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Book Review: A Man Without Words by Susan Schaller

A Man Without WordsA Man Without Words by Susan Schaller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Man Without Words. A man without language. Not just the lack of language, but the lack of a concept of language. No common means of communication, no idea that everything around us in the world, and a whole invisible world of non-tangibles (emotions, actions, tenses) has been given a name. Think for a moment what that would be like, to reach adulthood and be in an incomprehensible and lonely world. A world governed by seemingly arbitrary rules.

While working as a sign language translator Susan Schaller encountered such a man: Idefonso. A Man Without Words is the story of how she worked with him and taught him his first language. This personal account is a pleasure to read and through the course of the book you will find yourself deeply moved by the lonliness of Indefonso’s world and the sheer tenacity and intelligence of this man who simply would not rest until he had learned how to communicate.

Aside from the story of Susan and Ildefonso, there is also a wider impact in terms of the Deaf culture. Throughout the book Susan Schaller shows a real understanding and respect for Deaf culture which most hearing persons lack, even those who do speak sign language of some sort. Reading this book has given me a better understanding of Deaf culture, and the fierce pride that exists there.

This book is also interesting from a developmental psychology point of view. Although it lacks the detail of a full psychological case study, there are insights here that shine new light on the language vs thought debate and the revelation that languageless individuals are not nearly as rare as many professionals seem to think.

All in all a great book that tells a fascinating and moving story. Definately one I am proud to have on my shelf!

Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram

Cover of the book Obedience to Authority by Stanley MilgramStarting in 1961 American psychologist Stanley Milgram started a series of experiments which were to become some of the most famous and revealing in history. After the Nuremberg Trials a lot of people were asking how the Nazis could have carried out the atrocities they did, and a common defense presented by those on trial was “I was following orders”. It was hard to believe, however, that people could really commit such heinous acts simply because they were ordered to. Milgram’s experiments showed that not only can the presence of authority easily influence people to bypass their moral judgements and inflict harm on others, but that the capacity and mechanisms for this exists inside each one of us.

This book, published over ten years after the experiments, is Milgram’s chronicling of the experiments, the results, the analysis and conclusions he drew, and some of the critical reactions it provoked. It is also very readable, which I have found is unusual for a book written by a psychologist. There is no excessive jargon or academic writing style, just plain language and good explanations.

Personally I found the book fascinating, and while I already knew about the famous experiment I was unaware that quite so many variations had been carried out and covering such a wide sample of the population. I would say this book should be required reading for just about everyone, not just psychologists, as it teaches us a lot about our own obedience to authority and by learning the lessons here we can learn to question and challenge authority when appropriate.

If you find this book interesting you may also like:
The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil – Philip Zimbardo
Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century – Lauren Slater

The Brain Book by Rita Carter

Cover Image from The Brain BookWow. What a book.
I’m not sure what I expected from The Brain Book, but it surpassed any expectations I might have had. What looks on the outside like a fun book about the brain for mid to late teens is actually intensely packed full of very detailed information – particularly anatomy – wonderfully laid out and illustrated. The scope of this book and the quality of the coverage make this an absolute must for someone who wants to learn, in great detail, about how the brain functions. I am attending university this year for Psychology and I am certain that I will be referring back to this book regularly for the brain anatomy and neurology lessons! The book, however, is probably not suited to teens at all unless they have a very specific interest in the brain, since the information is so detailed.

The Brain Book starts with 20 or so pages of MRI scans, showing cross-sections right through the brain to help you build up a real understanding of the internal anatomy and relate later discussions of brain parts (everything from the corpus callosum to the globus pallidus) back to a real brain. The illustration diagrams, again particularly of the anatomy of the brain, are clearer and easier to understand than any I have seen in any of the many psychology textbooks I have looked at.

The book is broken into the following sections, making up the circa 240 large-format pages of the book:

  • Introduction
  • The Brain and the Body
  • Brain Anatomy
  • The Senses
  • Movement and Control
  • Emotions and Feeling
  • The Social Brain
  • Language and Communication
  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Consciousness
  • The Individual Brain
  • Development and Aging
  • Disease and Disorders

All in all this is a truly fantastic book, put together with amazing attention to detail to create something that is almost as much a piece of art as it is an informative resource! The glossy pages, high quality illustrations, and simple to read show once again the DK rule the roost when it comes to publishing the best non-fiction resources around!

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