From Publishers Weekly
Ackerman's latest foray (after Cultivating Delight
) is ostensibly about the "crowded chemistry lab" of the human brain, but fans of her writings on the natural world will find many familiar pleasures. All is not pastoral sweetness; every passage on genteel matters like tending her backyard roses has its rougher counterpart, for example, the recollection of a life-threatening accident during a Japanese bird-watching expedition. By grounding the scientific information firmly in her own experience of discovery, Ackerman invites readers to share in her learning and writing processes. The common thread she spies running through the tangible world of the evolving brain and the intangible world of emotion and memory is the "sleight of mind" that provides us with a self-identity through which we experience the world in a unified yet complexly fragmented way. It's no surprise that the section of the book dealing with language should concentrate so intently on metaphors; they cascade down every page like waterfalls. Ackerman's prose is equally sensuous on the literal plane, enabling her to turn an afternoon snack into a lesson on neurochemistry that swiftly dovetails with a discussion of the varying speeds of thought without ever risking distraction. Even brain buffs used to a more detached approach should be won over by her uniquely personal perspective.
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Alchemy, Ackerman explains, seeks to turn metal into gold; so does the human mind, albeit more successfully than alchemy, create a “self.” Known as the modern-day poet of the natural world, Ackerman explores nature and human nature from her highly original and literary perspective. Some critics complain that she journeys through well-trodden neuroscience research. Yet there’s no doubt that she spins a highly imaginative and sensory book on the brain’s vast capabilities. That she writes more as a poet than a scientist is perhaps her greatest contribution; still, she often succumbs to pretty but weak metaphors that “give a reader precisely the wrong idea about how nature works” (Washington Post
). Yet overall, Alchemy
is a lucid, fascinating synthesis of the brain and all it creates.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.