on July 28, 1996
In this book, Winifred Gallagher, discusses the various ways that environment can affect human behaviour. Written for the layman, the book does not dwell on the neuroscience data, preferring to interview both the researchers and the affected.
The biggest drawback of this book may also be it's most interesting aspect - the sheer quantity of the material Gallagher must condensed into 228 pages of text. Thus, in less than 100 pages, she discusses seasonal affective disorder, light deprivation, effects of temperature and altitude and geomagnetic phenomena. With
this constraint, Gallagher's prose in necessarily tight, her interviews brief, and each chapter ends before you've had your fill of the effect she's discussing.
A good book for plane-hopping business sorts - not only can it be read on the flight, the effects of time zone changes, sleep deprivation, and fluorescent lights can be recorded as they are taking place.
on August 20, 2008
This is the right kind of book when you are looking for something different. To a large degree this is 'info-tainment' but it's certainly fascinating. Gallagher is a solid writer, she organizes her thoughts, there is nothing cryptic or suggestive of her writing beyond the facts she documents. Her research is absorbing, she doesn't pretend to know more than she does and her focus is on finding a balance between the science she gleans and her understanding.
From Alaska's difficult emotional/spiritual/physical climate, to the science beyond radiomagnetic energy, to thoughts on the womb, the environments of birth, development, why we love nature, the threat of city life to personal psyche, she covers a great deal of topic ground. Each section, let alone each chapters could have been a book unto itself which makes the reading somewhat cursory. On the whole, the book never falls into a slum, the reading is continually informative and well-written. Gallagher's journalism is intriguing. The best part of this book is that it not only gives you food for thought but makes you want to go out and investigate more, to read more on the subjects she has touched upon. (That's the sign of a solid, good book.)
I feel a book is more than just what is contained between its covers. Books about social studies like this make me take notice of the world around me in ways I may not have seen before. An increase in awareness is what I discovered while reading The Power of Place. I'm going to think more about Feng Shui in my life and moreover, what I need to do change some aspects of my life - I do need to get out into nature more.
Books like Gallagher's are rewarding in that they are pleasant to read, informative, well-researched and entertaining. This is a light read but it will keep you sharp. Truly, this is the book you read at the beach.
Environment is important, indoors and outdoors. Light exposure is crucial. Environment shapes character and behavior. Well-being is affected by settings.
Mood sickness may be traced back to normal expectations of the environment. Indoor life-styles result in light deprivation. Winter depression has been re-identified.
Cold is a stimulant and heat is a sedative. Moderatedly high altitudes-- mountains--seem peaceful. Some of the mountain magic is aesthetic. A sense-presence experience, (sensing that something or someone is present), is a normal response to a bizarre situation. More and more people are spending time in extreme environments.
Inner city children may suffer from chronic sense overload impeding their physical and academic progress. Urbanization is the most important environmental influence of the future. Most of America's poverty is urban. Pruitt-Igoe thwarted tenants' needs and opportunities for social networking and had to be blown-up.
Nature-loving varies with ethnicity and class. Nevertheless, even the Swiss weren't amazed by the Alps until the nineteenth century when nature's existence could be contrasted with industrialization.
This is a delightful book, causing much thought about issues we hardly ever notice and think about.
on September 30, 2013
In The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions, Winifred Gallagher compares the environments of our ancestors with the surroundings that the majority of people encounter today. While Gallagher mostly discusses the effects nature has on individuals, she also briefly touches on interiors and the role that internal and external environments have on our development.
Gallagher divides her book into 3 sections: Outside In, Inside Out, and Synchrony. The first section is dedicated to the outdoors, followed by people's cognitive reactions to a variety of environments. The most important aspects of these environments and the primary focus of Gallagher's research is the effect of light. Though light is a very interesting influence and has been shown to both induce and treat various conditions such as depression and seasonal effective disorder, Gallagher's reemphasis of its importance becomes quite repetitive. Also, other than mentioning the effect of light on various historical icons, she only briefly elaborates on the lasting effects of changes in light exposure on circadian rhythms. In the "Inside Out" section of her book, Gallagher focuses on the importance of the environment within the womb during fetal development. In describing fetal development, Gallagher maintains that changes in development occur first with changes in emotional responses. Especially in the case of babies born prematurely, the transition from life within the womb to life in nature before they are developmentally prepared to do so causes various points of emotional distress. From this focus on emotional distress, Gallagher goes on in "Synchrony" to explain the effect this distress has on behavior. In particular, she discusses the correlation between crime and specific weather and urban surroundings. Gallagher additionally mentions our tendency as a society to succumb to certain roles that correspond with our settings. For example, in a school setting, we usually become either teachers or students. Lastly, Gallagher argues that we are most compatible with our environments when we abandon self-awareness and adopt a sense of "flow" to our actions and behaviors.
In regards to the organization of The Power of Place, Gallagher's inclusion of quotes and anecdotes from leading psychiatrists, environmental scientists, and even physicists in the field is helpful yet often overshadowed by the repetitiveness of these details without true elaboration. In particular, she tirelessly discusses various phenomena in the context of the Alaskan climate. Though interesting, this single example is not easily relatable for the majority of readers and does not effectively cover all aspects of the facts she presents. The inclusion of additional examples would have given the reader more opportunities to understand the full context of Gallagher's observations in order to develop a deeper understanding of abstract concepts.
Gallagher's journalistic style along with her presentation of information from numerous primary sources allows the tone of her book to remain relatively objective. Gallagher frequently mentions conflicts of interest amongst leaders in the field in order to emphasize the fact that such a field is still highly contested and popular theories are frequently revised and exchanged for more current explanations. This objective, inclusive style is effective in gaining the reader's trust in the facts she presents. One of the most interesting stylistic elements Gallagher presents is her emphasis on historical context in her writing. By presenting information in the context of evolutionary change and the history of these phenomena, she piques the reader's interest in the magnitude of these experiences and their application to every individual. She specifically notes that for centuries, people have recognized the significant and unique relationship between Mother Nature and the human body. The reader may notice, however, that despite her exhaustive list of references in the back of the book, there are a handful of names that appear time and again to support her claims. Since Gallagher's primary role is to report on the broad view of the power of place, acknowledging more references would give her book more credibility as a literature review.
Gallagher's anecdotes serve as refreshing contrasts to the more scientific jargon of experts' research that she often discusses, yet the stories are sometimes left unconnected and unexplained. She does, however, note the abstract nature of the effects of place due to the varying personal experiences from one person to the next, which may explain the obscurity of some of her examples. Commenting on the complexity of associating environments with neural function, Gallagher suggests that "the senses convey to the brain far more information than we can consciously be aware of; it is the totality of all that undifferentiated input that we perceive in a general way as ambience."
Overall, I found the basis for her book intriguing, but I had to reluctantly keep reading at times. As mentioned, many topics are repeatedly addressed but only on the surface level. I craved a deeper understanding of the brain's direct role in translating environmental cues into behaviors, thoughts, and actions. In particular, I would have enjoyed discussion on the effects of interior design on individuals. I do not think she elaborated on "the power of place" but rather on "the power of a few places." The remaining places may be explained in her other works, such as House Thinking, but I believe even just a chapter dedicated to the environments we craft for ourselves would have provided an informative contrast to natural ones. I did enjoy Gallagher's advice "to run away from problems" by changing up our surroundings when we feel anxious or stressed.
The ideal reader for this book would be an individual with a general interest in how our environments shape how we act, think, and feel. Though nature enthusiasts and Native Alaskans have an upper-hand in relating to Gallagher's extensive anecdotes, readers from any part of the world can parallel their experiences with everything from blue moods to seasonal changes to phenomena she presents.
Gallagher frequently uses imagery to emphasize abstract ideas. Therefore, readers may find it useful to digest the material slowly, taking time to visualize landscapes. By doing so, readers can, to some extent, experience the environments and connect better to the text emotionally.
on April 5, 2011
Extremely informative. I thought that the book was written a while back so with the moving, cutting edge science field maybe some of the information may not be up-to-date. However, I was wrong, this book is well written, extremely informative and very technical. Non-science readers may get dazzled with some of the terminology, nonetheless, there's nothing that Google or Wikipedia can't clearly explain. Good Stuff!