MixedThe Washington PostDespite the best of intentions, it too often feels half-baked, like a pastiche of ideas from other books ... chapters present a number of big, unwieldy and often quite intriguing ideas in an attempt to connect the dots ... Always bold, Baron-Cohen is not afraid to be provocative ... The problem is, he’s bitten off so much, there simply isn’t enough space to fully flesh out all of his arguments, and this is where things start to fray. Baron-Cohen frequently seems to lose patience with all the explaining that is required and resorts to sweeping statements about what he believes, bolstered more by repetition than explanation ... He lectures and occasionally hectors, and expects you to agree with him because he is the authority ... Baron-Cohen’s insistence on being the arbiter of such a wide array of knowledge becomes trying. There’s too much tell, not enough show ... The Pattern Seekers is its most engaging, and moving, when it allows the few autistic individuals it profiles to speak for themselves ... The last chapter of the book is filled with excellent practical suggestions for how to nurture the inventors of the future and integrate autistic people into society. Clearly Baron-Cohen is back in his wheelhouse, and it shows. The examples are intriguing ... Too many ideas are underdeveloped or left hanging, and the whole if-and-then explanation seems shoehorned into examples that don’t really work ... even with these flaws, it is an ambitious work, and a thesis worth refining and continuing to explore.
RaveThe Washington PostPart travelogue, part soul-searching memoir and part intellectual matchmaker, Weiner’s book packs an extraordinary amount into 287 pages of text. Erudite, funny and frequently self-deprecating, Weiner serves as your interpreter and guide along the way. Bursting with amusing trivia, insights and cultural references, he is on a quest to make even Schopenhauer relatable ... each chapter begins with some kind of train trip, often to a far-flung site relevant to the philosopher at hand ... This extra framework serves as a sort of palate cleanser between big ideas ... This is not a book to race through and then shelve away. Let it take time to digest, because despite the humor and wit, it is still meaty stuff. All the same, the ticket for the Socrates Express is well worth your time and will lighten your metaphorical burdens.
RaveThe Washington Post... serves as an entertaining and impressively comprehensive field guide to the rapidly evolving world of genetic testing. Strap on your seat belt, because this is not your gray-haired father’s harmless hobby. At times it reads like an Agatha Christie mystery with twists and red herrings. But it is also a philosophy book and an ethics treatise, with a touch of true crime. It wrestles with some of the biggest questions in life: Who are we? What is family? Are we nature, nurture or both? ... Copeland walks the reader through how genetic testing works, with just enough detail to leave you confident in the results (seriously, this is how schools ought to teach biology). But even if 20 pages later you’ve forgotten the difference between autosomal and mitochondrial testing, you will be able to follow along without any trouble ... Like any good reporter, Copeland casts her net wide when looking for sources to interview ... At times reading this book, you get the sense that we are on the edge of some brave new world. It’s exciting, and a little frightening too. Even if you think (like everyone does) that your family tree holds no uncomfortable surprises, Copeland will make you ponder just how much stock we put into our genetic heritage.
PositiveThe Washington PostWhile it doesn’t give the reader a neat answer, it will leave you thinking about how cultures everywhere break down and evolve, and the role we unwittingly play in their demise ... This is not a romantic, idealized tale of life in the rainforest brought to you by Disney nature films. Kulick hopes to tell a more honest story ... the great strength of the book is Kulick’s candor. It’s closer to a memoir than an academic tome, and a more accurate subtitle might be True Confessions of a Cultural Anthropologist ... If you want to experience a profoundly different culture without the exhausting travel (to say nothing of the cost), this is an excellent choice. It’s entertaining, plus you can read it while curled up on your couch. But the lasting impact for a reader may be the insights — rather than answers — it offers for our future. Like a Rorschach test, any parallels you draw are up to you.
PositiveThe Washington PostSomewhat fittingly, Louisa on the Front Lines isn’t a traditional biography, checking the boxes of the events and dates, although it does cover much of her life. Instead it focuses primarily on the pivotal six weeks when Alcott worked as a nurse in Union Hotel Hospital in Washington, an experience that sparked her literary coming of age ... In a larger sense, it is the story of a woman finding her voice in a society that offered women very constrained and narrow roles ... Seeing the conflict through Lu’s eyes gives it an immediacy that sweeps you up so completely, you sometimes forget who won the war ... Have a box of tissues handy ... Toward the very end Seiple seems to run out of steam, repeating several points almost verbatim and dropping hints that the future is bleak for Alcott. Suddenly the book jumps ahead 10 years with a brief chapter on Alcott’s commitment to women’s suffrage, and then that’s all, the story is done. It’s almost as if a chapter has been accidentally left out or Seiple ran up against a hard deadline or page limit ... It’s like eating a delicious meal at a restaurant but having to leave before your dessert has arrived. No doubt many readers will turn to Google to find out what finally happened to Alcott, filling in the rest of her story ... Even though it ends too soon, Louisa on the Front Lines is a rich, enlightening tale. Seiple wisely lets her subject narrate as often as possible, and Alcott’s voice shines through in her fresh, clean prose.
RaveThe Washington PostUnsatisfied with the \'cold and impersonal\' accounts that make up the bulk of modern case studies, she reaches out to the humans they feature to get a fuller picture of their lives. She goes one step further than her idol Oliver Sacks: Instead of interviewing them in a clinical setting, she meets them on their own turf—in their homes, favorite restaurants and other haunts of regular life ... they take the reader on an engaging tour inside the head ... A great science writer knows what is interesting to the reader, and here Thomson shines. Her book is tailor-made for anyone who loves intellectual brain trivia ... you will recognize figures like Phineas Gage, but she elaborates on even the well-known cases, bringing much-needed context and depth. She also has a gift for metaphor ... One of the most fun features of Thomson’s book is that she addresses the reader directly, enthusiastically suggesting tips to try at home and do-it-yourself diagnostics for your brain ... Mostly, though, this book is a chef’s tasting menu of fascinating things about your brain—and a good one at that.