"Jonah Lehrer provides a fresh and unique look at eight of the artists who define modern culture." --Billy Collins, former poet laureate
“In this book, Jonah Lehrer shows us brilliantly that the process of cooking is more than chemistry." --Jacques Pepin
“In this intriguing reflection . . . both art and science are freshly conceived.” --Howard Gardner
"Lehrer puts current neuroscience to a fine use -- ancestor worship -- and in the process gives us a delightful, thoughtful read.” --Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes' Error
"Brilliantly illustrated . . . amazing . . . [Jonah Lehrer's] clear and vivid writing--incisive and thoughtful, yet sensitive and modest--is a special pleasure." --Oliver Sacks
"Writing with effortless brilliance and astonishing clarity, Jonah Lehrer gives us . . . a beautiful book: I was enthralled by it." --Robert D. Richardson, author of William James (winner of the Bancroft Prize) and Emerson
"Jonah Lehrer in Proust was a Neuroscientist, brilliantly, playfully, and precociously shows how artistic perception often anticipates scientific discovery." --Michael Collier
"This is a delightful little book . . . fun to read and thought provoking." --Joseph LeDoux, New York University, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self
"Comes close to exemplifying . . . a unified “third culture” in which science and literature can co-exist as peaceful, complementary equals." Publishers Weekly
"Pleasingly fluent . . . [introduces] art to scientists and science to artists. Solid science journalism with an essayist's flair." Kirkus Reviews
"Entertaining and enlightening." New York Magazine
"Precocious and engaging . . . Lehrer is smart, and there are some fun moments in these pages." --D. T. Max The New York Times Book Review
"His book marks the arrival of an important new thinker . . . wise and fresh." --Jesse Cohen The Los Angeles Times
"Lehrer writes skillfully and coherently about both art and science." --Gregory Kirschling Entertainment Weekly
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Since the dawn of the modern age, science's greatest contribution to the world has been its ability to unravel the mystery, to break down the inner working of the universe to its component parts: atoms and genes. Its greatest detriment to the world has been its unfettered desire to play with and alter them: science for science's sake, as if it offered the only path to knowledge.
According to Lehrer, when it comes to the human brain, the world of art unraveled such mysteries long before the neuroscientists: "This book is about artists who anticipated the discoveries of science…who discovered truths about the human mind…that science is only now discovering." Proust Was a Neuroscientist is a dazzling inquiry into the nature of the mind and of the truths harvested by its first explorers: artists like Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Auguste Escoffier, Marcel Proust, Paul Cézanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf. What they understood intuitively and expressed through their respective art forms -- the fallibility of memory, the malleability of the brain, the subtleties of vision, and the deep structure of language -- science has only now begun to measure and confirm.
Blending biography, criticism, and science writing, Lehrer offers a lucid examination of eight artistic thinkers who lit the path toward a greater understanding of the human mind and a deeper appreciation of the ineffable mystery of life.
(Holiday 2007 Selection)
Jonah Lehrer's smart, elegantly written little book expresses an appealing faith that art and science offer different but complementary views of the world. His main argument, that artists have often intuited essential truths about human nature that are later verified by scientific research, is hardly new. But he pursues this argument with freshness and enthusiasm in eight enjoyable case studies studded with arresting sentences that voice the 25-year-old author's delighted sense of discovery.
The Washington Post
…a precocious and engaging book that tries to mend the century-old tear between the literary and scientific cultures.
The New York Times
With impressively clear prose, Lehrer explores the oft-overlooked places in literary history where novelists, poets and the occasional cookbook writer predicted scientific breakthroughs with their artistic insights. The 25-year-old Columbia graduate draws from his diverse background in lab work, science writing and fine cuisine to explain how Cézanne anticipated breakthroughs in the understanding of human sight, how Walt Whitman intuited the biological basis of thoughts and, in the title essay, how Proust penetrated the mysteries of memory by immersing himself in childhood recollections. Lehrer's writing peaks in the essay about Auguste Escoffier, the chef who essentially invented modern French cooking. The author's obvious zeal for the subject of food preparation leads him into enjoyable discussions of the creation of MSG and the decidedly unappetizing history of 18th- and 19th-century culinary arts. Occasionally, the science prose risks becoming exceedingly dry (as in the enthusiastic section detailing the work of Lehrer's former employer, neuroscientist Kausik Si), but the hard science is usually tempered by Lehrer's deft way with anecdote and example. Most importantly, this collection comes close to exemplifying Lehrer's stated goal of creating a unified "third culture" in which science and literature can co-exist as peaceful, complementary equals. 21 b&w illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Would George Eliot have been better looking if she'd put on a pair of lab goggles? Would Paul Cezanne have seen any better?Eliot, of course, has been the bane of unwilling high-school students for generations. The scientifically inclined among them, however, might thrill to find out that she had a fine sense of how the mind works. So profound were her inklings of human psychology, in fact, that fledgling science writer Lehrer is moved to remark, "the best metaphor for our DNA is literature ...our genome is defined not by the certainty of its meaning, but by...its ability to encourage a multiplicity of interpretations." In these pleasingly fluent essays, Lehrer examines the lives and works of several artists who, in one way or another, have shed light on our nature. Walt Whitman gave testimony to the phantom-limb phenomenon whereby neural sensation can be active even when the nerves don't connect to their former endings. Cezanne delved into the mysteries of perception, deepening the impressions of the impressionists to come up with a kind of radical abstraction that, by Lehrer's view, points to the fact that "everything we see is an abstraction," a confederacy of illusions. Auguste Escoffier knew the workings of the mouth and nose so well that he was able to divine the essence of umami. Few of these worthies had any idea that they were contributing to 21st-century brain science (though, interestingly, Whitman had intimations). Lehrer could probably have picked any random dozen culturistas and come up with a similar argument, and sometimes his reading of culture is a little too general. T. S. Eliot's remark was not that "spring" is "the cruelest time," but that April is the cruelest month,a thought weighted with precision. Yet Lehrer's book makes a nice bridging of the two cultures, introducing art to scientists and science to artists. Solid science journalism with an essayist's flair.