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A dozen years ago, Robert Putnam released what has become a classic in sociology: Bowling Alone. In this book, Putnam lamented how technology was distancing people from one another and how it was wearing down the natural tendency of people to interact in face-to-face, interpersonal ways: at church socials, book discussion groups, bowling leagues. Now Matthew Lieberman is using the fairly new but ever burgeoning (and tremendously popular!) science of neuro-imaging to show that Putnam was right: we need each other. The book holds up pretty well and remains interesting throughout, and it is cool to know what parts of the brain are associated with social interactions (and this is why I purchased the book) but the one caveat might be that it is somewhat guilty of what Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfield (authors of Brainwashed) call "neuro-redundancy," that is, using neuroscience to state the obvious. (Witness Kayt Sukel's This Is Your Brain On Sex...we learn that orgasms light up the pleasure and motivation centers of the brain: in short, we learn that orgasms feel good and people are motivated to have them...DUH!) Any good sociology textbook will show a plethora of plausible reasons why people need people (and why they are the luckiest people of all!), and the neo-Darwinians (Wilson, Pinker, Wright, et. al) have been going on for some time about how evolution has "hard-wired" us to be social. Okay, people need other people: that part is a "no-brainer." Still, the book is interesting from a scientific level if not so much from a sociological one. So get the 411 on your brain on social interaction here...and then read Putnam's classic Bowling Alone...
25 of 26 people found this review helpful
The author writes an accessible book for the non-expert while never talking down to the listener who really wants to understand the working of the mind. He has a narrative that ties all of the pieces of the book together that current humans are always using their brain, and when we are not thinking about physical or abstract objects directly and our mind is at rest we are 'mentalizing', that is, we are thinking about ourselves and our interactions with others leading to the almost unique human capability of "theory of mind".
He never strays from the facts and will give the details surrounding all of the science (including some of his own experiments). He delves in to the details about mirror neurons and what they mean, contrasts that with how we constantly mentalize our social world and connects some potential dots to autism while never getting ahead of the known data. He presents all the necessary nuances necessary to understand the problem and leaves the listener realizing that the problem is much more complicated than simple a simple yes or no answer.
I know I see the social world and its role in learning much differently than the author. That for me made for a better book. For example, the author at the end of the book would say that he didn't like history as taught in school. He likes the 'how and why' more than the 'what' (objective facts). He would teach by keeping the student more grounded in the narrative of history, for example.
Some people, like me much prefer facts and like history as it was taught in school and like tying them together abstractly and analytically, and it will be people like me who would tend to prefer this nicely written book because he does stick to objective facts while tying them together through abstract relationships.
In the whole, the author does a very good job of defending his thesis that the brain and all of its pieces are wired to make us humans function the most effectively in a social world. Empathy is one of the hallmarks in our humanity.
13 of 15 people found this review helpful
This book has opened my mind on understanding why sometimes we feel empty and what is all the source of all the happiness. It has also a master lecture of how the new education should be.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
This is a great book. It shows the importance of our social skills, interactions and relationships from a scientific study. Our society especially in the west grossly underestimates the importance of the social skills and relationships we have with each other, from romance, family and friends to business and the workplace. We have been taught that money and academics is more important and although those pillars are important we need the social pillar just as much, maybe even more. A must read! Brilliant book.