Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Title: The Historian : A Novel
Publication Info: Back Bay Books (2006)
This novel is a horror/thriller/mystery in the vein of Dan Brown or Katherine Neville but thankfully more literary in nature. In several layers of framing stories, The Historian tells of the search to find (and eliminate) the immortal Vlad Ţepeş (aka Dracula). A girl learns of her parents quest to find Dracula from her father’s stories and letters, he having carried on the quest from his college mentor. The story is fun to read as clues are pieced together and various and sundry European nations are visited. It never feels that the main characters are really at risk though, and with the frequent allusions to Hitler and Stalin makes the Dracula in this novel appear to be an amateur.
Recommended books: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman and Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Author: Jonah Lehrer
Title: How We Decide
Publication Info: Brilliance Audio on CD Unabridged Lib Ed (2009), Edition: Library, Audio CD
This book is an entertaining summary of the neuroscience behind human decision making. Lehrer fills the book with lots of vivid stories of airline pilots, athletes and military personnel making split-second decisions as well as other examples of people making very poor decisions and even the effects of damaged minds on decision-making (including a chilling chapter on psychopaths). Decisions are examined by what part of the brain they work from and how different areas of the brain can work against one another. Some counterintuitive conclusions are explained such as that one cannot make decisions without emotions and that in some cases the more one examines the options the odds of making the right decision are decreased. A good book for getting to know one’s brain better.
This research can also help explain why we get cranky when we’re hungry and tired: the brain is less able to suppress the negative emotions sparked by small annoyances. A bad mood is really just a run-down prefrontal cortex.
Recommended books: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath