In the News, June 2016
Posted 06.19.16: The Wall Street Journal weekend feature review is Joseph Epstein on Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Celebrated Eleventh Edition by Denis Boyles: “In a highly readable style, nicely seasoned with occasional ironic touches, Denis Boyles limns the intricate business negotiations that went into the creation of the Eleventh Edition…. Mr. Boyles provides excellent portraits of the key figures responsible for the 19th- and early-20th-century editions of Britannica. His last chapter is given over to the Eleventh's mishandling, owing to its having been a work of its time, of such key, and in our day super-sensitive, subjects as Women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Arabs and its difficulties with Catholic and Protestant readers. None of this finally diminishes the overall accomplishment that is Encyclopaedia Britannica's Eleventh Edition.”
Posted 06.16.16: "The brilliant, crusading Brandeis is the subject of Jeffrey Rosen's excellent Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet…. A concise and sympathetic exploration of Brandeis's main intellectual causes. It is well titled…. It is also well timed: Mr. Rosen persuasively makes his case that recognizing Brandeis as an 'American prophet' ‘seems more important today than ever.'"—Adam Cohen, The New York Times
Posted 06.09.16: Senator Joseph Lieberman on The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies by Michael T. Flynn and Michael A. Ledeen forthcoming July 12th: "The Field of Fight is a book worth reading by anyone concerned about the future security of America. It is both an engaging personal memoir by a great American soldier and military intelligence officer, General Mike Flynn, and a strategic plan by General Flynn of how to win the global war against radical Islam and its big power supporters. The leaders of the next American administration would benefit from reading The Field of Fight."
Posted 06.08.16: From reviews of Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Celebrated Eleventh Edition by Denis Boyles, just published by Knopf: “Boyles brings to life a rollicking saga of outlandish schemes, copyright theft, lawsuits, buyouts, and bankruptcies.”–The American Scholar “Enthralling business history.”—The Washington Post “A well-researched, brightly told history of the men and women who saved a great compendium of knowledge.”—Kirkus Reviews
Posted 05.06.16: Raymond Gantter's Roll Me Over: An Infantryman's World War II is now available as an e-book. This memoir, written often literally from the trenches, is a sharply observed and moving narrative of the foot-soldier's war. Gantter arrived in France as an infantryman a few months after D-Day, taking part in the historic and bloody Battle of the Bulge, slowly penetrating into and across Germany, fighting all the way to the Czechoslovakian border. By the end of the war, he had earned a field commission to lieutenant and had won the Silver Star.
Posted 04.12.16: The Wall Street Journal on Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe by Kevin J. McNamara: "It is an epic story unknown even to many World War I history buffs…. With admirable energy he has assembled the story by piecing together archival records and the memoirs of the gallant men who served…. Fascinating."
Posted 04.12.16: A starred review from Booklist for Fail U.: The False Promise of Higher Education by Charles J. Sykes: "Sykes here poses hard questions about the quality and substance of what the nation's universities now deliver. Too often, Sykes concludes, colleges give their students little but debt to show for their years on campus. As they visit a wide range of schools, readers see how administrators lavish resources on impressive buildings, on powerhouse athletic programs, and on aloof professors who dodge students so they can write unreadable and unread tomes of research. With telling statistics and piquant anecdotes, Sykes indicts higher educators for teaching students little about the humanities, mathematics, or the sciences, while indoctrinating them in rigid new political orthodoxies. Laying out a bold agenda for reform, Sykes calls for a university system smaller and less dependent on government largesse, less politically correct, and more open to online instruction than the one now bankrupting many students and their families. Certain to stimulate a much-needed debate." (Booklist is published by the American Library Association.)
Posted 03.22.16: “The problem of consciousness sits at the heart of neuroscience, and it is into this question that Yale computer-science professor David Gelernter steps with his fascinating The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness.… Gelernter is an expert on artificial intelligence, and this book is an interesting and unexpected departure for him.... He shows a lovely deference not to neuroimaging or computers but to the pen...the technique allows him to paint a rich portrait of different modes of thinking, something like Proust's masterly descriptions of the workings of memory.”—David Eagleman, The Wall Street Journal
Posted 03.16.16: A starred review in Publishers Weekly for Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe by Kevin J. McNamara: “In this captivating narrative history, McNamara reveals the obscure yet grand story of how a small, motley, and hastily organized army ushered in the founding of the nation of Czechoslovakia…. McNamara proves to be a great storyteller as he very effectively weaves together newly translated firsthand accounts of Czech-Slovak soldiers with secondary historical sources.”
Posted 03.08.16: “David Gelernter has designed a creative metaphysics for the digital age.”—Mara Delius, Die Welt
Posted 03.04.16: “Sometimes it takes an expert to recognize when expertise is not enough. In his preface to The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness, David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, explains how for years he tried to answer crucial questions about the nature of consciousness through computer modeling. But while computation can ape reasonably well our rational thought, he argues, what makes us human is our capacity to move up and down a spectrum of consciousness, from the crisp attention we feel when wide awake to the aimless associative states of drowsiness and daydreaming.... Gelernter employs not algorithms but introspection, personal reflection, and an engagement with a broad range of literary sources.… Gelernter's explorations of self make for rewarding reading.”—Kathryn Tabb, The American Scholar
Posted 02.29.16: "A fascinating new book by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter also sees literature as a vast and largely untapped source of evidence for understanding the intricacies of human cognition. In The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness, Gelernter marshals evidence from psychological and scientific research as well as the works of Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, J.M. Coetzee and many others to advance a new paradigm for the study of human consciousness. It's an astonishingly ambitious book, beautifully written and ultimately persuasive."—Nick Romeo in The Chicago Tribune on David Gelernter's The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness just published by Norton
Posted 02.27.16: Kirkus Reviews on Everything Explained That Is Explainable: On the Creation of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Celebrated Eleventh Edition by Denis Boyles: “How grit and determination created an encyclopedia for the modern world…. Boyles traces the evolution of the Britannica and the fate of the Times through lawsuits, battles for ownership, and ongoing money woes involving colorful, earnest, sometimes eccentric characters. It all culminated in the majestic 11th Edition: 40,000 long, erudite, yet accessible articles written by a huge number of renowned contributors. Boyles focuses mostly on the business end; his look at content is illuminating…. A well-researched, brightly told history of the men and women who saved a great compendium of knowledge.”
Posted 02.24.16: Tom Toce in the Los Angeles Review of Books on Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World by David Lehman: “This is a compact-yet-complete portrait of a complicated guy who lived a long and active life; a guy whom Lehman calls ‘the most interesting man in the world.'... A poetic sensibility dominates, and a poet's eye (or ear) guides. The founder and editor of the Best American Poetry series, the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry, and a core faculty member of the graduate writing program at the New School, Lehman alludes to numerous poets here…. It's not just Sinatra's life Lehman wants us to understand, it's his influence on others, and especially his meaning to other poets and poetic souls…. The brevity of the chapters scattered throughout adds pungency and contributes to a poetic feel…. His accomplishment is in not just telling Sinatra's story, but in describing the man's effect on all of us, then and now. And one of the most valuable uses of the book might be as a road map, especially to the recordings…. The casual Sinatra fan will love it. Young people who know very little about Sinatra will likely love it, too, and learn from it. People of all ages will relate Sinatra's story to those of the prevailing pop stars of their day…. Sinatra's Century chronicles the life of the poet Frank Sinatra, told by a poet, with poetic trappings. Like good poetry, it rewards repeated readings—and prompts us elsewhere. In the end, Lehman's book may be most valuable in leading his readers to the songs…. The music is mostly why he mattered. And matters still.”
Posted 01.29.16: “Gelernter is a cross-disciplinary intellectual who has written highly interesting works of history, memoir, and, now, psychology…. This spark for mental exploration may attract a sizable audience.”—Booklist reviewing The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness by David Gelernter, forthcoming next month from Liveright/Norton.
Posted 01.21.16: “Engaging, playful, deeply personal, and elegantly concise.”—Geoffrey O'Brien in the Feb. 11th New York Review of Books on Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World by David Lehman
Posted 01.09.16: A starred review in Kirkus Reviews for Dreams of a Great Small Nation: The Mutinous Army that Threatened a Revolution, Destroyed an Empire, Founded a Republic, and Remade the Map of Europe by Kevin J. McNamara: “The first English-language account of a small army that actually took control of Siberia in 1918.... Originally only about 350 former prisoners of war, the army eventually grew to a well-disciplined, cohesive group of more than 200,000. The story is extraordinary, and McNamara follows the frustrations of the men who became foils for the Russians, the Germans, and the Allies.... McNamara, an impressive storyteller armed with a treasure of documents only recently available, ably narrates the remarkable feats of these men who fought every inch of the way, 'who found themselves described in some quarters as the first counterrevolutionaries of a new era.' A fantastic addition to the shelves of World War I histories.” (March 29th from PublicAffairs)
Posted 01.06.16: Kirkus Reviews on The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness by David Gelernter: “Everyone agrees that computers do not employ reason; they compute. This harmony dissolves when the discussion turns to the future, where vastly more powerful machines will develop sentience and feelings—or not. In this dense but imaginative meditation on how humans think, Gelernter marshals philosophers, poets, and authors, but few scientists, in support of his mildly quirky view of human consciousness. According to the author, the mind is a ‘room with a view' that combines inner thoughts with events in the outside world. He downplays the popular view that thought relates to the brain as software relates to hardware, maintaining that the mind is never in a steady state. All thought processes—e.g., memory, emotion, reason, and self-reflection—vary along a spectrum that depends on one's physical state and the time of day. At the top, where the computer analogy works, focus is intense, reason rules, and memory is subordinate: a source of data. Focus, but not memory, dims as the mind moves down-spectrum to fatigue, drowsiness, and finally sleep. Along the way, memory takes over, but it's pliable human memory, not hard-wired silicon. Perception becomes unreliable; we dream. ‘Up-spectrum, the mind pursues meaning by using logic,' writes the author. ‘Moving down-spectrum, it tends to pursue meaning by inventing stories—as we do when we dream. A logical argument and a story are two ways of putting fragments in proper relationship and guessing where the whole sequence leads and how it gets there.' Eschewing research in favor of literature and Freud, Gelernter delivers a personal, reasonable, nonscientific analysis of the mind.”
Posted 12.23.15: Publishers Weekly on The Tides of Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness by David Gelernter: "Those in a state of panic induced by books and articles about the possibility of a 'singularity' in which artificial intelligence triumphs over the human race will find comfort in this quite reasonable and decidedly human study of the mind. Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, argues that the current trend in philosophy toward 'computationalism' ignores basic, glaringly obvious truths about the difference between brain and mind. For example, he asserts that human intellect and selfhood are not merely the product of the conscious mind. He explores the 'spectrum' of thought experienced over the course of a day: the creative haze encountered upon first waking, the focused and rational thoughts of our most productive hours, the daydreaming we engage in while drowsy, the involuntary free association of near-sleep, and finally the opaque and mysterious realm of dreams and the unconscious. The author contends that the 'down-spectrum' realms of dreams and fantasies, which are controlled by emotion and memory, allow for the creative thinking that will always separate humans from machines.”
Posted 12.08.15: "This [is a] delightful and incisive book by David Lehman. Lehman is a poet, critic, and editor, known for his book on the New York School of poets and Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man, a hard-hitting attack on deconstruction as a peculiarly toxic form of literary discourse. But who would have predicted this tribute to a singer with whom Lehman has had a lifetime love affair? The subtitle, with its crisp pun on 'notes,' takes the singer from his birth in Hoboken in 1915 to his death in Los Angeles in 1998. The notes vary in length from one to four or five pages, but are always focused on some aspect of his career…. The notes are pithily, aggressively written, as if to live up to the feisty voice of Lehman's hero, The Voice. He brings out vividly [Sinatra's] style.… Lehman pays attention to minute but significant pleasures…. We don't need yet another biography of Sinatra, and Lehman has been wise not to try to get too much fact in that can already be sampled elsewhere. His relatively brief book is more like Pete Hamill's Why Sinatra Matters (1998) but goes further and deeper than Hamill did into what makes Sinatra's treatment of a song so memorable, inimitable."—William H. Pritchard, The Weekly Standard • “It's a great year for Sinatra fans…. There have been some substantial additions to the ever-growing shelf of books about Sinatra. I would particularly recommend Sinatra's Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World, a wonderful new book by the poet, editor, and essayist David Lehman…. The book is at once short, fun to dip in and out of, full of quirky yet thoughtful lists of best albums and songs, with a poet's appreciation of Sinatra's craft."—Ken Tucker, Yahoo TV