Unsatisfied 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.
The mind does funny things, argues Thomson in Unthinkable. Odd things. Unnerving things. In this fluent, eye-opening book she explores what happens when the mind misbehaves: distance is distorted, memory plays tricks, people hear in colour and see in music. Thomsons’s style is wonderfully clear. She never talks down to the layman. If there is academic jargon, she carefully explains it, drawing useful analogies. She is the science teacher you wish you’d had at school.
...Bob, can recall a day from 40 years ago as easily as yesterday. Not just who he was with and what the weather was like, but his exact thoughts and sensations. Sometimes, as when the experience was unpleasant, these memories can be a source of pain. But replaying such memories also enables Bob to learn from his mistakes and, in the case of a lost loved one, his extraordinary memory allows him to travel back in time. Indeed, Bob makes a point of memorising relationships that are valuable to him, the better to be able to relive them later. According to Thomson, we can learn a lot from people like Bob ... Thomson makes a virtue of her limitations by travelling the world in search of 'strange brains' in an effort to understand them as a 'friend might'. It is, for the most part, a successful strategy and although I did not fully buy her claims to have entered her subjects’ peculiar sensory universes, by the end of her journey she had certainly persuaded me to see the world differently.