
I guess I just take exception to this redefining of the word.
All that said, Weiner does offer plenty of interesting facts from the studies done on creativity and geniuses, so this book still has something to offer....more
Have you seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks? That's the one where he's stranded on a deserted island and tries mightily to get off of it for seveHave you seen the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks? That's the one where he's stranded on a deserted island and tries mightily to get off of it for seven years. When I saw that, my first question was, "Why are you trying to leave?" I mean, come on, peace and quiet at last!
I'm an introvert. Other introverts think I'm too introverted. Back in the 1980s I had knee surgery and didn't leave the house for three weeks when my college roommates went home. We didn't have cable TV or personal computers, nevermind the internet. I was happily alone. My girlfriend at the time said she could envision me living alone on an island. Little did she know what that dude on Bosom Buddies had in store for me!
So yeah, I liked this book. Shocking.
As I was reading along, I would occasionally post excerpts on Facebook and ask people their thoughts or if they saw these same tendencies in their kids when Cain talks about how they followed babies into adulthood to see how they'd turn out on the extrovert-introvert scale. Stuff like that. I got some interesting answers from parents and teachers and psychologists, and it sparked some wide-ranging discussions.
But the extroverts? Man, they had FITS. I hadn't noticed, but apparently a lot of them are feeling rather put-upon by all these introverts coming out of the closet and organizing into online groups.
I kind of surprised myself by feeling no pity.
My school was dominated by extroverts and their rules. So yeah, a lot of this book rang true. Hell, even my math class had a portion of the grade set aside for "class participation." It wasn't enough to know the damn equations, you had to participate. And even when you tried, if you didn't do it right according to the outgoing teacher, you got a poor grade. So why should I even bother? I'm incredibly uncomfortable already and you're still not going to give me a grade as good as the doofus sitting in the next desk because he always raises his hand and puts wrong equations on the board? Screw that.
Hm... I may have some repressed stuff here that I didn't know was lurking under the surface.
And that's because we live in an extroverted world run by extroverts. Which is pretty much Cain's central thesis, which is so true it hurts. Yet I've had a number of extroverts protest this. It's exactly like White Privilege: if you don't see the problem, you ARE the problem.
"Why don't you try to understand extroverts?" one of my theatre friends proclaimed.
Um, because I don't have to. You guys broadcast everything all the time. You're always thinking out loud and organizing things and woo-hooing all over the place that it's impossible to escape you. the reason we introverts enjoy the internet so much is because we can indulge at our convenience and take it at our speed. It's asynchronous and we can wade in when we've recharged out batteries.
Quiet has a lot of science and study to back up what we already know is true, which is good. Cain also challenges us -- introverts and extroverts alike -- to consider the world from the other perspective, because we truly do have strengths and weaknesses that make us better as a whole.
It's just that introverts are better. But you knew that....more
I think this is the first YA science book I've read since I was a YA. It's quite easy to read and is clearly aimed at the 12-17 demo, based on the relI think this is the first YA science book I've read since I was a YA. It's quite easy to read and is clearly aimed at the 12-17 demo, based on the relatively unsophisticated language and repetition of information.
That said, there are quite a few interesting factoids to be found in the book, from the history of mollusks to their biology and current understanding of them.
For some reason it has postage stamp-sized pictures in it, but if you use the book as a jumping-off point and go online to look up the various animals mentioned, you'll get to see them in action.
I would give this to a teenager interested in squid, octopus or even just general sea life without qualm....more
Although I learned quite a few things in this book, as I do with all of Roach's books, it wasn't as interesting overall as some of her others. As alwaAlthough I learned quite a few things in this book, as I do with all of Roach's books, it wasn't as interesting overall as some of her others. As always, one comes away from Roach's books with the impression that people are just weird and that the universe is preposterous.
For instance, here we discover that some people feed heir cats vegetarian diets, despite these animals being pure carnivores. (Might as well feed your kids birdseed.) We also learn more about farts and poop than we ever wanted to know.
In "The Universe Is Silly Department" we find out that there's a person who works as a detergent industry consultant named Keith Grime. When author Mary Roach was trying to find out if the enzymes in some laundry detergents were similar to those in human saliva, they referred her to Dr. Spitz.
The world is preposterous.
This book is NOT for the easily grossed out. ...more
A small percentage of autism and schizophrenia -- among other things -- might be the result of autoimmune disease. It's entirely possible that cases oA small percentage of autism and schizophrenia -- among other things -- might be the result of autoimmune disease. It's entirely possible that cases of demonic possession can likewise be attributed to inflammation caused by the body attacking the brain.
This book recounts the story of the author suffering from just such a mysterious disease. Dismissed as an alcoholic, diagnosed as an epileptic and a schizophrenic, when she was none of those things, Susannah Cahalan goes through an astonishing journey into disease-caused madness. Only the dedication of good doctors brought her back.
It's quite interesting to read a story like this from the inside. The only real trouble is that she doesn't remember much of it, so she had to reconstruct what happened to her. Fortunately her father and mother each kept a journal and she had access to not only the doctors who treated her but also the video of her weeks-long hospital stay.
I found the scientific aspects of it excellent; less so the reconstructed memories, which I thought were unnecessary. It got to the point that I would simply skip the large blocks of italics, because that was Cahalan being artsy rather than journalistic. Someone else may find that stuff interesting, but I'm more about facts than after-the-fact feelings.
Fortunately, there are enough of the former to keep me interested throughout. The reason why this has four stars rather than three is contained in the passage I'm going to transcribe. (It's not a spoiler, because you already know she survived.)
"As I researched my article, I was curious to get the perspective of Dr. Bailey, the neurologist who has asserted that my problem stemmed from alcohol withdrawal and stress, to see what he thought about the ultimate diagnosis. When I reached him by phone, though, it turned out he still had never heard of the illness, even though my diagnosis had been discussed in almost every major medical journal, including the New England Journal of Medicine, and the New York Times.
"In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.
While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.
"I’m the one who is an exception. I’m the one who is lucky. I did not slip through a system that is designed to miss cases just like my own – cases that require time and patience and individual attention. Sure, when I talked to him, I was shocked that he knew nothing about the disease, but that wasn’t the really shocking part; I realized now that my survival, my recovery – my ability to write this book – is the shocking part."
-- Susannah Cahalan, Brain On Fire: My Month Of Madness, p. 226-227
Cahalan pulls no punches with her own behavior, and vividly illustrates the pain and suffering her family, friends and boyfriend went through. I maintain that illness is always harder on the caregiver. The emotional cost is gigantic.
There are some really great stories here about life aboard interstellar starships. The hook for this collection is that they're all scientifically posThere are some really great stories here about life aboard interstellar starships. The hook for this collection is that they're all scientifically possible. Which isn't as heavy as you might think, since the focus really isn't on the science. Plus the last two stories really don't have much to do with it.
The last story is by Mike Resnick and it doesn't belong here. It's a fanciful tale about a race through the solar system and the "real story" about how one ship disappeared. It really should have been rejected; I suspect he's here for name recognition.
That said, many of the other stories are so good that I wish they were full novels. It reminds me why I like short stories so much: cracking good tales that leave you wanting more. It's a shame the book ends with a whimper.
There are a few science essays which detail some of the ways we can travel interstellar distances. A few decades ago I would have found them to be value-added, but there wasn't a lot of new information contained in them. Which is really a commentary on the sad state of cutting-edge scientific inquiry in America more than anything else. However, if this is your first exposure to these ideas then they are well worth your time.
Edit to add:
CHOICES by Les Johnson - A very good beginning to the collection, setting the tone that sometimes things break while in deep space, and frequently those broken things are people.
A COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Ben Bova - I really enjoyed this old school story about a stubborn man who knows what the right choice is and is determined to make it, no matter the cost. To win big you have to bet big, and the protagonist is just that kind of guy.
LUCY by Jack McDevitt - I loved this story. This is the flipside of the Bova story where the AI has a chance to go on one last adventure and metaphorically leaps at it.
LESSER BEINGS by Dr. Charles Gannon - This story really feels epic, with an interstellar spaceship used as an escape valve for a warring society. Every time someone loses a war, they take the ship to the next available system. The implication is that they are multiple generations -- and star systems -- removed from Earth, and as a result their society has mutated and stratified. Creating a completely new culture with backstory is something incredibly difficult to pull off, so I'm always impressed when an author does it in a short story. Excellent.
DESIGN FLAW by Louise Marley - This is a solid nuts-and-bolts working-class-spaceman story about a woman whose job is to inspect hard-to-get-to crawlspaces in spaceships because of her tiny size. Her diminutive stature comes partially from being naturally small and from growing up starvingly poor, which made her small. But small or not, she doesn't take guff from roughneck bullies, which causes her to make some tough choices. I discovered I'm slightly claustrophobic while having an MRI, so parts of this story were skin-crawlingly tense.
TWENTY LIGHTS TO THE "LAND OF SNOW": Excerpts from the Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama by Michael Bishop - A Buddhist colony ship funded by the Chinese eager to solve their Tibetan problem heads out for another solar system and the Dalai Lama dies en route. It is claimed he reincarnates in the body of a 7-year-old girl, who wants nothing to do with the responsibility. It's a nice tale of how she ages from 7 to 31 during the journey, with all the politics and dangers one might imagine in any group. I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, but it's quite good.
THE BIG SHIP AND THE WISE OLD OWL by Sarah A. Hoyt - Another female protagonist, which is a nice trend, but this story felt a little too pat. Some of the things which happen do so just in time, the kind of coincidence which do stretch my willing suspension of disbelief. It's not a bad story, but when compared to some of the really good stories here it's a bit of the B team taking the field.
SIREN SONG by Mike Resnick - This story doesn't belong here either in terms of theme (going interstellar) or quality. This is the sort of disappointing trifle Resnick can do in his sleep, and I'm at a loss as to why it's included. This was a lame way to end an otherwise excellent collection.
Various essays - As mentioned above, the essays are almost certainly value-added to someone new to the game, with excellent summations of current thoughts, theories and designs. I didn't find they added much for me, but then I've been reading this stuff for 40 years now. that said, they are quite good....more