The Art (and Science) of “Aping”

Human beings are smart. But, according to Joseph Henrich, the impact of the innate intelligence of individuals may be over-rated. Quite often, for example, European explorers who got lost did not survive. The takeaway, Henrich suggests, in an immensely ambitious new book, is that our species' uniqueness lies less in the power of individual minds than in collective brains.

Textual Relations

In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle reprises her concerns about the downside of technology on family life, romantic relationships, friendships, education, work, and the public square. By "reclaiming conversation," she maintains that we can restore our capacity for self-reflection, empathy and genuine intimacy. But it won't be easy.

The Good Do-Gooders Do

In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar tells the stories of a handful of altruists and reflects on the lives they have chosen to live. She examines changing attitudes toward altruism; adoption and kidney donation; Alcoholics Anonymous; a leprosy colony in Indian; and a "deaf workshop" in Japan; and the subsistence World Equity Budget that seeks equity among all people.

We Shall Overcome

Upside is designed to inspire and provide practical tools for a fuller and more fulfilled recovery to the millions of Americans who have experienced, or will experience, a traumatic event. The book lays out actions that have a solid track record of promoting positive growth, including narrative reframing, problem-focused coping, social support, and expressing gratitude.

Fear Itself

In Anxiety, Joseph LeDoux, the director of the Emotional Brain Institute at New York University, draws on the latest research in neuroscience to argue that anxiety and fear are best understood not as biologically wired phenomena emerging in a pre-packaged way from brain circuits, but as experiences that have intruded into and become factors in conscious awareness.

The Mysteries of Madness

In Madness and Civilization, Andrew Scull reviews how the struggle between those who understand madness as a supernatural phenomenon, those who viewed it as a problem originating in the biochemistry of the body and the brain, and those who advanced social and psychological explanations of the afflictions has persisted over two millennia in countries throughout the world.

Split Decisions

In When Parents Part, psychologist Penelope Leach provides sound practical advice to parents about managing changes that she claims may be good for one or both of them, but "will certainly be bad for their children." In making her case, Leach may not adequately assess differences due to social class, pre-separation experiences and the resilience of children.

Analyzing Analysts

In Shrinks, Jeffrey Lieberman reviews psychiatry's "tumultuous history," and its current emphasis on the medical treatment of mental illnesses. He maintains that psychiatry fares best when it avoids the extremes of reductionist neurobiology and the psychodynamic element in existential disease. That said, Shrinks does not address important questions about talk therapy.


In Curiosity, Manguel draws on scores of writers and texts, especially Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, to find fresh ways to ask fundamental questions: Who am I? Why do things happen? What comes next? Elegant and erudite, his book is a celebration of critical reading, a challenging, enjoyable and essential craft that is in danger these days of becoming a lost art.

Are Kids Curious?

In The Hungry Mind, Engel draws on the latest social science research to understand why curiosity is nearly universal in babies, and less evident in school. Although most children learn more when their curiosity is piqued, “schools do not always, or even often, foster curiosity.” But in an era that prizes quantifiable results, curiosity is not likely to be a priority.

The Truth About Lies

In The Devil Wins, Dallas Denery provides an informative and thought-provoking account of the efforts of theologians and philosophers from the early Christian era to the Enlightenment to define lies and understand their ethical, social, and political implications. In the "fallen world" of early modern Europe, he argues, lying became natural and naturally useful qualities.

A Defense of Jealousy

In Jealousy, Peter Toohey provides a charming and instructive survey of a much maligned emotion. He examines jealousy in many of its guises, including sexual jealousy, the Oedipus Complex, and sibling rivalry. Aware that it can be an ugly emotion, he argues that jealousy is an evolutionary adaptation that "can be a beautiful thing."

Faster, Faster

In Speed Limits, Mark Taylor, a professor at Columbia University, examines "the long arc of history" that has resulted in the insinuation of a "gospel of speed" into modern culture. And he sounds the alarm about the consequences of this phenomenon. Although by no means the first jeremiad on this subject, the book provides an informative account of speed's social impact.

Fear Itself

Drawing on research in evolutionary biology and an informed interpretation of American history and literature, Chris Walsh analyzes the relationship between courage and cowardice, the distinction between physical and moral cowardice, and argues that the idea of cowardice has faded in significance recently, and reappeared with somewhat different connotations.

Shrink Rap

Concerned about "the dark side" of current psychiatric practices, Glover adopts an approach to personality disorders at the intersection between "the mind-body problem and the problem of free will" that includes the subjective values of autonomy, responsibility, and identity that constitute a good life.

Memories May Be Beautiful and Yet…

Set between the 1950s and the present, this ambitious and beautifully written novel traces the mysteries of mind and memory through a multi-generational account of the Tumulty/Leary families. Thomas touches on working-class Irish-American culture, middle-class aspiration, achievement and anxiety, suburbanization, and the devastation visited on family members by Alzheimer's

Platform Heals?

Piskorski argues that social media sites help individuals identify other people with similar interests — or deepen existing relationships — in ways they would otherwise find difficult. And he provides detailed explanations for the success of some social media strategies, including combining "meet" and "friend" solutions to create spaces for professional networking.

Weights and Measures

In Childhood Obesity, Laura Dawes provides a fascinating survey of popular perceptions and changing attitudes toward the diagnosis and treatment of childhood obesity, including gland therapy, psychoanalysis, behavior modification, amphetamines, fat camps, diet and exercise. Dawes assesses options for addressing an epidemic that is entangled with the structure of society.

Re-Righting Freud’s Biography

In Becoming Freud, Adam Phillips uses the story of Freud's early years to make a compelling case that psychoanalysis is actually a distinctive form of biography in which a useful, personal, and private truth may be discerned through a discovery in which patients speak about and for themselves, answer back, and recover and revise foundational life experiences.

Test Pilots

Drawing on recent findings in cognitive psychology, the authors provide an engaging, informative, and at times counter-intuitive analysis of how knowledge is—and can best be—encoded and retrieved. Claiming that the central challenge involves finding ways to interrupt the process of forgetting, they advocate low-stakes quizzes and other forms of active retrieval.

The Real Selfie

Me-related preoccupations are complex.

Only Connect

In It's Complicated, Danah Boyd explains why social media is so important to teens and how they use it. Arguing that social media mirrors, magnifies, and makes more visible "the good, bad, and ugly of everyday life," she addresses the anxiety of adults and challenges conventional wisdom about identity, privacy, safety, and bullying.


David Edmonds' informative, engaging, and witty history of "the trolley problem" thought experiment demonstrates that although the trolley cases are abstract and artificial, they have analogues in real life. Edmonds enlists the distinction between intention and foreseeing to address trolley scenarios in which a fat man is killed to save five others.

Check Out Counters

A useful survey of attitudes towards suicide from the stoics in Ancient Greece to twentieth century existentialists, Stay does not make a compelling case for an "adamant prohibition" against suicide or an argument that is likely to "nudge" desperate individuals to bet on their future selves.


Filled with information and a cacophony of opinions, the book stimulates skepticism, even about Lock's own claim that it is impossible to disentangle dementia and aging. It makes clear, however, that in the absence of a breakthrough we have an urgent need to move beyond platitudes.


In a new book on friendship, philosopher A. C. Grayling reviews the idea of friendship in literature, history, and "real life" and concludes that it is "plainly silly" to assume it conforms "to the contours of this stereotype or that."

Up from Down

With her informative, moving account of raising a son with Down Syndrome, Rachel Adams seeks to communicate with “and even talk back to” parents, doctors, researchers, and therapists, many of whom retain “outdated and incorrect information” even as she envies those “whose biggest worry was that their kids didn’t want to nap or eat green vegetables."

Butterflies in Boxes

In "To the End of June," Cris Beam explores America's foster care policies, which change with the prevailing theories and still fail to protect vulnerable children, and asks: Why do we think one model will work for every unhappy family?

Detached Retina: Review of Roof Life

In Roof Life, Svetlana Alpers reflects on the discoveries one makes when “looking out from high windows with distant and therefore distinctive views” of the surroundings; the “state of mind such looking represents;” and implications of a life lived under such circumstances, which might include “the finding of and separating into one’s self.”

Review: "America's Obsessives" by Joshua Kendall

In "America's Obsessives," Joshua Kendall presents seven super achievers and argues that their obsessive-compulsiveness helped build a nation.