Friday, January 23, 2015

Memorable Non-Fiction Reads of 2014

Continuing from where I left off in my previous post, I actually did manage to read a few non-fiction books - cover to cover - and that's saying something. About the books, that is. So among the few that I read, I recommend the below two books.

Ever since I heard the author's interview on NPR, I knew I was going to read the book. His unassuming humility and enthusiasm for his work is something to aspire for. This book is a collection of all his research findings and insights; his career packaged in an engaging read.

Anyone that's interested in evolution and human biology would find this book interesting and fascinating. There's much to learn and absorb, especially regarding the mysteries of human reproduction and early parenting. It might frustrate some that there are hardly any solid conclusions or answers, but just a very careful discussion of experiments and facts that separate correlation from causality - sometimes painstakingly. If you are a researcher, you would appreciate it. But regardless of anything, your appreciation and wonder for the miracle of life and the mind-boggling complexity surrounding it would only grow upon reading this book.

Oliver Sacks and his books need no introduction.

Music plays a special role in most of our lives. And sometimes we wonder what role it plays in human evolution. Why does it bring so much happiness and comfort? How do we pull out compositions from the brain and store different notes in the abstractness of our neurons? Why and how do the arrangement of some notes bring so much harmony and appeal? etc.

I expected this book to answer some of these questions, but instead it was a collection of anecdotes of Sacks's interactions with patients who suddenly and (supposedly inexplicably) developed an unusual talent and interest in music after a traumatic brain-related injury, and those with special conditions that perceived music in completely unexpected, different ways. The medical cases and stories were interesting, and they further provide evidence that creativity and talent depend primarily on how our brain cells get wired and connected. I am not sure how I feel about that. Should I literally hope to be struck by lightning so that my brain rearranges itself a little, and I can paint and sing better?

In any case, this was a good read, and if you are interested in music and the brain, you would find this book worth your time.

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