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Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives Of Eccentric Scientists And Madmen Paperback – May 19, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688168949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688168940
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What is the connection between genius and madness? IBM-based polymath Clifford Pickover approaches the question in a characteristically eclectic way. First he looks at the lives of a collection of eccentric scientists, from Nikolai Tesla to the Unabomber, giving each a name ("The Fly Man from Galway"; "The Rat Man from London") deliberately reminiscent of Sigmund Freud's names for his cases. Then Pickover discusses obsessive-compulsive disorder and the relationship between brain structure and genius. The book is organized less by an overall thesis than by what interests Pickover; thus, it includes descriptions of vaults filled with brains in formaldehyde, what it means to say that we use only 10 percent of our brains, e-mail replies to a poll on what a supergenius might be, and the latest research on the biochemistry of intelligence. Dedicated "to the cracked, for they shall let in the light," the book is engaging, haphazard, thought-provoking, and genial. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Filled with 200 years of eccentric geniuses, this delightful collection of profiles assembles an eclectic and fascinating sampling of scientists (as well as some artists and writers) with a far-ranging assortment of phobias, compulsions, odd belief systems and extraordinarily weird habits. Chief among the scientists is Nikola Tesla, father of alternating current and countless other electrical devices, who could be seen on New York City's streets covered in pigeons, was obsessed with the number three and repulsed by jewelry, particularly pearls. Then there is Oliver Heaviside, a Victorian mathematician and electrical researcher who painted his nails bright pink, signed his correspondence "W.O.R.M." and cruelly kept the woman charged with his care a virtual prisoner in her own house, later driving her into catatonia. Also explored are the lives of Samuel Johnson, van Gogh and legendary mathematician Paul Erdos, among others. Pickover, a high-tech inventor and researcher at IBM and a prolific author (TimeAA Traveler's Guide; Forecasts, Apr. 20) shows genuine fondness for his subjects and an appreciation of their accomplishments, which he explains clearly and succinctly. More than simply cataloguing unusual traits, Pickover also speculates on causes and diagnoses, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE). This is lively and immensely enjoyable scientific history. Photos throughout.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

From my publisher:

Clifford A. Pickover received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is the author of over 30 books on such topics as computers and creativity, art, mathematics, black holes, religion, human behavior and intelligence, time travel, alien life, and science fiction.

Pickover is a prolific inventor with dozens of patents, is the associate editor for several journals, the author of colorful puzzle calendars, and puzzle contributor to magazines geared to children and adults.

WIRED magazine writes, "Bucky Fuller thought big, Arthur C. Clarke thinks big, but Cliff Pickover outdoes them both." According to The Los Angeles Times, "Pickover has published nearly a book a year in which he stretches the limits of computers, art and thought."
The Christian Science Monitor writes, "Pickover inspires a new generation of da Vincis to build unknown flying machines and create new Mona Lisas." Pickover's computer graphics have been featured on the cover of many popular magazines and on TV shows.

His web site, Pickover.Com, has received millions of visits. His Blog RealityCarnival.Com is one of his most popular sites.

Customer Reviews

This book will keep your interests from start to finish.
Catherine L. Rimer
Makes for interesting reading and it is a fascinating journey into the minds of the world's most famous geniuses.
Fernando Cajero Jr.
In conclusion, this is a poorly referenced, poorly organized, and confusing book that has many problems.
Stephen Pletko

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Emily Rosen on January 17, 2002
Format: Paperback
Strange Brains and Genius is by far the best book I have read that catalogues numerous examples of the fine line between genius and frailty in a wide range of colorful and influential people. Nikola Tesla had a horror of women's pearl earrings. Oliver Heaviside, the father of modern electric-circuit design, painted his nails cherry pink. Renowned scholar Samuel Johnson had so many tics and quirks that some mistook him for an idiot. Jeremy Bentham, the British philosopher who promoted the idea, "the greatest good for the greatest number of people", fell in love with rats. He also advised rich people to plant embalmed corpses of their ancestors upright along highways. There apparently is a link between extreme genius and madness in certain individuals. Pickover also goes further and discusses the role of the brain in religious and alien abduction experiences.
Pickover points out that in repressive times, strange geniuses have been persecuted, but in more enlightened eras these nonconformists have had the freedom to make great contributions to science and society. Are their minds like our own, or are they so different that these geniuses should be viewed as entirely different beings? What do geniuses have in common, and how can we foster their continued emergence? Is their a link between their obsessions and their creativity?
This book is organized into three parts. In Part I, Pickover discusses several geniuses with obsessive-compulsive (and Asperger's) tendencies. Many of the individuals might have Asperger's syndrome (characterized by an impairment in social interaction and development of restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities).
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By "starandysmom" on June 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a survey book of Eccentricity and Genius. The first 180 pages are organized into sections on Biographical Fact (Fact Files), Technical Contribution (Straight Dope), and Litany of Eccentricities (Strange Brain) for the following individuals: Nikola Tesla, Oliver Heaviside, Samuel Johnson, Richard Kirwan, Jeremy Bentham, Henry Cavendish, Francis Galton, Geoffrey Pyke, and (?!) Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.
Pickover's premise is that the personal 'strangeness' of these individuals significantly contributed to their brilliance and accomplishments. If they had been 'less strange' they would have accomplished less.
He also provides 20 pages of mini-biographies of people who missed the first cut, including: Paul Erdos, Richard Feynman, Charles Darwin, Howard Hughes, Edward Leedskalnin, and others.
The shallower parts of this survey include rehashes on topics like Einstein's Brain, the 10% Brain Use Myth, and IQ. He meditates pointlessly on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (in all of it's varieties), Trichotilliomania, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, and other aspects of Genius and Strangeness (including Autism, Homosexuality, and Schizophrenia).
There are also 2 other very weird parts of the book. The first is a 'Human Mind Questionnaire' which spends 25 pages reporting on an anonymous (and unscientific) survey which he conducted on the internet. In another part of the book, he spends a dozen pages on extracts from 'Science' and 'Science News' from 1995/1996 to show that neuroscience and psychological issues are topical.
The book has some lackluster footnotes, a skimpy biblography, and a Table of Contents.
Pickover has written some wonderful, insightful, original books and technical articles over the years. It's hard for me to believe that the same guy wrote this book.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By K. L Sadler VINE VOICE on November 1, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was a book I had high expectations for, and it didn't meet them. After coming off of reading several books on creativity in artists and manic-depression (bipolar disorder), reading about John Nash, and Oliver Sack's interesting boyhood...I was very intrigued by the thought of reading about strange scientists. I'd met so many that almost fit that category just at my university, who were obsessive about their science (especially the 'fly' guys! and the computer/artificial intelligence/robot geeks), that in reading this book I recognized more of this behavior than I thought existed originally. The book has great information, but I was extremely disappointed over the organization of the book. It's like someone did all this research on individuals and the things that intrigued him about intelligence, then just pasted in the chapters with no thought to how the book should be organized.
Most other books give an explanation or definition of the conditions he is talking about...kind of a guideline of what to look for first before dealing with individuals. Or they look at specific disorders and bring up individuals who went overboard in these areas. When you start reading the book, you think "Oh...this is individual chapters about men with scientific genius (no women included...why?), and then the author tells you in the middle of his chapters that he will explain more about particular problems/disorders in Chapter so-and-so. It's like he doesn't have enough confidence you will read to the end, so he kind of puts a carrot in front of the audience. Not smart to treat your potential audience as maybe being less than intelligent!
The setup of the chapters were annoying.
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