“I’m of two minds,” we say. Or, “I changed my mind.” These phrases roll casually off the tongue, but we don’t mean them literally. Maybe we should, according to two new books that explore the fascinating history and tantalizing future of neuroscience.
Annoyance can be a powerful prod to action. And so after being annoyed for years by the praise much of the world lavishes on the supposedly enlightened Scandinavians, British writer Michael Booth has bestirred himself to take a closer, more jaundiced look at the people, customs, institutions and landscapes of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and his adopted homeland of Denmark. Are these five nations the political incarnation of human happiness? Well, maybe.
I read The End of Absence with interest, because I am a member of what author Michael Harris calls the “Straddle Generation,” the generation born before 1985, the last one to remember adult life before the Internet. Harris compares this moment in history to the advent of the Gutenberg press in the 15th century, when the written word became universally available. “Young and old,” he writes, “we’re all straddling two realities to a certain degree. In our rush toward the promise of Google and Facebook—toward the promise of reduced ignorance and reduced loneliness—we feel certain we are rushing toward a better life.
Listen up! With finance, mystery and historical fiction titles, this month's audio column has something for everyone.
In his heyday, E. Forbes Smiley III was larger than life, a man who excelled at virtually everything he set his hand to. Although his name smacked of sitcom pretentiousness, he was never the rich buffoon. Raised in a middle-class, well-educated family in New Hampshire, Smiley became a superb college student, an engaging conversationalist, a gifted woodworker and a generous and loyal friend.
From the Duke boys’ car named the General Lee on the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show to his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp, Robert E. Lee has come to “embody and glorify a defeated cause,” Michael Korda asserts in a monumental new biography, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.
Finally, a book on New Orleans restaurants that feels like summer in the city: gusty, alluring, oppressive, extravagant and intentionally over the top. Eat Dat New Orleans is a love letter from ex-pat and food junkie Michael Murphy to one of the most complex and addictive cities in the world.
For mythological heroes “the call” comes as they are just entering manhood. I was rushing toward my 60s and trying to re-direct my life after 30 years in book publishing had hit a dry patch, a dry patch the size of the Sahara Desert . . . “The call” usually comes in the form of a burning bush, or at least in the middle of the night. Mine was an email. On a Tuesday.
Wild, irregular and free, Henry Thoreau cut a distinctive figure in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts, whether carving “dithyrambic dances” on ice skates with Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne or impressing Ralph Waldo Emerson with his “comic simplicity.” More at home in the woods than in society, Thoreau began the first volume of his celebrated journals with a simple word that also functioned as his motto: solitude.
According to Spanish legend, medieval knight Rodrigo Díaz, known as El Cid, was valiant, honorable and faithful, loyal even to the king who unjustly exiled him. The reality: Well, maybe not. Modern historians say El Cid really existed, but he was a much more mercenary and self-interested character than the hero immortalized in epic poetry, ballads and film.What on earth does that have to do...