Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.
This book is so thoroughly filled with stories, scientific information and explanations for what this all means to us, that it feels like a daunting task to write an adequate review.
First, may I say it is fascinating! What a great compilation of updated neurological knowledge about memory, the critical role it plays in our everyday lives, but put into easily grasped explanations. No easy task in itself.
Charles Fernyhough draws on his own background in cognitive science, the poetic viewpoint of authors, and individual accounts of memory to discuss his central thesis which is that memory is not an unquestionable imprinted movie of something in the past, but an active mental construction created at the moment is is being recalled, influenced by many factors, including our emotional sense of them, the conditions of the moment, and things that we have specifically attended to.
He explores ways that memory is dependent on factors such as smell, emotion, selective focus that serve our purposes, the meaning we create around them (among other qualities). At one place he refers to them as "imaginative reconstruction." He explores why we fail to remember (amnesia), recall too much (PTSD) or dissociate from particular memories. But largely he speaks to the role of memory in our everyday life. His assumption is, that since memories are constructions, they can be reassembled in different ways, as well.
Why does it matter to us how memories function? Well, the common view is that memories are fixed and immutable. Based on that, we use witnesses in Courts that can make a difference in the future of an accused person. On a less important level perhaps, though, consider how often we operate in ordinary relationships insisting that we remember things perfectly as they were. Ever try that at a family reunion, or have parents or spouses ever gotten into fights because of people recalling things differently? Then there is the traumatic role of memory. A soldier returns from the war with raw memories that just cannot settle, leading to an ever more frequent Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Memory is behind most of learning and future thinking. It is part of our imagination, and a central part of all our thoughts.
I feel I simply cannot do justice to this powerful (and extremely well-read) work with this short review. However, I do feel confident to say that we should all pay attention to this information because it will change the way you think about memory forever. Fernyhough has done an extremely impressive job of assembling a great deal of recent research to help us understand the role and function of memory in our lives. This has great implications for many ways that we have made assumptions about what memories "are" and how they actually function in our lives. It is a great contribution to the field.
This book will touch you deeply and leave you believing there is hope in the world. Laurel Braitman begins with the story of her own adopted dog Oliver, who was clearly emotionally disturbed (at some point diagnosed with separation anxiety, phobia of thunderstorms and a form of animal OCD). Her interest in the plight of Oliver eventually led her to start combing the records for stories of other animals who had strange behaviors, not always understood by their owners, to see if there were indications that other animals have emotional illnesses, much as humans do.
The stories she tells, of dogs, cats, elephants, gorillas, etc...who exhibited unusual, sometimes frightening behaviors, have often resulted in tragic outcomes. But she is able to trace many of the conditions described to similar backgrounds for the animals--such as too early separation from a mother, abusive care from humans, being uprooted from familiar surroundings. She talks with animal behavior specialists and human psychiatrists about treatment for such animals.
There is extrapolation from the suffering of animals to the suffering of humans--in both cases leading to mental illnesses (and in more recent times the knowledge and ability to treat them). But she is very careful not to anthropomorphize (project our human beliefs and conditions onto the other animals). This book is fascinating to listen to. If you love animals it should be a "must read" (listen) on your list. It reminded me, in some ways, of the very moving book by Virginia Morell, "Animal Wise," in which she shows repeatedly how our fellow animals have a wisdom in life that we often miss.
The narration is very good, but in books of this sort, I often find myself wondering why they are not read by the author. Nevertheless, this book is wonderful. I stayed up late into the night listening to it. Highly recommend!