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Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony Hardcover – November 7, 1983
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Top Customer Reviews
As an arm-chair scientist, I've read and enjoyed more than a few popularizations by well-known scientists over the years. These include Richard Feynman with his wry humor in virtually everything he wrote (I number myself among those physicists who "cut their eye teeth" on the Feynman Lectures in Physics), Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Carl Sagan, and even Brian Swimme. (The Swimme of "A Walk Through Time" goes down easily, and covers much of the same ground that Thomas does, but in a quite different way; the Swimme of "The Universe is a Green Dragon" is a much harder sell for me due to its hard-pressed attempt to oversimplify.) But for sheer elegance and poetry and breadth of scope, and for essays that provoke thought on the part of the reader, none can hold a candle to Thomas.
Everyone who reads this little masterpiece will have his or her favorites. Here are a few of mine:
In "Things Unflattened by Science" (an essay on unaddressed and/or incomplete challenges that future scientists might well undertake), a paragraph on how biologists might endeavor to better understand what music is, and how it affects the human condition, starting with a rather small-scale assignment to explain the effect of Bach's "The Art of Fugue" on the human mind.Read more ›
I almost set this book aside after reading The Unforgettable Fire, the first essay in this collection. Thomas Lewis had awakened in me uncomfortable memories of a distant past. Among my first lessons in kindergarten was to move quickly to the basement when the alarms rang, to crouch down, and to cover my neck with my hands. Along with many others of my generation, I came to accept that nuclear war was virtually inevitable.
Lewis Thomas balances the more serious essays with others characterized by enthusiasm, wonder and excitement for the world about us. His observations are often surprising, and nearly always provocative. Admittedly, a few essays are becoming dated, but this collection is still quite interesting. A few examples include:
The Lie Detector: our physiological response to telling a lie - even when we do it for protection or personal advantage - is sufficiently stressful to be detectable, suggesting that there is at least some physiological compulsion for humans to be honest.
On Speaking of Speaking: Children not only learn languages much more readily than adults, but they seem also to play a key role in shaping and restructuring language, especially in a mixed language setting. Perhaps that period called childhood is ultimately the source of the thousands of languages and dialects that characterize human societies.Read more ›
Most of these essays appeared in Discover magazine in the early 1980s, and although Thomas introduces current events into his discussions, his subjects are timeless. A notable preoccupation, however, is with the nuclear threat and the irrational thinking that fueled the arms race and, more troubling, the planning for tactical nuclear warfare. Although the Cold War has passed and the threat has greatly diminished (but not vanished), the essays on this subject serve both as reminders that the challenges we currently face (terrorism, global warming, sectarianism) are hardly unprecedented in their peril and as investigations into the madness and stupidity that fear alone can unleash.
The fact that military strategists were (and are) actually planning scenarios for a limited nuclear war can, upon rational reflection, only shock and dismay. While enumerating some of the impressive (if time-consuming and expensive) advances in surgery and therapy, for example, Thomas reminds us, "There exists no medical technology that can cope with the certain outcome of just one small, neat, so-called tactical bomb exploded over a battlefield. . . . If you go ahead with this business, the casualties you will instantly produce are beyond the reach of any health-care system.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Terrific author. Nourishing and uplifting observations on the world.Published 10 months ago by Gary Scialdone
Easy read. But a bit random. A bit of a rant. But very interesting points particularly about his dog and burning leaves. (As told to me by my HS senior)Published 12 months ago by E Grand
I read this years ago and lost it in a fire. This is a good copy.Published 12 months ago by Maximzodal
I had high hopes for a collection of thoughtful and well written essays. I found this collection a disappointment. Read morePublished 13 months ago by From_Plano_TX
My husband is a Lewis thomas fan, and this does not disappoint.Published 17 months ago by frequent buyer
The essays are very thought provoking. I especially loved the essay on Speaking of Speaking and the power of children, in shaping culture, language, life; very interesting.Published on March 25, 2014 by Adrian
This is a book that is easy to read and entertaining. One can agree with many points Lewis Thomas makes and it is interesting to follow his thinking. Read morePublished on October 4, 2013 by TrulyPositive
The essays collected in "Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony" should probably by on the mandatory reading list in college (regardless of the major). Read morePublished on May 26, 2011 by Aleksandra Nita-Lazar