The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and NewAnnie Dillard
RaveThe GuardianIncluded here are eight short, less demanding pieces taken from her 1987 memoir An American Childhood, offering pointers to Dillard’s evolution as a writer. They suffer slightly through being juxtaposed with her more rapturous material, but even here there are masterful moments, hand-brake turn transitions, and she rattles out revelations in stories so elegant and compact they could be prose poems ... Dillard is triumphantly awake, and these essays are magnificent and dramatic, illuminating and inspirational. Read them; they brim with abundance.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us HookedAdam Alter
PositiveThe GuardianThe middle part of Alter’s book is illuminating on the ways that designers engineer behavioural addiction. He examines goal-setting, and why users of Fitbits often exercise to the point of injury; the dangers of inconsistent but rewarding feedback (counting those 'likes'); the importance of a sense of progress (such as counting followers, or advancing through a game) ... Some will find this shrill and alarmist – new technology has always had its catastrophisers ... Connectivity is here to stay, and Alter suggests that parents in conflict with their kids over it would do well to stay approachable, calm, informed and realistic, and remember that technology brings solutions along with problems.
Admissions: Life as a Brain SurgeonHenry Marsh
RaveThe GuardianHis second neurosurgical memoir is transgressive, wry and confessional, sporadically joyful and occasionally doleful. It is in many ways a more revealing work than his bestseller Do No Harm, and the revelations it offers are a good deal more personal. Much will be familiar to admirers of that book – Marsh skilfully articulates the subtleties and frustrations of neurosurgery – but there is a deeper examination of death, and an angrier exposition of the shameful betrayal of the NHS by successive generations of politicians ... There is something valedictory about Admissions, a clever title for a book that mingles case studies with confessions. It’s elegiac but consistently entertaining ... His book is infused with a sense of urgency, as if he senses his time might be short. For his sake, and for the sake of his readers, I hope he’s wrong.
The River of ConsciousnessOliver Sacks
PositiveThe GuardianTheir subject matter reflects the agility of Sacks’s enthusiasms, moving from forgetting and neglect in science to Freud’s early work on the neuroanatomy of fish; from the mental lives of plants and invertebrates to the malleability of our perception of speed ... Some of the slighter pieces here suffer from being placed between more substantial work, and in one, only one, Sacks’s argument loses coherence. But even then I was conscious of the great premium he placed on flights of ideas ... Two years after his death, he’s still reminding us that a unified vision is long overdue.