This is a late-career book by a noted vision scientist who studies how our visual system can fool us in many different ways, creating the "blindspots" This is a late-career book by a noted vision scientist who studies how our visual system can fool us in many different ways, creating the "blindspots" of the title.
Although his style is academic, Breitmeyer's knowledge of how our eyes and brain perceive what we see, and how accidents, strokes, and evolutionary constraints shape what we can and can't detect, is fascinating and well done.
Just a couple examples: 1) Blindsight is a phenomenon where people have suffered a brain lesion that blocks part of their field of vision from conscious awareness, and yet they retain the ability to "see" objects in their blindspots without being aware of it. So a person with blindsight may be able to take various sized rectangles and place them in the right slots in their blindspot, without consciously knowing that they are able to do that. 2) Object agnosia is where people can identify faces but cannot identify common objects like tools, flowers and fruits and vegetables. These people can see the faces in the rather bizarre portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, where faces are made up of cucumbers, apples, melons and other plants, but can't identify any of the individual constituents.
At the end of this book, Breitmeyer takes on the task of explaining how we are often irrational in our views of the world, and how we also need emotional affect to give meaning to our perceptions. These are the weakest parts of the book, and have been treated much better and more literately by others.
Still, when he's in his wheelhouse, talking about the visual system and its peculiarities, and peppering his prose with case studies and optical illusion illustrations, Breitmeyer is entertaining and informative.
My wife recommended I read this because it's a page-turner and part of the context is the dying newspaper industry (I'm inside the coffin myself).
I wo My wife recommended I read this because it's a page-turner and part of the context is the dying newspaper industry (I'm inside the coffin myself).
I would never give Connelly high marks for the romantic relationship part of his novels, but he has a great sense of pacing and plot, and his character's search for a serial killer in the midst of being canned at the LA Times had an all too real verisimilitude.
I won't give away any of the plot. Suffice it to say that this is one that kept me going during breaks at a conference when I otherwise was so tired I could have easily fallen asleep in my chair.
This slim volume basically tells the life story and emerging philosophy of David Roche, who was born in the 1940s with a hemangioma -- a tangle of blo This slim volume basically tells the life story and emerging philosophy of David Roche, who was born in the 1940s with a hemangioma -- a tangle of blood vessels -- that deformed his face, and that was exacerbated by radiation treatments when he was a child.
Growing up with a face that some people spit on and others turned away from could be devastating for anyone, but Roche was upheld by his parents' faith in him, the nurturing of his Catholic faith and sometimes, his own naive optimism.
Eventually, though, the struggles he had in being accepted, particularly by women, put him through several crises and he needed to decide if and how he could make peace with himself and the world.
The result was his fictive "Church of 80 Percent Sincerity," where you and God understand that you don't have to be perfect, that your true beauty lies within, that you cannot change everything bad in the world yourself but have to be keenly open to grace, and where, finally, you realize that those who have most reviled you are dealing with demons of ugliness inside themselves.
Funny, poignant, and quietly inspiring, this is well worth the read....more
This is a good cook's tour of one of the most widely used personality profile scales out there: OCEAN (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreThis is a good cook's tour of one of the most widely used personality profile scales out there: OCEAN (openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism).
Besides sketching each of these personality dimensions, giving examples from correspondence he has kept from some of his clients who strongly fit the profiles, and making evolutionary psychology arguments about why these traits should have arisen, Nettle also deals with the whole nature-nurture issue and the question of whether our personality types are etched in stone.
His answer: heredity seems to explain a good deal of personality, perhaps half, and while our personality profile may be something we largely inherit, the choices we make of how to use our personality strengths, and just as importantly, the narrative we tell ourselves and the world about what our life story means, are just as important as the tendencies we have.
The book includes a short test at the back that you can take to get your basic position on the five scales.
And while some scales seem only desirable, like agreeableness, or only to be avoided, like neuroticism, Nettle makes the case that no single scale is all good or bad. Highly agreeable people have terrific empathy, but can unduly sacrifice their own goals for the sake of others. High neuroticism scorers often see the glass as half empty, and bitter tasting at that, but the neurotics of the world may also play an important role in seeing things as they really are and criticizing societal conditions that need to be fixed.
Sorry back to the library. Someone in the Wall Street Journal had listed this as a favorite historical mystery series, but it wasn't hard to see that Sorry back to the library. Someone in the Wall Street Journal had listed this as a favorite historical mystery series, but it wasn't hard to see that Ms. Robinson also writes romance novels. If one more Egyptian had let a thunderous look cross his brown or let her eyes question his deeply, I would have volunteered for mummification myself.
John Bell, the musical mastermind behind the hymns and liturgies that have come out of the Iona Community in Scotland (think beautiful, accessible and John Bell, the musical mastermind behind the hymns and liturgies that have come out of the Iona Community in Scotland (think beautiful, accessible and meaningful), reflects on the Jesus that has often been ignored or denied in the mainstream church in this short book.
Among the "10 things they never told me about Jesus" are the fact that all four of the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus are foreigners, and two are prostitutes; that despite all the images shown of Jesus as an ascetic wanderer with his rib-cage showing, the Gospels are replete with stories of him eating or drinking -- sitting at table was one of his main forms of ministry; that in the face of many hoary hymns about "Jesus meek and mild" is the real man who not only overthrew the moneychangers' tables in the Temple, but angrily confronted the Pharisees, occasionally his own family and often, his disciples; and that the real reason the people of his home synagogue might have wanted to throw him over a cliff was not that he implied he was the Messiah, as has often been taught, but that he linked himself to stories in which God's prophets had shown favor to foreigners before the chosen people.
His picture is one of a fleshy, caring, compassionate Jesus who gravitated toward the outcasts and anyone who wasn't in the club. Bell is not the first to say this, but in the face of false theologies like those propounded by the Joel Osteens of the world, John Bell calls us back to the real Savior.
This is a fine novel that handles its drama and its quieter narrative stretches with an understated sense of restraint that lets this World War II-eraThis is a fine novel that handles its drama and its quieter narrative stretches with an understated sense of restraint that lets this World War II-era story tell itself.
It centers on Jean Paget, a young British woman who is trapped in Malaya when the Japanese invade during the war, and who ends up traveling with other women and children on foot hundreds of miles as one Japanese commander after another keeps moving them along, until they are finally able to settle in one spot for the remainder of the war, their ranks depleted by death and illness.
We meet Jean after the war in England, when a somewhat stuffy but warm hearted solicitor becomes trustee of her uncle's estate, which suddenly makes her a fairly wealthy woman.
Jean decides she wants to give something back to the Malayan villagers she lived with for three years, and devotes some of her money to that purpose. But she soon has a bigger agenda of the heart: to discover what happened to an Australian soldier who was tortured during the war, and whom she mistakenly thought had died.
The rest of the book tells the story of how Jean tracked down cattle broker Joe Harman, and how her native intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit helped to almost a build a town from scratch in the Australian outback, one that she hoped would be as nice as an older town called Alice Springs (thus the title). Whether it is describing the devastating march around Malaya, the love her London solicitor has for her or the achievements and drama of the outback, the story never flags....more
Another wise, witty collection from a former U.S. poet laureate.
Billy Collins is the perfect poet for people who don't think they like poetry. No scrAnother wise, witty collection from a former U.S. poet laureate.
Billy Collins is the perfect poet for people who don't think they like poetry. No scratching your head trying to figure out what abstruse meaning is buried within the lines. But also not doggerel. Collins can pack more meaning into a five stanza poem than a dozen other poets can in whole volumes.
His poems also call out for you to read them again.
One of my favorites in this collection is this pithy one:
Oh My God!
Not only in church and nightly by their bedsides do young girls pray these days.
Wherever they go, prayer is woven into their talk like a bright thread of awe.
Even at the pedestrian mall outbursts of praise spring unbidden from their glossy lips....more
Pete Tarslaw is writing essays for foreign students who want to get into American schools when he formulates an ambitious but simple goal: he wants to Pete Tarslaw is writing essays for foreign students who want to get into American schools when he formulates an ambitious but simple goal: he wants to write a best selling novel to steal the thunder from his former girlfriend at her wedding and to become rich and famous.
And so Tarslaw then proceeds to analyze the best-sellers of the day, particularly the ones that pretend to some kind of literary cachet, and figure out what elements he needs. His rules include: Must include a murder; Novel must have scenes on highways, making driving seem poetic and magical; and Include plant names.
This little introduction hardly does justice to the sheer delight of this page turner, where Hely, a former writer for the Letterman show, spoofs just about every aspect of modern pop fiction, from the crime thrillers with impossibly exotic detectives to historical Civil War fiction to the author who becomes his nemesis, Preston Brooks, a mawksih sentimentalist who is always pictured on his book covers in some Walt Whitmanish rural pose.
Tarslaw in fact does write his best selling novel, although the fame, fortune and comeuppance of his ex don't work out quite as he planned.
In the midst of reading scientific books and studies, this novel was like school recess for the mind, and proved for me once again that good satire is a highly refined skill....more
So here's my pet peeve. Why do authors like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace get all of this nearly hagiographic buzz for whatever they writeSo here's my pet peeve. Why do authors like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace get all of this nearly hagiographic buzz for whatever they write, when novelists like David Mitchell fly under so many people's radar?
I can hardly think of a living fiction writer who is any better than Mitchell, who somehow manages to combine great storytelling, sharply drawn characters and polymath erudition into one package. Thousand Autumns is his best work so far, I think, and even though it took me a long time to finish because of the other stuff I was reading, it held me strongly until the end.
Jacob de Zoet is a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company at the end of the 1700s, stationed on Dejima, a small enclave off the coast of Nagasaki. It is the place where the Dutch, who were at the end of their global power ascendency, handled trade negotiations with the Japanese. Jacob is betrothed to a woman in the Netherlands, but his long absence makes that dedication tenuous, and then he meets a young Japanese woman who has learned the skill of midwifery and has been allowed to become a student of the Dutch doctor on Dejima, the only woman in the group. Her delicate face is marred by a burn, but Jacob is smitten with her and will be for the rest of his life.
As with some of Mitchell's other books, even though Jacob remains the fulcrum of the work, Mitchell has too much imagination and interest in his other characters to make them mere appendages of Jacob. So the entire middle portion of the book is devoted to what happens to the Japanese woman when her father dies penniless and she is sold by her stepmother into a nunnery, which turns out to be part of a frightening religious cult. The efforts of her Japanese lover (though they never consummate their passion) to rescue her take up that part of the story before Mitchell eventually leads us back to De Zoet and his critical moment of leadership when a British warship shows up to wrest control of Dejima away from the Dutch.
A brilliantly written, evocative book. David Mitchell for the cover of Newsweek, anyone? I certainly hope so ... ...more
This novel requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, or it did for me, in agreeing that an upstanding scientist in London for a job interview would d This novel requires a bit of suspension of disbelief, or it did for me, in agreeing that an upstanding scientist in London for a job interview would decide to go underground after witnessing the aftermath of a murder rather than get a lawyer and turn himself in and trust the system.
But Boyd gives some plausible reasons for his protagonist to do that, and then starts a well paced story of a man who goes off the grid, living first on a patch of scrubby ground near the Chelsea Bridge and then changing identities twice more as he seeks to find out why his life is in danger and as a hired killer continues trying to find him.
Along the way, Boyd does a marvelous job of portraying various denizens of London's poorer classes and places, from a feisty prostitute to an eccentric evangelist to the polyglot porters at a large hospital. And unlike many of these kinds of thrillers, this does not wrap up all the loose ends neatly at the end. For each person, there is a sense of a future yet to be written (but given Boyd's history, probably not a sequel).
This was a pure case of serendipity or my stupidity or both, but I picked up this book thinking it was a different one by Charles Portis, and then decThis was a pure case of serendipity or my stupidity or both, but I picked up this book thinking it was a different one by Charles Portis, and then decided, despite my impression that this was just another John Wayne movie, to give it a try.
What a wonderful revelation. There are stories that are good yarns. And there are stories where the author creates a strong voice. But it's rare to find a novel where both have been married so well.
Rooster Cogburn (the John Wayne character) is indeed an important part of this story, but the heart and soul is the narrator, Mattie Ross, who is only 14 when a lowlife rambler named Tom Chaney shoots her father to death in a drunken instant in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Leaving her grieving and somewhat befuddled mother and younger siblings behind, Mattie goes to Ft. Smith and singlehandedly signs up Rooster, a somewhat disreputable quick-trigger, one-eyed federal agent, to go in search of her father's killer. They end up being joined by a Texas ranger who wants no part of Mattie once she has spurned his cowboy come-ons, but in the end, the three of them strike out in the Oklahoma territory to hunt for the bad guys.
This story keeps its steady and often breakneck pace without ever once becoming just a Western shoot em up, and that is thanks to Portis' brilliant gift of language and the way he has so totally inhabited the personality and sensibility of Mattie, who often has funny asides, will sometimes flash forward to her future life (this is being narrated at the end of her life, we learn), and is as knowledgeable about the Bible and predestination as she is about how to pick a good pony, fill out a financial sheet and charm two men who thought she would be the last person they'd take on a dangerous assignment....more
After the way Freud's theories have been discredited, you might think the notion of the unconscious has disappeared from psychology.
But Shankar Vedant After the way Freud's theories have been discredited, you might think the notion of the unconscious has disappeared from psychology.
But Shankar Vedantam, a staff writer for the Washington Post, brilliantly resurrects the concept with modern-day experiments done by social psychologists and brain imaging experts to show how much of our lives is controlled by impulses and biases that we are completely unaware of.
For each type of influence exerted by the hidden brain, Vedantam gives gripping examples from real-world experiences, building from personal preferences to large societal trends.
Just a couple examples:
* To show how hidden gender bias can be, he tells the story of two Stanford professors who were already well known in their fields and went through sex change operations, one to a man and the other to a woman. The woman began to notice how colleagues would interrupt her sentences and angrily challenge her research in ways that never happened when she was male. The man found that his research suddenly earned new respect.
* In another chapter, he tells how much of the world became captivated by the story of a puppy left on a drifting oil tanker in the Pacific, sending money in from around the world for its rescue, and contrasted that with the well-known and distressing phenomenon of how the world ignores genocides that kill millions of people. In that case, he points to research which has shown that people not only exhibit more compassion for one individual in distress than for a large group, but will even demonstrate more compassion for one person in laboratory tests than for two or three people with the same problem.
I have seen some lukewarm reviews of this book, including a cryptic one in the New York Times (perhaps the hidden brain of the reviewer was influenced by the fact that Vedantam works for the rival Washington Post?), and I don't understand it. This book is built around a fascinating and compelling premise and is filled with good anecdotes and provocative research, all well written.