Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

I don’t understand neuroscience.  I’m willing to bet that quite a few people would agree.  But have you ever read something by Walt Whitman, looked at a painting by Paul Cezanne, or eaten some soy sauce or beef stock soup.  Then, as Jonah Lehrer explains in this book,  you may have some understanding of the newest developments in the field of neuroscience.

Lehrer, a Columbia graduate with a background is lab work, science writing, and the occasional restaurant kitchen, approaches the idea of neuroscience by looking at how writers, a painter, a composer and a chef were uncovering the mysteries of the human brain years before modern neuroscientists had even an inkling. Lehrer looks at the group of artists and delves into how their work was preemptive to the discoveries being made today in the realm of neuroscience.  We learn how Proust first revealed the mysteries of memory by ruminating on his childhood; how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep underlying structure of human language; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami, the fifth taste of savory; how Cezanne was explore the limits of human sight.  These artist were not only revolutionizing their fields; they changed how we saw the workings of the human brain.

My dad recommended this book to me, lauding Lehrer’s accessible writing and the interesting subject.  Trusting my dad yet still wary about the idea of neuroscience, I read the book and was blown away. Lehrer is a firm believer that science and our everyday lives intersect and that there can be a place for writing that is both science and literature.  The results are a book that will fascinate you at every turn.

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