In the News, February 2016
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