Dr. Sacks is a neurologist who wants to be a philosopher. Unfortunately for us readers, he did not want to be a writer. This makes for frustrating rea...moreDr. Sacks is a neurologist who wants to be a philosopher. Unfortunately for us readers, he did not want to be a writer. This makes for frustrating reading and a violation of the cardinal rule of writing: know your audience. If you are also a neurologist who wants to be a philosopher and you have old fashioned ethics, then this is your book! If, like most people, you are not, then prepare for medical jargon coupled with esoteric allusions embedded in stories that ramble on and on until they abruptly end.
Dr. Sacks will examine how the human spirit is affected by the medical condition at hand, and this is fascinating at first. Amnesia and other rare psychological disorders have been milked fantastically by Hollywood, so simply telling the true version would make for a compelling read. Unfortunately, Dr. Sacks tries to get at the human spirit of the patient, and this leads to pulling in Kant, Hume ("Humean being" was easily my favorite unintended pun in the book), Wittgenstein and others as a springboard for lengthy ramblings about the nature of humanity and what makes us human. These ramblings often trail off into a series of questions for the reader, not unlike a sophomore philosophy essay.
Worse yet, multiple stories lack an ending. For instance, we only hear about the one night of a man who suddenly believes that his left leg is not his own. Fascinating story, but we don't know if he snaps out of it the next day or saws it off later that night! The story just ends. Often times the ending is vague and consists of the person doing alright all things considered.
Multiple times Dr. Sacks will reference specific works of fiction or his own jargon ("incontinent nostalgia" comes up many times before the chapter that defines it) and how this person is just like a character or situation in "Funes the Memorious" by Borges, or "The Door in the Wall" by HG Welles or the L-Dopa patients in Dr. Sack's other book. These stories are never summarized, so you will want an encyclopedia handy, otherwise you'll be missing out. The most frustrating instance of this is the entirety of chapter 9, which discusses two interpretations of a presidential speech without ever telling us anything about the speech!
However, there is one thing that kept me reading for as long as I did: the glimpse into the mind of old doctor ethics. This is a time when, "Give it to me straight, Doc." was necessary, as Dr. Sacks often does not tell the patient what is wrong. In the title story, when asked by the Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, "What's wrong with me?", Dr. Sacks dodges the question! We also get to see the archaic system of care for the mentally handicapped, as we meet a woman who has literally never done anything for herself because of her Parkinson's and a caretaker who flatly says, "He's an idiot. Don't even ask him. [...] They say he's 'autistic', but he is just an idiot."
I really enjoyed this book by “new media guru” Shirky. His examination of the current internet culture is grounded by a historical perspective and coh...moreI really enjoyed this book by “new media guru” Shirky. His examination of the current internet culture is grounded by a historical perspective and cohesive thought examining the means, motive, and opportunity of the internet. For history, he looks to Victorian England's gin problem and the introduction of the printing press. Those seem unconnected, but Shirky points out how the modern era's glut of free time has been plowed into TV, which regrettably has a horrible rate of return, just as the new urbanites of England plowed their free time into gin, again a horrible pastime. Similarly, he points out how today’s jeers against the internet for things like fanfic and Lolcats echo the outcries brought against the printing press, which critics said was leading to lower quality books and undermining good culture.
His strongest argument is in the first half of the book, where he outlines the means, motive, and opportunity of the change in our interaction with the media. Obviously the biggest change is that media is interactive, meaning we are no longer simply passive consumers but rather “the people formerly known as the audience”. The means chapter is uncontroversial, but the motive chapter may be difficult to swallow. He does make a good argument that is grounded in replicated psychology studies on how intrinsic motivators are more powerful than extrinsic ones (ie you will invest more in doing an activity you love rather than one you are paid to do), but I found myself thinking that it seemed too clean at times. The opportunity chapter does a good job explaining how the new tools enable people to collaborate on common problems easily. These first chapters hang together nicely and support one another fluidly, but the latter half of the book is more ephemeral and inchoate. Shirky does make some good observations, but I feel like he is cherry-picking at times. It would be nice if his examples were more significant rather than seemingly isolated events. His attempt to place internet communities along a continuum of personal (Lolcats), communal (MeetUp), public (open-source software), and civic (online groups motivating political action, of which there are few examples) is less than successful, but it does provide a good way to start thinking about internet communities.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I found myself often nodding along a bit too readily and having to stop and dig up counter-examples to his reasoning. This book provides an excellent way to frame your thinking about internet culture and will definitely make you think.(less)
Written for the lowest common denominator. Many common knowledge things, but the last few chapters get to some interesting studies. It is clear that h...moreWritten for the lowest common denominator. Many common knowledge things, but the last few chapters get to some interesting studies. It is clear that he is a professor foremost and that casual writing is not in his bailiwick.(less)
In this short book, Prof. Lever writes series of questions to ask yourself before, during, and after watching a film. While not all of the questions w...moreIn this short book, Prof. Lever writes series of questions to ask yourself before, during, and after watching a film. While not all of the questions work for all films, they provide a good framework to begin viewing film as art instead of mere entertainment.(less)