Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: The Upright Thinkers

The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos
Leonard Mlodinow

The Upright Thinkers purports to be a history of the key developments in how we think. In the first couple of chapters, it fully delivers. Mlodinow traces the human family tree down into early history by showing what were, or might have been, the key steps (tools, symbolic thinking, abstraction) in our changing modes of thought.

After that point, the book rather loses its focus. It becomes a well-written but not otherwise remarkable history of science, done via the biographies of Great Men (virtually no women) Of Science. It's perfectly fine, but it covers ground that I've read in at least a score of other books.

The best parts of The Upright Thinkers are the anecdotes that Mlodinow sprinkles in, recounting his talks with his father. The senior Mlodinow was not a scholar; he was a tailor--and a Holocaust survivor. His take on scientific knowledge provides an extra human dimension to the question of how we think.

Overall: a good overview for someone who's not terribly familiar with the subject. It's well-trodden turf, however.

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