Saturday, May 10, 2008

David Dobbs

David Dobbs, author of Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral and two other books, writes for publications including the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Science Times section, Wired, and Scientific American Mind, where he is a contributing editor.

He also keeps his own blog, Smooth Pebbles, where he comments on developments in science, medicine, nature, and culture. He lectures frequently on neuroscience, science writing, and the sociology, history, and philosophy of science.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've had a nice run lately: Robert Burton's On Being Certain, on how certainty feels certain even when we're dead wrong, and is therefore no guide at ALL; The Fish's Eye, Ian Frazier's book on fishing; Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante's Inferno. Great stuff, all of it.

The highlight, though, has been the last two. Last month, in a state of horror and wonder, I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which chronicles the journey of a father and his son, apparently about 8 or 10 or so, through a post-apocalyptic American landscape. This book shouldn't have worked. Very little happens, and of what does happen, very little can be said to be truly unexpected. Yet I did not expect the deep clarity with which McCarthy showed a paternal devotion that was at once singular, because of the situation, and universal: for we all strive to protect our children from the world's horrors and hope to preserve for them some attachment to innocence. I don't know when I last wept so hard reading. Everything you've ever wanted to give your children, and everything you fear you've ever failed to deliver to them, is in this book.

Now I'm reading another sort of tour de force, György Buzsáki's Rhythms of the Brain -- nonfiction, and a serious change of gears -- which is about how the brain's rhythms, the synchronization of the brain waves emitted by its various parts, lie at the heart of our capacity to think and take action. A beautiful, difficult book, dense with beautiful facts and ideas.

A fairly typical shuffle, this, representative of the changes on my reading stand. Increasingly I read in a sort of barely controlled panic, knowing, though I'm still in my forties and ridiculously healthy, that I'll leave this earth with a lot of great books unread. It's good to hit some as juicy as McCarthy's and Buzsáki's: reading these, I know I'm knocking down some of the best.
Visit David Dobb's website and his blog, Smooth Pebbles.

--Marshal Zeringue