Kent Bottles: The Top Ten Books on Human Memory and How It Works
What does memory have to do with health care reform? A lot. My left wing friends would do well to remember that the public option is not really all that important and that Paul Starr has said why in the New York Times op-ed pages (http://ow.ly/1wOOQ). My right wing friends should remember that the recently passed health care reform law is really similar to those advocated by Richard Nixon before the Watergate troubles, and the Massachusetts law that Governor Mitt Romney signed into law. And everyone would be better off if they understood how all humans create narratives that are useful, but not necessarily true, when it comes to what really happened (http://ow.ly/1wOQa).
- Daniel L. Schacter, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. The chairman of the psychology department at Harvard writes well and explains how memory really works. The seven sins of memory are: transience, absent-mindedness, blocking, misattribution, suggestibility, bias, and persistence. If I remember this book, it explains them all.
- Eric R. Kandel, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. New York: Norton, 2006. The 2000 Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine explains how science of memory really works and how he figured out some key discoveries. His personal history includes fleeing 1939 Vienna after Hitler came to power, and its telling adds to the grace of this book.
- David Carr, The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. “If I said I was a fat thug who beat up women and sold bad coke, would you like my story? What if instead, I wrote I was a recovered addict who obtained custody of my twin girls, got us off welfare, and raised them by myself, even though I had a little touch of cancer? Now we’re talking. Both are equally true, but as a member of a self-interpreting species, one that fights to keep disharmony at a remove, I’m inclined to mention my tenderhearted attentions to my children as a single parent before I get around to the fact that I hit their mother when we were together.” Enough said about self-narrative and memory. Added bonus feature, it’s about the Minneapolis where I live.
- Susan A. Clancy, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. Boston: Harvard, 2005. This strange little book is written with compassion and understanding of folks who create a narrative they really believe: aliens abducted them.
- Susan A. Clancy, The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children – And Its Aftermath. New York: Basic Books, 2009. This is an extremely controversial and important book about recovered memory, sexual abuse, and memory. The way we remember can have devastating consequences for individuals, the community, the legal system, and victims. A gauge of the book’s reception is that the Amazon listing has 13 five star positive reviews and 16 one star negative reviews.
- Donald Spence, Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1982. This is the book to understand how we all are like David Carr in constructing the story of our life to make us look and feel good.
- Rusiko Bourtchouladze, Memories Are Made of This: How Memory Works in Humans and Animals. New York: Columbia, 2002. A basic scientist associated with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory explains her involvement in memory research and how scientific research really works.
- Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel. OK, I know that this slot is supposed to go to Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but I liked this modern, quirky tale about a psychiatrist who thinks his wife is not really his wife better.
- Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, New York: Norton, 1997. This masterpiece by the Harvard professor is out of date, but I still thank him for changing the way I think about memory. I also think his analysis of memory in computer models is the right way to think about artificial intelligence.
- Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2007. This marvelous book comes in handy when you cannot remember what was in a book you have read or one you haven’t read. I admit I have never gotten all the way through Rembrance of Things Past, but I can still talk about it intelligently.