MixedThe Washington PostAn engaging formula. He tells a vivid story...and relates it to the broader science. Mukherjee writes lucid sentences dense with metaphors as pedagogical tools ... The author covers the debates that raged in the 18th and 19th centuries between mechanists ... There is nothing odd about finding entrenched orthodoxies repeated in popular science books. What is odd is that Mukherjee, with his emphasis on \'interconnectedness,\' \'cooperation\' and \'ecological relationships\' in biological processes, hovers on the brink of countering his own reductionist argument that the whole is the sum of its parts. He flirts with a form of holism ... Despite its omission of important current disputes in biology, which have roots in earlier centuries, The Song of the Cell is a lively, personal, detailed, often moving account of the cell in medical history and its promise in the present.
PositiveThe Washington Post[Scull\'s] lucid prose and urgent narrative style take the reader through psychiatry’s dubious characters, its shifting conceptions of mental illness and fluctuating diagnostic categories, the often gruesome treatments visited upon patients and their families, and the ultimate demise of public mental hospitals for \'community care,\' which, as he explains, meant no community and no care ... What Scull misses is that recent research makes it clear that the immune system is highly sensitive to psychological stress and that a lowered immune response creates vulnerability to a host of illnesses, including those caused by bacteria ... By skirting the philosophical mind-body problem, Scull avoids psychiatry’s crucial dilemma. The medical discipline has never known and still does not know what it is treating. Can the mental be reduced to the physical? Are mind and brain identical, or is the reduction of feelings and thoughts to genes, brain regions and neurochemicals a mechanistic fantasy that has haunted science since the 17th century? If human development and its dynamic biological processes (including brain development) are at once genetically constrained and experience-dependent, then a new understanding of \'the mental\' in psychiatry and in popular culture is vital to negotiating the future ... As a sociologist, Scull is attuned to the broad upheavals that transform societies. He is also sensitive to cultural repetitions. He quotes William Laurence, a science reporter for the New York Times, who, in 1937, celebrated lobotomy as a procedure that \'cuts away the sick parts of the human personality.\' For readers who believe that such crude thinking belongs to a bygone era before neurobiology and genetics came along with answers, I recommend Desperate Remedies as a tonic for your optimism.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review[Richardson is] a fluent writer with a gift for narrative and a sensitive ability to read the artist’s work in relation to his life ... Throughout the biography, Richardson invariably refers to women by their first names and men by their last names, although the undeniably masculine Gertrude Stein is occasionally granted the dignity of her surname. Once out of short pants, Pablo becomes Picasso. The infantilizing gesture toward female figures, no doubt unconscious, is revealing. Although Richardson is frank about Picasso’s misogyny, his tone is breezy ... compromised by coy aggrandizement of the artist’s work and complicity with his behavior ... It is this broader cultural myth, founded on context-dependent prior beliefs, that requires interrogation, not by censorship, but by discussion, a discussion that is absent from Richardson’s biography.
Karl Ove Knausgaard
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewKnausgaard’s ambition is to whittle away at the legend to arrive at insights about the genesis of the art itself, and not only Munch’s art, but all art ... Knausgaard’s response to the varying opinions of those he encounters is at once measured, insightful and tinged with comedy. He has walked into the land of the experts and visual artists and is afraid of looking like an \'idiot\' when the exhibition is mounted. His analysis of his own feelings is bracing ... The writer enacts on the page exactly what he hopes to convey. Art can sometimes break through the blinding conventions that dictate our perceptions ... Such superb moments are offset by less successful passages. When he is at a loss to explain a painting’s effect on him, Knausgaard periodically lapses into clichés ... He displays confidence about theories he has misunderstood ... That said, Knausgaard never underestimates the painter’s labor and study, and this book stands as a sincere, often lyrical and penetrating attempt to enter the world of another artist.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn Joseph O'Neill's third novel, Netherland, there are two great love objects: the city of New York and the game of cricket. Hans van den Broek, the novel's Dutch narrator, seeks solace in both the place and the sport after September 11, 2001, when he finds himself adrift in the city ...doesn't turn on plot. In both form and content, it questions the idea that a life can be told as a coherent story. It is organized not chronologically but as a series of memories linked by associations ... Through the voices of his characters, O'Neill articulates the problem of a narrative self ... Always sensitive and intelligent, Netherland tells the fragmented story of a man in exile — from home, family and, most poignantly, from himself.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewRobert Hughes was not a philosopher, psychologist or poet. He was an art writer and popular historian. His work sings when his eye is not on his own soul but on the world beyond him, both in the past and in the present. He was a shrewd, incisive, if occasionally rash, commentator, not only on the spectacle of skill but on that mad, motley, yet also wondrous circus we call 'culture.'