You make hundreds of decisions every day, from what to eat for breakfast to how you should invest, and not one of those decisions would be possible without emotion. It has long been said that thinking and feeling are separate and opposing forces in our behavior. But as Leonard Mlodinow tells us, advances in psychology and neuroscience have proven that emotions are as critical to our well-being as thinking.
To get an eloquent reminder of this impact is timely, given the stream of recent books paying one-sided attention to rationality and knowledge ... It is interesting to see this argument being developed by a writer who started his career as a theoretical physicist ... With Emotional, he dives into a field that is clearly not his own. The result is a rather intellectualized version of the emotions without all of their bodily manifestations and long evolutionary history ... we don’t read about some of the greats, such as the psychologist Paul Ekman or the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, who placed facial expressions and emotional brain circuitry in an evolutionary context ... Those interested in understanding how feelings unconsciously steer thought, however, are in for a stimulating read. Mlodinow handles this topic astutely with compelling examples and attention to the latest research, which is quite spectacular. He writes in a brisk, friendly style that easily draws you in and makes you reflect on both the recounted anecdotes and your own way of handling comparable situations ... Mlodinow is skilled in setting up topics with gripping anecdotes while subsequently fleshing them out by explaining recent scientific discoveries ... Toward the end, Mlodinow turns a corner that I found unnecessary and out of his league. His book all of a sudden heads for the self-help section ... Perhaps some readers will find his advice useful, but for me the value of this book is as a lively exposé of the growing consensus about the limited power of rationality and decision-making.
Leonard Mlodinow, a physicist and author, offers a crash course, one that feels less like cramming than like a colorful tour of the behavior of humans—and the rest of the animal kingdom. Most of this smart, trim volume is about the science of emotion rather than how to use it, but he doesn’t miss the opportunity to dole out advice and provide opportunities for self-reflection ... The advice sprinkled throughout this book is not original, but it doesn’t need to be. Humans have a hard enough time absorbing the tried-and-true ... The book skirts some deep theoretical questions, perhaps to most readers’ benefit ... Mr. Mlodinow populates his book with the most grimly eye-catching examples he can find ... Yet somehow I recall the book as jaunty. Some tales are not only astounding but touching.
The book is an attempt to understand the purpose of emotions and how they affect us — as well as what we can do to control them ... He is fluent at blending personal stories, with case studies on plane crashes and trading floors as well as psychological and neuroscientific research. While I marvel at the skill that enables him to crunch so much information in a compelling way, I do wonder if such books targeting the general reader have become rather formulaic ... this exploration of the interplay of emotion and thought is fascinating ... The book even comes with a quiz section to analyse your emotional type ... One area that Mlodinow could have investigated more was the historical characterisation — and dismissal — of women as governed by their emotions ... Nonetheless, Emotional shows that rather than being counterproductive, emotions enrich our lives and understanding them better equips us to realise 'what it means to be humans.'