The Three-Pound Universe

Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

By Daniel Tammet

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"...a journey into one of the most fascinating minds alive today -- guided by its owner himself. Daniel Tammet sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary calculations in his head. He can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week. In 2004, he memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, setting a record. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him almost unimaginable mental powers, much like those portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. Daniel has a compulsive need for order and routine -- he eats the same precise amount of cereal for breakfast every morning and cannot leave the house without counting the number of items of clothing he's wearing. When he gets stressed or is unhappy, he closes his eyes and counts. But in one crucial way Daniel is not at all like the Rain Man: he is virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is capable of living a fully independent life.

"He has emerged from the 'other side' of autism with the ability to function successfully -- he is even able to explain what is happening inside his head. Born on a Blue Day is a triumphant and uplifting story, starting from early childhood, when Daniel was incapable of making friends and prone to tantrums, to young adulthood, when he learned how to control himself and to live independently, fell in love, experienced a religious conversion to Christianity, and most recently, emerged as a celebrity. The world's leading neuroscientists have been studying Daniel's ability to solve complicated math problems in one fell swoop by seeing shapes rather than making step-by-step calculations. Here he explains how he does it, and how he is able to learn new languages so quickly, simply by absorbing their patterns."

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Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

By Antonio R. Damasio

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In this wondrously lucid and engaging book, renowned neurologist Antonio Damasio demonstrates what many of us have long suspected: emotions are not a luxury, they are essential to rational thinking. Descartes' Error takes the reader on an enthralling journey of scientific discovery, starting with the case of Phineas Gage--a construction foreman who in 1848 survived a freak accident in which a 3 1/2 foot iron rod passed through his head--and continuing on to Damasio's experiences with modern-day neurological patients affected by brain damage. Far from interfering with rationality, his research shows us, the absence of emotion and feeling can break down rationality and make wise decision-making almost impossible.

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Elegy for Iris

By John Bayley

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Iris Murdoch's husband guides us through the contemporary writer's early life, her brilliant career, and her battle with Alzheimer's disease. This is truly a poignant love story as well as a biography of a remarkable woman. This book was also made into a film starring Judi Dench and Kate Winslet.

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In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build the Worlds inside Our Heads

By George Johnson

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Even as you read these words, a tiny portion of your brain is physically changing. New connections are being sprouted -- a circuit that will create a stab of recognition if you encounter the words again. That is one of the theories of memory presented in this intriguing and splendidly readable book, which distills three researchers' inquiries into the processes that enable us to recognize a face that has aged ten years or remember a melody for decades. Ranging from experiments performed on the "wetware" of the brain to attempts to re-create human cognition in computers, In the Palaces of Memory is science writing at its most exciting.

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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

By Oliver Sacks

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"Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.

"Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

"Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why."

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Saving Milly: Love, Politics and Parkinson's Disease

By Morton Kondracke

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Morton Kondracke never intended to wed Millicent Martinez, but the fiery daughter of a radical labor organizer eventually captured his heart. They married, raised two daughters, and loved and fought passionately for twenty years. Then, in 1987, Milly noticed a glitch in her handwriting, a small tremor that would lead to the shattering diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Saving Milly is Kondracke’s powerfully moving chronicle of his vital and volatile marriage, one that has endured and deepened in the face of tragedy; it also follows his own transformation from careerist to caregiver and activist, a man who will “fight all the way, without pause or rest," to save his beloved Milly.

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Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past

By Daniel L. Schacter

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"Over the past two decades scientists have made remarkable breakthroughs in understanding how memories are stored and retrieved, and with this knowledge they are beginning to understand the mysteries of the human mind. How can we perform tasks such as playing the piano or typing in such a way that we do not need to consciously direct each movement every step of the way? Why can we forget where we put our keys and yet remember events that happened long ago? Why is memory imperfect, and sometimes dead wrong? Daniel Schacter has been at the forefront of the research, and Searching for Memory is his firsthand account of what we now know and what it means.

"With references to art and autobiography and fascinating case studies, a la Oliver Sacks, he explains how one's past experiences influence the formation of new memories, how and why memory changes as people age, and much more. The book also sheds light on such hot topics as false memory syndrome, recovered memory, Alzheimer's disease and brain-damaged patients."

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The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness

By Antonio R. Damasio

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A renowned and revered scientist and clinician, Damasio has spent decades following amnesiacs down hospital corridors, waiting for comatose patients to awaken, and devising ingenious research using PET scans to piece together the great puzzle of consciousness. In his bestselling Descartes' Error, Damasio revealed the critical importance of emotion in the making of reason. Building on this foundation, he now shows how consciousness is created. Consciousness is the feeling of what happens--our mind noticing the body's reaction to the world and responding to that experience. Without our bodies there can be no consciousness, which is at heart a mechanism for survival that engages body, emotion, and mind in the glorious spiral of human life.

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks

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"In his most extraordinary book, Oliver Sacks recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks's splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine's ultimate responsibility: 'the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.'"

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Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism

By Temple Grandin

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Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She also lectures widely on autism because she is autistic--a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us. In this unprecedented book, Grandin writes from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person. She tells us how she managed to breach the boundaries of autism to function in the outside world. What emerges is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who gracefully bridges the gulf between her condition and our own while shedding light on our common identity. Other titles by Dr. Grandin are Emergence: Labeled Autistic and Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. Her life story has also been made into an award-winning film starring Claire Danes.

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