Book Club #1
By Theo Baker '22
Hey guys, it’s your resident book nerd here to give some recommendations while we’re all stuck in quarantine! Since The Exchanged has begun moving toward a more regular schedule, a regular selection of books will follow that discuss a wide variety of topics and include fiction and non-fiction. This first round will be an experiment to gauge demand and hopefully spark some conversation. Without further ado, this week’s book theme will be the human mind.
Number 1: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This is one of my favorite books of all time, but be warned—if you are a human, you *will* cry. Paul Kalanithi, whose memoir this is, was a young Stanford neurosurgeon—the up-and-coming star of his generation, newly-married, and clearly brilliant beyond measure. Unfortunately, a shock diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer at the age of 37 left Paul and his wife reeling; feeling as though they never actually got to their real lives. This book was Paul’s answer. He spent night and day frantically writing about life, death, and our own humanity. The voice of a dying man shines through at the forefront of one of the most beautifully written works ever, and you hear desperation creeping into his voice the closer you get to the end (which was just barely completed before Kalanithi’s death). Please read this if you need to feel something or need to think about what matters more in life (beyond the all-consuming but ultimately meaningless high school work experience). I wish my description could do it justice, but there is nothing that can possibly capture the gripping, heart-wrenching tale laid out in the book.
Number 2: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
On a lighter note—this is one of the most famous works of neurology ever published. Oliver Sacks, a pioneer in the field, wrote prolifically for the New Yorker about the oddball patients he encountered in his work, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is the collection of some of his most intriguing cases—drawn together with lighthearted yet constantly-enthralling writing and a general commentary on the strange inner machinations of our mind. Read this if you want to have some fun while also learning a surprising amount about how we all work (and why that results in some wacky outcomes).
Number 3: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
This is the most factually-oriented book I’ll recommend on this list, but it still manages to retain the page-turning aspects of the other two because it represents a new, totally novel way of understanding humans and how we act. Daniel Kahneman’s formative work, this book compiles all of the research he did to literally create the field of behavioral economics (and win a Nobel Prize) and gives incredible insight as to the weird hardwiring of our brains. Everything, from his division of the brain into the quick-working, intuitive System 1 and the longer-moving, more conscious System 2 to his evaluation of primers on the choices made by humans, represents a massive step forward in conventional thinking about the brain, and the things one can take away from this book will legitimately help to decipher the often-crazy world we live in.