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The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present [Kindle Edition]

Eric Kandel
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $40.00
Kindle Price: $13.00
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Sold by: Random House LLC


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Book Description

A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art.
At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.
The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death.
Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

Editorial Reviews


Advance praise for The Age of Insight
“Eric Kandel has succeeded in a brilliant synthesis that would have delighted and fascinated Freud: Using Viennese culture of the twentieth century as a lens, he examines the intersections of psychology, neuroscience, and art. The Age of Insight is a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first-century understanding of the human mind in all its richness and diversity.”
—Oliver Sacks, author of The Mind’s Eye and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
“In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it. . . . A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

“A fascinating synthesis of art, history, and science that is also accessible to the general reader. A distinctive and important title that is also a pleasure to read
Library Journal (STARRED)

“Engrossing … Nobel-winning neuroscientist Kandel excavates the hidden workings of the creative mind. Kandel writes perceptively about a range of topics, from art history—the book’s color reproductions alone make it a great browse—to dyslexia. … Kandel captures the reader’s imagination with intriguing historical syntheses and fascinating scientific insights into how we see—and feel—the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“A fascinating meditation on the interplay among art, psychology and brain science. The author, who fled Vienna as a child, has remained captivated by Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, each of whom was profoundly influenced by Sigmund Freud and by the emerging scientific approach to medicine in their day … [calls] for a new, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, one that combines the humanities with the natural and social sciences.”
Scientific American

“Eric Kandel’s book is a stunning achievement, remarkable for its scientific, artistic, and historical insights. No one else could have written this book—all its readers will be amply rewarded.”
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“Eric Kandel’s training as a psychiatrist and his vast knowledge of how the brain works enrich this thoroughly original exploration of the relationship between the birth of psychoanalysis, Austrian Expressionism, and Modernism in Vienna.”
—Margaret Livingstone, Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School
“This is the book that Charles Darwin would have produced, had he chosen to write about art and aesthetics. Kandel, one of the great pioneers of modern neuroscience, has effectively bridged the ‘two cultures’—science and humanities. This is a task that many philosophers, especially those called ‘new mysterians,’ had considered impossible.”
—V. S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain

“Eric Kandel has created a masterpiece, synthesizing brain, mind, and art like no one has before.”
Joseph LeDoux, NYU, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self

“[This book] offers not only a stunning organic (in every sense of the word) view of fin de siecle culture but also opens new vistas in bioesthetics. It explores the often shocking neurology of the beautiful. And it shows how artist and scientist interlace in the common quest to discover the innards of reality. ‘I don’t render the visible,’ said Paul Klee, ‘I make visible.’ He echoed Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Euclid alone looked on beauty bare.’ Eric Kandel is of that company.”
—Frederic Morton

“Nobel laureate Eric Kandel’s path-setting exploration of the connections between neuroscience and the painters Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka establishes a new frontier in the study of this all-important historical period. The shift toward a biological conception of self, which began in Vienna over a hundred years ago, has since decisively shaped our understanding of human nature.”
Jane Kallir, director, Galerie St. Etienne

“With infectuous enthusiasm and limitless reverence for his multiple subjects, Kandel deftly steers the reader through a vast and inviting territory of science, the creative process, the mind, emotion, eroticism, empathy, feminism, and the unconscious. Years in the making, this highly readable book presents a magisterial study of brain, mind, and art.”
Alessandra Comini, University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Southern Methodist University

About the Author

Eric R. Kandel is University Professor and Kavli Professor at Columbia University and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Kandel is founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, and recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on memory storage in the brain. He is the author of In Search of Memory, a memoir that won a Los Angeles Times Book Award, and co-author of Principles of Neural Science, the standard textbook in the field. He was born in Vienna and lives in New York with his wife, Denise.

Product Details

  • File Size: 8642 KB
  • Print Length: 636 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0050DIWV6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,211 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
153 of 167 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vienna art shines in the brain March 28, 2012
By Lilac
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a splendid book both on the workings of the brain and how it can be exemplified in the art of Vienna 1900. This was after all the place and time that led to modernity making Vienna one of the pre-eminent capitals of the world. One is swept up in the feeling of being privy to the birth of the new understanding in medicine and art as it took place in Vienna 1900 in its most intense unfolding and this description is extended to later work, predominantly at US universities, often by people who derived from the Viennese school of thinking through emigration.
The work follows the tradition of the bridge-builders between the seemingly opposed subjects bringing new insights from brain-science in understanding art. It shows, in academic detail, the brain as a network that finds pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge in either field. It is rather comprehensive and learned at that.

The book is cerebral but very readable; in fact I read it in a Marathon session in preparing for a trip to New York to the Golden Adele, this Mona Lisa of the Fin de Siècle. You don't need the trip though; there are wonderful reproductions in the book of interesting work to be analyzed. You need also not read all the academic detail, there is much to enjoy by taking glimpses or by looking at shorter summaries and graphs.

In the first part we learn, in an especially engrossing section, about the general atmosphere in Vienna during its golden time, its coffee-house and theater culture, its literary, musical and salon life but another forward force was the influence of Europe's premier Medical School of the time in Vienna that established such routines as stethoscope or auscultation.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid May 10, 2012
For me this book was a revelation. I took up photography after brain surgery some four years ago so as someone interested in the neurological changes in my life, AND fascinated with the impact of art in my life, I thought this was a must have. No disappointment on either count. He doesn't talk past nor down to the reader and while that can't be easy he makes it seem so. And the work of Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele are perfect for a study of the huge effect Freud and other turn of the century giants had on the modern aesthetic. My attitude to my own photography has been profoundly changed.
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70 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
"In conversation with Paul Holdengräber, Eric Kandel will discuss the book already praised by Oliver Sacks as 'a tour-de-force that sets the stage for a twenty-first century understanding of the human mind' in all its richness and diversity."

My relation with the Viennese milieu started with my father telling me about the dream city, the reincarnation of late antiquity Alexandria, where I was born after WWII. He took his postgraduate studies in Vienna University before it was annexed by Hitler. Sam, my younger brother was fascinated with Klimt, few of his frescos still hanging on my house walls. But I was a fan of Mozart and Freud, and later I encountered the magical worlds of Dr. Kandell; thanks to the intellectual tours of Charlie Rose.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Vienna, the pride of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire - was considered the cultural capital of Europe, by my dad and many, with its unique atmosphere and sophisticated charm. Vienna embraced a versatile mix of musicians, scientists and artists, who met in cafes and spent the evenings in sparkling salons, or gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held to amuse one another and enjoy fine taste and broaden their knowledge through conversation.

They used liberal discussions, of novel ideas that may have led to inventive conclusions, with influential results in psychology, brain science, and innovation of literature, and art. Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt, among many others began exploring a charming new territory: the then mystical unconscious.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
"But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light." -- Ephesians 5:13 (NKJV)

The Age of Insight is a hard book to categorize. Professor Kandel's stated purpose is to demonstrate how a knowledgeable scientist can write clearly about science so that the interconnections between art and science can be exposed to those who know only about the art. As such, this book is more about informing those interested in the humanities than those whose interest is in science. As a necessary part of his method, there's a circumscription around a narrow set of artists and literary figures rather than an attempt to make a universal statement. To have attempted otherwise would have made a hefty book into a multi-volume tome that few would read.

As someone who reads a lot of art history, history of science, and current research on mental processes, I was impressed by the conception of the book and how deftly it was carried out in ways that deepened my appreciation for subjects I have long been familiar with. I was grateful for these new perspectives. I found the book to be enjoyable for the most part. If I got to a part that was too elementary for what I wanted to absorb, I just skipped quickly through until I got to weightier material. I didn't have to do that very often.

This book would be a wonderful gift to a budding artist or writer . . . or to an art historian in training. I'm sure that many wonderful shows could be mounted that would take advantage of the information here in ways that would delight museum and gallery goers.

Although the book will seem flawed to some, I think it succeeds in its purpose of proposing a new way to write about art and science.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendid intersection of art and brain science
Kandel uses the exceptional conjunction of brain science, art and psychology in a particularly rich period in Vienna to illustrate and tell a larger story about how our biological... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Montana Skyline
5.0 out of 5 stars The New Phenomenology of Perception
As readers of his autobiographical *In Search of Memory* may realize, Nobel laureate Eric Kandel was 82 when this book was published in 2012. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Jeffrey Rubard
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprise! Surprise!!
I am a retired historian, sociologist and philosopher of science who has followed the work of Eric Kandel since 1984, beginning with a sabbatical year attending the neuroscience... Read more
Published 15 days ago by Bookie
5.0 out of 5 stars The best
Exellent. The one of the best I have ever read. Psychoanalysis is so understandable associated with biology. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Brankica Acimovic
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cut Above
I watched the author, Eric Kandel, be interviewed on the Charlie Rose show. Mr Kandel's book is an extraordinarily well written read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robin Klein
5.0 out of 5 stars War without peace
This book kluges together the art of Klimt and science of Freud into a fluid mosaic of intellectual life in Vienna where the intellectual elite knew they were living out the last... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Steve
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding
A very comprehensive look at art through the mind, from the point of view of both the artist and the neurologist.
Published 2 months ago by V W
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on art and art appreciation
As an abstract artist and a neuroscientist, this for me is the most clearly written synthesis of what it means to make art and t view art.
Published 2 months ago by nan simpson
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Non-fiction Book I have read in retirement
The book traces the pathway between the brain of a creative artist to the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain of the "beholder". Read more
Published 2 months ago by P. Eckstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Very good written and understandable both for neuro-specialists and artists. Eric Kandel knows how to describe a "soul of age".
Published 5 months ago by Jiri Sipek
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More About the Author

Eric R. Kandel is Kavli Professor and University Professor at Columbia University and senior investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. He lives in New York City.

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