Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

No critic rating

Waiting for minimum critic reviews

See 10 Critic Reviews



In this technology-driven age, it’s tempting to believe that science can solve every mystery. After all, science has cured countless diseases and even sent humans into space. But as Jonah Lehrer argues in this sparkling debut, science is not the only path to knowledge. In fact, when it comes to understanding the brain, art got there first.
Taking a group of artists — a painter, a poet, a chef, a composer, and a handful of novelists — Lehrer shows how each one discovered an essential truth about the mind that science is only now rediscovering. We learn, for example, how Proust first revealed the fallibility of memory; how George Eliot discovered the brain’s malleability; how the French chef Escoffier discovered umami (the fifth taste); how Cézanne worked out the subtleties of vision; and how Gertrude Stein exposed the deep structure of language — a full half-century before the work of Noam Chomsky and other linguists. It’s the ultimate tale of art trumping science.
More broadly, Lehrer shows that there’s a cost to reducing everything to atoms and acronyms and genes. Measurement is not the same as understanding, and art knows this better than science does. An ingenious blend of biography, criticism, and first-rate science writing, Proust Was a Neuroscientist urges science and art to listen more closely to each other, for willing minds can combine the best of both, to brilliant effect.

About Jonah Lehrer

See more books from this Author
Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the Head Case column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC's Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American and Outside. He's the author of two previous books, Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Published September 1, 2008 by Mariner Books. 257 pages
Genres: Nature & Wildlife, Arts & Photography, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Kirkus Reviews

See more reviews from this publication

So profound were her inklings of human psychology, in fact, that fledgling science writer Lehrer is moved to remark, “the best metaphor for our DNA is literature ...our genome is defined not by the certainty of its meaning, but by...its ability to encourage a multiplicity of interpretations.” In ...

| Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

The New York Times

See more reviews from this publication

A student of neuroscience and literature finds that artists often anticipate scientific discoveries.

Nov 04 2007 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

The Guardian

See more reviews from this publication

(This card-carrying anti-modernist was persuaded – positively charmed – by Lehrer's chapter on Virginia Woolf.) The trouble is, in writing a series of accessible, linked essays, Lehrer deprives himself of the chance to explain why modernism ran so far ahead of contemporary science in its explorat...

Feb 12 2011 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Entertainment Weekly

Jonah Lehrer, a 26-year-old Rhodes scholar, pens a slim, brainy book about the brain, modernist art, and literature.

Oct 26 2007 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

The Telegraph

Jonah Lehrer is making a career of investigating human instincts and bridging the gap between what Donald Rumsfeld might call the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns” of the mind.

Mar 01 2011 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

The Bookbag

Lehrer in Proust was a Neuroscientist weaves an intriguing argument about the relationship between recent neuroscientific discoveries and the novels of George Eliot, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf.

Apr 23 2011 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

San Francisco Chronicle

A scientist by training, Lehrer grasps that literature and the arts are capable of discovering truths invisible to science: "It is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the one reality we will ever know."

Nov 30 2007 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Open Letters Monthly

Science thought it had the tongue figured out…[S]cience persisted in its naive and unscientific belief in four, and only four, tastes.” Ikeda’s work managed to gain “a cult following” which eventually produced monosodium glutamate, or MSG, “[d]espite the willful ignorance of science.” Elsewhere,...

| Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Two venerable and interconnected philosophical problems permeate Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer -- a fascinating, succinct (197-page), if sometimes over-ambitious examination of the ways in which the work of Walt Whitman, Paul C?zanne, Igor Stravinsky, and five other artists anticipa...

Nov 08 2007 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Bookmarks Magazine

Jesse Cohen Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars "At the age of 25 (!) [Lehrer] has written a dazzling yet always accessible book blending literary criticism and neuroscience.

Jan 31 2008 | Read Full Review of Proust Was a Neuroscientist

Reader Rating for Proust Was a Neuroscientist

An aggregated and normalized score based on 111 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes

Rate this book!

Add Review