Thoughts on ‘Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes’

In the prelude of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova tells how, when her father read her and her siblings “A Scandal in Bohemia,” she was inspired to count the steps in every staircase she encountered so that she could prove she’d “observed” and not just “seen.” That kind of thinking – the ability to call to mind any needed fact, the flash of insight into a person from a glance at their shoes and their fingertips – is the kind we associate with Sherlock Holmes. However, Konnikova argues that this isn’t the right way to go about the observational approach advocated by Holmes and uses the stories to illustrate her arguments. Continue reading

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Thoughts on ‘The Sea Shall Embrace Them’

“The sea swept over the Arctic’s stern in a maelstrom of dark water and white foam. It rumbled and roared on either side of the ship as her bow eased skyward. There was no quick incline to an almost vertical position, no massive lunge to find the bottom. She slowly backed into the waves at a twenty-five-degree angle, assuming grace and beauty even in her last moments.”

But apart from those last moments, nothing about the Arctic’s sinking is graceful or beautiful. It showcased cruelty and selfishness in spades and the limitations of the code of honor that only a few people bothered to follow in the events leading to the disaster. While David W. Shaw’s The Sea Shall Embrace Them has flaws, with writing occasionally clunky and facts occasionally unclear, the horror of the sinking of the ship and the mad scramble to escape it is wrenching to read and hard to forget. Continue reading

Thoughts on ‘Brain on Fire’

If you’re asked to define yourself, coming up with a working answer might take a few minutes. But you would have some things spring to mind, whether it’s boy or girl, native of certain country, hobbyist in something near and dear. You’d have to weigh which aspects of yourself are “you” and which are the result of outside factors. The definition could be given quickly and glibly, or it could be given with thought and consideration. But either way, most people could give an answer. The concept of self comes as naturally to most of us as breathing.

Brain on Fire takes an unsparing look at what it’s like to have that selfhood ripped away. Continue reading

Thoughts on ‘In the Garden of the Beasts’

You know that mantra “Study history or repeat it?”

It’s wrong.

Studying history isn’t going to be enough to avoid repeating it. Learning from history is what will prevent us from falling into the same old cycles. In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larsson is a tricky book to classify insofar as history goes. It’s a stunning portrait of life in Germany while Hitler came to power. And it’s very unsettling, because the burden of learning from this is placed almost entirely on the reader. Continue reading