- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
This item may be
Check for Availability
In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mindby Eric R. Kandel
Synopses & Reviews
In Search of Memory relates the astonishing story of how four different and distinct disciplines: behaviorist psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology, converged into a powerful new science of mind. Through its profound insights into thought, perception, action, recollection, and mental illness, this new science is revolutionizing our understanding of learning and memory while simultaneously showing great promise for more effective healing. The narrative follows Eric R. Kandel through the last five decades, focusing on Vienna, where he became fascinated with memory. With intrepid scientific ardor, Kandel was captivated first by history and psychoanalysis, then by neurobiology, and finally by the biological processes of memory. His resulting, multifaceted perspective was the foundation for his path-breaking research that will continue to dominate modern thought: not only in science but in culture at large.
"When, as a medical student in the 1950s, Kandel said he wanted to locate the ego and id in the brain, his mentor told him he was overreaching, that the brain had to be studied 'cell by cell.' After his initial dismay, Kandel took on the challenge and in 2000 was awarded a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking research showing how memory is encoded in the brain's neuronal circuits. Kandel's journey into the brain spans five decades, beginning in the era of early research into the role of electrical currents flowing through neurons and ending in the age of genetic engineering. It took him from early studies of reflexes in the lowly squid to the founding of a bioengineering firm whose work could some day develop treatments for Alzheimer's and on to a rudimentary understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying mental illness. Kandel's life also took him on another journey: from Vienna, which his Jewish family fled after the Anschluss, to New York City and, decades later, on visits back to Vienna, where he boldly confronted Austria's unwillingness to look at its collusion in the Final Solution. For anyone considering a career in science, the early part of this intellectual autobiography presents a fascinating portrait of a scientist's formation: learning to trust his instincts on what research to pursue and how to pose a researchable question and formulate an experiment. Much of the science discussion is too dense for the average reader. But for anyone interested in the relationship between the mind and the brain, this is an important account of a creative and highly fruitful career. 50 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"When I was growing up in Pennsylvania half a century ago, my bookworm friends and I read biographies in the 'Landmark' series. We learned about American heroes, chiefly political, military or athletic, and the occasional scientist. Our understanding of science was derived from our school courses and romanticized movies. Aspiring scientists were inspired by Paul de Kruif's biographical 'Microbe Hunters'... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) or Erwin Schrodinger's meditative 'What Is Life?' The public's understanding of science changed dramatically after the publication in 1968 of James D. Watson's 'The Double Helix,' his personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA. The disinterested pursuit of truths was now supplemented by descriptions of ambition, competition and unethical behavior. During the following decade, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation commissioned a series of autobiographies by leading scientists. Such memoirs defined a new genre — somewhere between 'Landmark' and Watson, so to speak. The new autobiography by Eric R. Kandel, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000, falls comfortably within this genre. Of such efforts, one should pose three questions: Is the personal life of the scientist interesting? Are the scientific descriptions accurate, comprehensive yet accessible to non-specialists? And, taken together, do the personal and scientific components yield an effective whole? Kandel's memoir excels on all three counts. Born in Vienna in 1929 to ambitious, middle-class, Jewish parents, Kandel was a talented youth with an unremarkable childhood — until the Nazi Anschluss of March 1938. After some tense months, he was fortunate to be able to immigrate with his family to New York, receive a fine education at the Yeshivah of Flatbush, Erasmus Hall High School, Harvard College (where he studied history and literature) and New York University Medical School. Like many young intellectuals of the era, Kandel was attracted to psychoanalysis. After a stint at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, however, he became disaffected by what he saw as the non-rigorous aspects of psychoanalysis. Over a 40-year period, he carved out an original scientific path, moving in steps from the couch to the cell — and ultimately probing the molecular and genetic bases of the mind, particularly memory. The rest, as they say, is scientific history. It is helpful if such a memoir features an evocative through-line — a scientific equivalent of Proust's madeleine or Charles Foster Kane's 'Rosebud.' Kandel's is arresting — indeed, unforgettable. When he was 8 years old, he had an encounter with the family housekeeper, Mitzi, 'an attractive, sensual young woman of about twenty-five' who began to undress in front of him. She encouraged him to explore her body, which Kandel proceeded to do, until she 'became uncomfortable' and decided to stop the seduction, she told him, lest he become pregnant. Mitzi soon ran off with a gas repairman, but the experience continued to haunt Kandel. 'What, in principle,' he ponders, 'has sustained my memory of Mitzi for a lifetime?' He began to wonder how individuals retain such memories, either faithfully or with distortions. Understandably, this curiosity led to an infatuation with the specialty directly concerned with accessible as well as repressed memories — until Kandel was seduced by the allures of reductionist, bench-top science. Only in recent years has he dared to return to the humanistic concerns that initially fueled his scholarly curiosity. The bulk of Kandel's book consists of a meticulous description of his scientific sojourns. His conversion to 'hard science' began when a Columbia mentor, Harry Grundfest, showed him how to record the sounds made when an electrode taps the electrical firing of single cells. The conversion coalesced when Kandel made such recordings himself. 'I was becoming a true psychoanalyst,' he enthuses. 'I was listening to the deep, hidden thoughts of my crayfish!' With colleagues, Kandel began to explore the connections among nerve cells. Every experimental biologist needs a species, and he elected to work with Aplysia, mocked by colleagues as 'a slimy brainless sea slug' but actually, with its neurons that can be seen by the naked eye, an ideal model system for studying memory. His studies revealed how connections among nerve cells are altered by the repetition of a stimulus or the conditioning of a response — the work for which he is most renowned. Never resting, Kandel has taken advantage of every scientific advance. His synaptic work of the 1970s morphed into his molecular work of the 1980s (focusing on neurotransmitters) and his efforts in the last two decades to understand the genetics of memory. With this ever more aggressive reductionism — from cells to molecules to genes — Kandel might seem remote from the repressed memories of early imagined or real sexual assaults that intrigued the Freudians. Not so. Reflecting on Mitzi-type memories, he revisits the mysteries of human recollections in the closing pages. Enter the 'Humpty Dumpty challenge.' Scientists have unquestionably progressed by breaking down puzzles into pieces and tackling them one by one. Ultimately, however, scholars like Kandel are challenged to proceed in the opposite direction — from synaptic connections, molecules and genes to the enigmas of human memory a la Proust, Kane or Mitzi. Even Kandel would likely admit that he has not quite captured the phenomena central to psychoanalysis. Yet his valedictory passages on how normal and diseased human psychological processes can be illuminated through the study of the nervous system constitute a worthy parry to the Humpty Dumpty thrust. This excellent memoir is marred by one feature: the author's excessive self-regard. He focuses too much on his receipt of the Nobel Prize and on that prize generally. (It gets dozens of mentions — so many that I wondered how the memoir would have read had the author been forbidden to use the words 'Nobel' or 'Stockholm.') I also could have done without his subtle promotion of his own for-profit companies. But Kandel might not have achieved as much if he'd been a humbler person. Perhaps the daring required to innovate in the sciences subtly undermines one's humility, or perhaps only a self-confident and audacious person would strive repeatedly into the unknown. Despite these flaws, I recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and work of a major scientist — or, indeed, the course of science in our time. And like the de Kruif or Schrodinger books that my friends and I read those decades ago, Kandel's finely executed work might well seduce talented students to further the work that he has so impressively launched. Howard Gardner teaches in the Mind, Brain and Education Program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. His most recent books are 'Changing Minds' and 'The Development and Education of the Mind.'" Reviewed by Howard Gardner, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel (Columbia U., Kavli Institute for Brain Sciences, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) presents an account of his personal quest to understand memory--from focusing first on history and psychoanalysis, then on the biology of the brain, and finally on the cellular and molecular processes of memory--and how his search has intersected with the efforts of modern science to understand the mind in cellular and molecular biologic terms. Featuring a glossary and an extensive list of notes and resources, the text is academic but accessible to general readers.
Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Book News Annotation:
Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel (Columbia U., Kavli Institute for Brain Sciences, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) presents an account of his personal quest to understand memory--from focusing first on history and psychoanalysis, then on the biology of the brain, and finally on the cellular and molecular processes of memory--and how his search has intersected with the efforts of modern science to understand the mind in cellular and molecular biologic terms. Featuring a glossary and an extensive list of notes and resources, the text is academic but accessible to general readers. Annotation Â©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kandel relates the astonishing story of how four different and distinct disciplines--behaviorist psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology--converged into a powerful new science of mind.
What Our Readers Are Saying