An Alchemy of Mind: Book summary and reviews of An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman

An Alchemy of Mind

The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain

by Diane Ackerman

An Alchemy of Mind

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Book Summary

Does the mind reflect or dictate what the body sees and feels? What is the language of emotion? Is memory a function of our imaginations? Are we all just out of our minds?

In this ambitious and enlightening work, Diane Ackerman combines an artist's eye with a scientist's erudition to illuminate the magic and mysteries of the human brain. With An Alchemy of Mind, she offers an unprecedented exploration of the mental fantasia in which we spend our days. In addition to explaining memory, thought, emotion, dreams, and language acquisition, Ackerman reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience and addresses such controversial subjects as the effects of trauma, nature versus nurture, and male versus female brains. In prose that is not simply accessible but also beautiful and electric, Ackerman distills the hard, objective truths of science in order to yield vivid, anecdotal explanations about a range of existential questions regarding consciousness and the nature of identity.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. She writes, "One of the most surprising facts about human beings is that we seem to require a poetic version of life," the very gift Ackerman bestows upon her rapt and illuminated readers." - Booklist.

"Ackerman's prose is equally sensuous on the literal plane, enabling her to turn an afternoon snack into a lesson on neurochemistry that swiftly dovetails with a discussion of the varying speeds of thought without ever risking distraction. Even brain buffs used to a more detached approach should be won over by her uniquely personal perspective." - Publishers Weekly.

"A bad metaphor can do more than just befuddle. It can give a reader precisely the wrong idea about how nature works. Those who hope to learn the basics about the brain in An Alchemy of Mind will sometimes be misled by pretty-sounding language. Ackerman informs us, for example, that our ancestors were faced with the paradox of getting a big human brain out of a mother's narrow birth canal. "The solution we found was to give birth earlier," she declares, as if our ancestors convened a meeting where they voted to redesign their genome. Still, Ackerman deserves credit for taking on what is an important mission -- a mission that is, at least for the moment, doomed to failure." - The Washington Post.

""A brilliant distillation of the mysterious intersection of brain and mind...all delivered in miraculously readable prose." - Elle Magazine.

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Author Information

Diane Ackerman Author Biography

Photo © Toshi Otsuki

Poet, essayist, and naturalist, Diane Ackerman is the author of many highly acclaimed works of nonfiction, including A Natural History of the Senses -- a book beloved by readers all over the world and the volumes Deep Play, A Slender Thread, The Rarest of the Rare, A Natural History of Love, The Moon by Whale Light, and a memoir on flying, On Extended Wings.

Her poetry has been collected into six volumes, among them Jaguar of Sweet Laughter: New and Selected Poems and Praise My Destroyer.

Ms. Ackerman has received many prizes and awards, including the John Burroughs Nature Award and the Lavan Poetry Prize. A Visiting Professor at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, she was the National Endowment for the Humanities Distinguished Professor at the University of ...

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