"Ackerman [is] our poetic chronicler of the natural world."
-- Chicago Tribune
"[A] lovely...arresting...discourse on brain science."
-- Entertainment Weekly
"Partly close observation, partly free association, Ackerman's paean turns the inside of our heads into...[something] gorgeous, tender, jewelled."
-- The New York Times Book Review
"A love song to the brain...combines flights of lyricism and autobiographical reflection with a cooler, more cerebral amalgam of science, anthropology, psychology, history, and literature."
-- Francine Prose, More magazine
"Evocative and meaningful."
-- Carl Zimmer, The Washington Post
The brain is the protagonist of the story [Ackerman] tells, full of moods and vagaries, plots and dangers, mischief and virtue; it has associates and relations among species from crystals to crocodiles; its past is murky and yet colorful, and its activities are all-absorbing. The author revels in some of them, in list-making, pattern-building, word association and grappling with sense.
The New York Times
Ackerman knows that poetry and fiction are full of profound insights into the workings of the mind. She knows how to pluck a passage out of Proust, Shakespeare or Virginia Woolf to illustrate a point. In some cases she chooses instead to lyrically recall an experience of her own (such as her personal experience with the blending of sensation known as synesthesia).
The Washington Post
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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Poet/naturalist Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) brings her poetic vision to various aspects of the human mind. The result is a series of brief yet colorful essays on such phenomena as imagination, memory, dreams, consciousness, and our sense of self, personality, language, emotion, happiness, and metaphor. Far from a traditional guide to brain anatomy and physiology, this book is rather a way of looking at our extraordinary human mind through the eyes of an artist. Ackerman skillfully blends data from current scientific research with her own considerable experiences as a pilot, a fearless birder, a synesthete, and so on. In her ability to dazzle us with the richness of her use of language, she occasionally sacrifices clarity; ambiguous pronoun references, for example, may confuse the reader. But in the best of her essays (e.g., the paean to Shakespeare's brain), Ackerman is eloquent. Recommended for Ackerman fans in public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/04.]-Laurie Bartolini, Illinois State Lib., Springfield Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
A search for how the brain works, and where it ends and the mind begins. It must be tough for Ackerman (Cultivating Delight, 2001, etc.) to get through the day, enraptured as she is by the buzzing synethesia of sight, sound, and smell around her all the time. Fortunately, she writes quite well about the sheer wonder of being and manages to pose a few meaningful questions about it along the way. She tackles a fairly massive subject, the brain, but she manages to break the quest down into some basic categories of inquiry. "Why We Ask ‘Why'?" and " ‘Hello,' He Lied" are typical chapter headings in a work divided between sections discussing evolution, the physical brain, memory, the self ("and other fictions"), emotions, language, and the world we share. As she wrangles with the subject of memory, how it's gained, lost, and used, Ackerman folds some particularly interesting research into her narratives, especially when she gets into the area of shared or false memories and the fact that people are more likely to remember things they have talked about. Although she comes down pretty squarely in the middle on the nature/nurture divide, the author does cite some intriguing studies about how predetermined our lives are; one looked at a group of nuns and discovered that you could pretty well predict which of them would develop Alzheimer's later in life simply by studying their writing styles. Ackerman has a tendency to wander, dazed and marveling, through the gardens of her own reckoning, and this is at once her greatest strength and besetting weakness. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and most readers will quickly be engaged by her fascination with the brain, "that mouse-gray parliament of cells,"but occasionally her reveries can seem like extended diary entries, or plain old wheel-spinning. A playful, rewarding jaunt through the brain's chemical realities and emotional intangibles. Agent: Virginia Barber/William Morris