Synopses & Reviews
What makes a child decide to become a scientist? For Robert Sapolsky, Stanford professor of biology, it was an argument with a rabbi over a passage in the Bible. Physicist Lee Smolin traces his inspiration to the volume of Einstein's work he picked up as a diversion from heartbreak. The author of Flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, found his calling through Descartes. Studying Hebrew, Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing a Life discovered that she wanted to be an anthropologist. Janna Levin, author of How the Universe Got Its Spots felt impelled by the work of Carl Sagan to know more. Alison Gopnik, Nicholas Humphrey, Freeman Dyson, Lynn Margulis, V.S. Ramachandran, Howard Gardner, Sherry Turkle, Richard Dawkins, and more than a dozen others tell their own entertaining, often inspiring stories of the deciding moment. Illuminating memoir meets superb science writing in essays that invite us to consider what it is, and isn't, that sets the scientific mind apart and into action.
"In this anthology of reminiscences by prominent scientists, the roll includes Richard Dawkins, Murray Gell-Mann, Joseph Ledoux and Ray Kurzweil, along with 23 others. The mandate of the book's editor, literary agent Brockman (The Third Culture), to each of these authors was to write an essay explaining how he or she came to be a scientist. Some take him at his word and write meandering stories of childhood. David Buss found his calling the study of human mating behavior while working at a truck stop after dropping out of school. Paul Davies says he was born to be a theoretical physicist. Daniel Dennett, on the other hand, seems to have tried every other profession before landing, as if by accident, in science. A few writers let their essays get hijacked by the science they have devoted their lives to. And in the midst of this, like a keystone in an arch, is an essay by Steven Pinker explaining why the entire exercise is a bunch of hooey: scientifically speaking, he says, people have no objective idea what influenced their behavior, and that writing a memoir is creative storytelling, not objective observation of what actually happened. Whether or not these essays are scientifically sound is open to debate, but they do offer occasionally inspiring glimpses into the minds of today's scientific intelligentsia. Agent, Max Brockman. (Sept. 1)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
John Brockman, editor of many books, including The Next Fifty Years, is also the author of By the Late John Brockman, The Third Culture, and Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite. He is the founder and CEO of Brockman Inc., a literary and software agency, and the publisher and editor of the Web site Edge. He lives in New York City.