Synopses & Reviews
The most ambitious and enlightening work to date from the bestselling author of A Natural History of the Senses, An Alchemy of Mind
combines an artist's eye with a scientist's erudition to illuminate, as never before, the magic and mysteries of the human mind.
Long treasured by literary readers for her uncommon ability to bridge the gap between art and science, celebrated scholar-artist Diane Ackerman returns with the book she was born to write. Her dazzling new work, An Alchemy of Mind, offers an unprecedented exploration and celebration of the mental fantasia in which we spend our days and does for the human mind what the bestselling A Natural History of the Senses did for the physical senses.
Bringing a valuable female perspective to the topic, Diane Ackerman discusses the science of the brain as only she can: with gorgeous, immediate language and imagery that paint an unusually lucid and vibrant picture for the reader. And in addition to explaining memory, thought, emotion, dreams, and language acquisition, she reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience and addresses controversial subjects like the effects of trauma and male versus female brains. In prose that is not simply accessible but also beautiful and electric, Ackerman distills the hard, objective truths of science in order to yield vivid, heavily anecdotal explanations about a range of existential questions regarding consciousness, human thought, memory, and the nature of identity.
"Ackerman's latest foray (after Cultivating Delight) is ostensibly about the 'crowded chemistry lab' of the human brain, but fans of her writings on the natural world will find many familiar pleasures. All is not pastoral sweetness; every passage on genteel matters like tending her backyard roses has its rougher counterpart, for example, the recollection of a life-threatening accident during a Japanese bird-watching expedition. By grounding the scientific information firmly in her own experience of discovery, Ackerman invites readers to share in her learning and writing processes. The common thread she spies running through the tangible world of the evolving brain and the intangible world of emotion and memory is the 'sleight of mind' that provides us with a self-identity through which we experience the world in a unified yet complexly fragmented way. It's no surprise that the section of the book dealing with language should concentrate so intently on metaphors; they cascade down every page like waterfalls. Ackerman's prose is equally sensuous on the literal plane, enabling her to turn an afternoon snack into a lesson on neurochemistry that swiftly dovetails with a discussion of the varying speeds of thought without ever risking distraction. Even brain buffs used to a more detached approach should be won over by her uniquely personal perspective. Agent, Virginia Barber. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain's chemical realities and emotional intangibles." Kirkus Reviews
"[An] agile, involving, and uniquely far-ranging and insightful inquiry into 'how the brain becomes the mind.'...Most movingly, Ackerman marvels over our creativity, especially our facilities for language, story, and metaphor." Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"Ackerman skillfully blends data from current scientific research with her own considerable experiences as a pilot, a fearless birder, a synesthete, and so on....[E]loquent." Library Journal
"Even brain buffs used to a more detached approach should be won over by [Ackerman's] uniquely personal perspective." Publishers Weekly
"A brilliant distillation of the mysterious intersection of brain and mind...all delivered in miraculously readable prose." Elle
"A beautiful book. Diane Ackerman has done it again. She has taken the largely inaccessible and confusing scientific literature on the brain and made sense out of it. With clarity, spunk, and feeling, what is known about the brain becomes up-front and personal." Dr. Michael S. Gazzaniga, Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College and editor of Cognitive Neuroscience
From the bestselling author of A Natural History of the Senses "comes a playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain's chemical realities and emotional intangibles" (Kirkus Reviews).
About the Author
Diane Ackerman is a naturalist and poet and the author of ten books of literary nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses, A Natural History of Love, and Cultivating Delight. Also the author of six volumes of poetry and several nonfiction children's books, she contributes to The New York Times, Discover, National Geographic, Parade, and many other publications. Ackerman lives in Ithaca, New York.