Bookmarks Issue: 
Jonah Lehrer

737332.pngIn his recent bestselling book, How We Decide ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2009), Columbia University graduate Jonah Lehrer explores the science behind how we make up our minds. He is also the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist (3.5 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2008) and a contributing editor at Wired magazine.

The Topic: Tired and disillusioned, Bob Dylan decided to give up on the music business altogether. But it was in the seclusion of his Woodstock, New York, cabin that he found his greatest inspiration. The result? Like a Rolling Stone. Lehrer uses Dylan’s story, along with the successes of other artists, poets, athletes, and scientists—from Yo-Yo Ma to David Byrne, Pixar animators, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and Israeli army reservists—to show that our greatest ability is to "imagine what has never existed." Using neuroscience to support his studies and connect his creative thinkers’ endeavors, he also shows why some cities are more innovative than others, and why criticism, unlike brainstorming, can do wonders for creative output.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780547386072

Barnes and Noble Review 4 of 5 Stars
"His investigation into how we invent new things, and why some people and communities are more creative than others, takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey through the work of social scientists and neurological researchers—but also into the lives and insights of inventors and engineers, writers and salespeople, musicians and magicians, teachers and students. The result is a bracing, entertaining and counterintuitive guide to an aspect of ourselves that often seems an unsolvable mystery." Bill Tipper

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Lehrer, 30, weaves the neuroscience behind human creativity into lively narratives populated with memorable characters. So while readers learn about the anterior superior temporal gyrus, the posterior cingulate, the medial temporal lobe and the precuneus—all areas of the brain—the complex subject never becomes dry or too difficult." Roberta MacInnis

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is an absolutely delicious idea, a way of living that Lehrer further illuminates with neuroscience. … Except that, as the book progressed, it felt as though the conclusion was foregone; that each segment looked at the same logical end, just from different angles, and, for this reader, it became somewhat redundant and reductive." Nancy Rommelmann

Washington Post HHHJ
"Imagine doesn’t offer a prescription for how we are to become more imaginative, but it does emphasize some key ingredients of a creative culture: taking education seriously, increasing possibilities for human mixing and cultivating a willingness to take risks. Lehrer practices what he preaches, showing an appetite for learning, a determined effort to cross fields and disciplines, and a delight in exploring new possibilities." Michael S. Roth

Critical Summary

Imagine offers a fascinating look into how the creative mind works. Critics cited the personal stories and anecdotes as the best part of the book, from the cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, who likened his work to play, to poet W. H. Auden, who often relied on Benzedrine for inspiration. Most felt that the scientific studies behind the creative process were less interesting, though they commended Lehrer for presenting his data in a clear, readable fashion. Only the Washington Post questioned Lehrer’s claims, noting that "the science stories seem to overreach, pretending to offer explanations for creativity by finding precise locations for the multitudinous connections that the brain generates." But overall, readers interested in learning how to tap their creative potential will find Imagine full of inspiring, innovative ideas—though, of course, no substitute for thinking up their own.