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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

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,449 ratings  ·  147 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 Eu
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Random House
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Apr 27, 2012 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
E. G.
Mar 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to E. G. by: Maria

--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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Feb 10, 2015 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
Kunal Sen
Aug 15, 2013 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
Randol Schoenberg
Jul 29, 2012 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
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
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This promises to be a long, dense read but I already am fascinated after the first two chapters....
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Eric Kandel's book, The Age of Insight, is a brilliant study of the interrelationship between what we think of as the theory of mind and the theory of art as mediated by the science of the brain, a topic for which he won a Nobel prize in biology/physiology.

Kandel, born in Vienna and emigrated to the US as a boy, opens the book with an assessment of the painters Klimpt, Kokoshka, and Shiele and the psychologist Freud, all of whom were part of Vienna's remarkable cultural life circa 1900.

Freud is
May 28, 2012 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 only en ...more
Frank Spencer
Apr 10, 2012 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 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
Rob Boone
Jun 29, 2012 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
Dec 29, 2013 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.

Monica Davis
Sep 26, 2014 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. ...more
Apr 16, 2013 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. ...more
Sep 24, 2012 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.
Bob Haar
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Wow. Bought this book after reading it. Very rare for me.
Jul 27, 2012 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
Oct 14, 2012 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
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
The Age of Insight is neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel's attempt to connect art with science using the works of Viennese artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The first half is excellent and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Kandel gives an overview of the city at the turn of the 20th Century, of artists and scientists who were encouraged by their environment to create extraordinary work. As someone is fascinated with Vienna from a cultural perspective, this is exactly what I read this ...more
Jul 26, 2015 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
Kim Lacey
Apr 20, 2012 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.
May 04, 2016 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
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Enthralled by Dr. Kandel's easy juxtaposition of biology and art.

Nov 29, 2013 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:)" ...more
Eric Kandel deserves a lot of praise. Not only did his pioneering work on the neurobiology of memory pave the way for our modern understanding of mind, he has also untiringly pursued the integration of neuroscience and psychiatry. Moreover, he has always resisted going along with the widespread dismissal of Freudian thought in neuroscience, and kept an open mind with regard to psychoanalysis. For all his work, Kandel deserves praise.

But not for this book.

While I enjoyed his depiction of coffeeho
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
I agree with other reviewers that this is really two books: First, the intellectual explosion that fin-de-siecle Vienna saw resulting from the tremendous excitement of Darwin’s theory of evolution; and second what brain science can tell us about how we appreciate art. That is, how biology informs our aesthetic judgements.

The first part is really a tour de force. in fact, I would say it is required reading for anyone traveling to Vienna or anyone with any interest in the arts and intellectual fe
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it
Not clear what the point of this book is. The chapters reviewing early Vienna psychologists (Freud) and artists (Klimt, Schiele) are interesting but I find myself asking why? Where is all this going...I think that this is ill-conceived. He is clearly interested in Austrian Art and his intellectual roots in Vienna around 1930s. but, then he tries to realte all this to modern cognitive and neuroscience and the links are either not there or tenuous. So, it all does not seem well motivated or indeed ...more
Aug 19, 2015 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. ...more
Adeyemi Ajao
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am (very) partial to inter-disciplinary studies, after all, one could argue (as Prof.Kandel does) that the entire history of science could be seen as a quest towards knowledge unification and reductionism.

That said: This book is at a different level. Too much to pack in a review but will just mention as an example that there is a part in which the author is reviewing “Judith” by Gustav Klimt purely from the point of view of brain chemistry, trying to guess what different compounds are release
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Eric Richard Kandel is an Austrian-American medical doctor with a specialization in psychology and neuroscience. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000 for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He shared the prize with Arvid Carlsson and Paul Greengard.

Kandel is a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the Columbia University College of Physic

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