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Publisher's Summary

In this delightful, acclaimed best seller, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists tackles the workings of the human mind. What makes us rational—and why are we so often irrational? How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness?

How the Mind Works synthesizes the most satisfying explanations of our mental life from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and other fields to explain what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and contemplate the mysteries of life. This new edition of Pinker’s bold and buoyant classic is updated with a new foreword by the author.

©2011 Steven Pinker (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“Undeniably brilliant.” (Newsday)
"Big, brash, and a lot of fun.” (Time)
“Hugely entertaining.... always sparkling and provoking.” (Wall Street Journal)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Excellent, but a difficult listen.

What made the experience of listening to How the Mind Works the most enjoyable?

Pinker answers a lot of questions about how and why people think the way they do. As always, he doesn't just make assertions, he backs everything up by explaining the state of the research and the ideas of the researchers in the field (even when those ideas are different from his). It's a much easier read than actual research papers, and has wit and good story telling to leven the large doses of information, but it's not easy to follow when listening. It requires a lot of concentration or you can do what I did and just listen to everything twice, sometimes three times, until you get it. <br/><br/>If you consider yourself an intellectual, you'll want to be familiar with Stephen Pinker's work. The Better Angels of our Nature, and The Blank Slate are easier to pick up just listening once so I would recommend one of those as a place to start.<br/><br/>This book was written more than 10 years ago. It's holding up very well though and an afterword written only a couple of years ago is included which explains how recent research relates to the book.

94 of 96 people found this review helpful

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Classic!

This is one of my favorite books, and the audio format does not disappoint. If you're interested about human nature, why we are the way we are, why we're so smart, why we're conscious, and even why fools fall in love, this book is for you. (But be warned, this book is for people who like to think; don't expect to breeze through it like a malcom gladwell book.) Also, one recommendation: unless you're really interested in visual perception, I would recommend skipping the chapter called "The Mind's Eye," as it is hard to follow in audio format without the pictures, and it is the most technical chapter.

29 of 31 people found this review helpful

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Misleading book title

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I'd definitively recommend it to friends. The book is very interesting, but Pinker got the title wrong. The book explains very well WHAT the mind works, and WHY does it make sense that the mind does what it does. But the book NEVER explains HOW the mind does it.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The most interesting is the variety of topics covered in the book. Full with interesting specific cases and references to studies.<br/><br/>The least interesting is the lack of substance in the theory of How the mind works. Pinker basically pushes 3 ideas through: 1) natural selection, 2) the mind is made up of organs like the rest of the body, 3) the analogy of the mind as a computational device<br/><br/>As much as those ideas are interesting, they are old and well accepted. So, the book is just a nice way to put them together, but without bringing any new argument to the discussion.

What about Mel Foster’s performance did you like?

The performance of Mel Foster was outstanding.

42 of 46 people found this review helpful

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Classic Pinker

In this wonderfully informative and entertaining book on the human thought process, the source of emotions, sexual desire and everything else this marvelous three pound lump of spam in our head does for us, Pinker writes in the intelligent but amazingly amusing and witty style that makes him one of the greatest translators of complex science into lay terms, in the main because he does so without compromising or dumbing-down in the process. It is no wonder that this man is considered one of the greatest minds of our time. Buy the book and find out how his, and everyone else's works--and why.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Loved it

Would you listen to How the Mind Works again? Why?

Yes, there's. Lot in here, some 25 hours worth of listening, and I want to come ack and listen to some things again!

What was one of the most memorable moments of How the Mind Works?

The development of the sexual brain the differences in the sexual mind was very interesting indeed. It's easy to forget out behaviour and preferences were actually established during our extended hunter gatherer lifestyle, and how this fashioned our behaviour from an evolutionary perspective

Have you listened to any of Mel Foster’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Easy to listen to. Always run at 1.5x

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Certainly made me think.

Any additional comments?

Love Steven Pinker, and would like to just read more. It's so refreshing to hear all the concepts related back to actual studies! I enjoyed this as much as the Blank Slate, possibly more.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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There are so many better books on this topic

Any additional comments?

I got this audiobook on sale for $4.95 and probably wouldn't have gotten it otherwise. I really liked Eagleman's Incognito, Lehrer's How We Decide, Nørretranders' User Illusion and even Kahneman's plodding Thinking Fast and Slow, so How the MInd Works seemed like a good fit. The author is not particularly interested in how the mind actually works (and when he does talk about the mechanisms of thinking, he gets terribly bogged down in computer programming minutiae). The book is actually about evolutionary biology, and Pinker spends a huge amount of the book bashing feminists and sociologists. The book was written in the 90's, so the author had probably been on the receiving end of a lot of fuzzy thinking about everything being socially constructed, but his harping makes the book seem incredibly dated (especially compared to the User Illusion, which still seems very fresh). I would also say that as the mother of a truck-loving toddler girl who has been told by other mothers that "girls don't like trucks," I see gender roles being socially constructed every day.

49 of 60 people found this review helpful

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Excellent treatment of a broad topic

Where does How the Mind Works rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I have consumed countless books, lectures, seminars, and podcasts about science, skepticism, critical thinking, behavioral economics, evolution, meta-cognition, and everything else that this book touches on. Pinker goes above and beyond by linking it all together in an engaging way. The concepts are deep but he breaks them down in such a way that they become simple.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Not applicable - this is non-fiction.

What does Mel Foster bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Excellent pace and tone. Auditory cheesecake!

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed several times, and it made me think very deeply and in new ways about many very basic concepts about life, relationships, and thinking.

Any additional comments?

Though we may be sacks of meat through-and-through we still manage to find each other beautiful, and that itself is beautiful.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Covered a world of territory with the mind

What did you love best about How the Mind Works?

Based on scientifically determined information with a clear examples of the scientific method.

What three words best describe Mel Foster’s performance?

Performance is difficult in a work of this sort which presents a lot of scientific information. Difficult territory, meticulous, and matter of fact.

Any additional comments?

Summarizes a lot of material and information without tying all together, but that may be a function of the information which doesn't fit into a neat easily summarized comprehensive thesis.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Very interesting , still sometimes repetitive

If you could sum up How the Mind Works in three words, what would they be?

Insightfull, Profound, Unstable

What was one of the most memorable moments of How the Mind Works?

The concept about the diferent modes that the brain processes information is interesting, still I think needs a little polishing.

What does Mel Foster bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The narratives of personal experiences are very interesting when heard with the tone of voice of the person that experienced them.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

It is a profound book with many concepts which I prefered digesting in various sesions. I listen to it while jogging and it was perfect.

Any additional comments?

Very detailed and most concepts are supported by examples, still there are some times that ideas were presented without too much support.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great brain food but wanted more "How", less "Why"

Where does How the Mind Works rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

I don't have a massive audiobook library yet, but this was one of the best. The performance was well-paced and enjoyable, and the book was stimulating, although a bit mislabeled in my opinion. Still, the title in part motivated me to buy the book, so I suppose from the author's perspective the book's title was perfect!

What did you like best about this story?

My favorite parts, and the reason I purchased the book, were about neuroscience and psychology, and the supporting examples of the computational theory of the mind. I'm not in any particular neuroscience theory camp, but I have learned a bit about it from my studies in cognition and learning as well as human-computer interaction. The neurobiology and psychology perspectives were what I was reading this book for.

Which character – as performed by Mel Foster – was your favorite?

N/A

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I did not have an extremely emotional reaction to this book. It really isn't that kind of book, unless maybe one is somewhat insecure in their own beliefs or can't bear exposure to different perspectives.

Any additional comments?

While enjoyable and intellectually stimulating, I don't like the title of the book. As far as the book's content, it seemed like much less material was devoted to *how* the mind worked than to the author's explanation as to *why* he thought it worked that way. If the book had been more about *how* the mind worked, it would have made a much more useful read, at least to me.<br/><br/>For those who are reading this review prior to purchasing the audiobook, you probably won't regret purchasing the book as long as you are a curious person; however, be aware that a huge portion of the book involves the author explaining why he thinks the mind works the way it does from a natural selection perspective, in comparison to the bits on how the brain does what it does.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Christopher Wilton
  • 01-19-12

Excellent But Long Winded

Having listened to "The Better Angels of Our Nature" with great pleasure, I was perhaps primed to expect too much from this earlier and equally lengthy audiobook. But where as the aforementioned kept my interest throughout, there are some parts of this book that are deeply, deeply dull to anyone but the specialist.

The second six-hour block of the book is given over entirely to optics and perception, a subject difficult enough to grasp in written words, let alone being read out aloud. - As this section drags on it becomes more and more of chore to listen to, which is a shame because there is so much in this book worth listening to on both sides of that abyss.

An editor with a bit more nerve might have insisted that Pinker truncate that section of the book which was clearly the author's person hobby horse, alas listeners will have to suffer for the sake of it.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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  • Judy Corstjens
  • 08-31-15

How the World Works

I read this when it came out - 1997 - and was stunned then. Re-listening now, I find some of the references (e.g. to computers) have dated a bit, but my main reaction is how the contents of this book have been more or less assimilated as the basis of our modern understanding of the world. Evolutionary biology is such a satisfying logical basis for exploring human strategies and capacities - of cooperation, competition, status-seeking, mating, making war, art, physically seeing - that once you have it carefully explained by someone like Steven Pinker, you don't forget it (like I forget history books) and nothing else (e.g. cultural feminism) competes as a coherent explanation. I did get more out of a second reading, but the most surprising thing was how much had stuck, and become the wallpaper of 'my' mind.

Warning - rather slow start with extensive technical details on visual perception. Some readers might get put off by that and not persevere to the more 'social' issues, which get more interesting as the book progresses.

Narration. Mel Foster is clearly a professional actor/reader, and delivers a perfect performance, in a voice completely appropriate to SP as a Harvard professor.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • F Gibb
  • 05-23-13

A Good Work- but hard work!

I'm giving it four stars because I think it's a four star book. I didn't enjoy it as much as that, but I think that that is more a measure of me than of the book.

Now I know I'm not thick, and I work in a profession where a basic working knowledge of the mind is part of the territory. But many parts of the book were beyond me. That's not to say they weren't well written- they were. And it's not to say that they weren't valid and important- they were. They were just hard concepts that needed concentration- and it was hard for me to remain focussed.
It's not a book to get if you are new to the field; and not a book to listen to while you are in the car (as I tried to do). If you lose the thread it's hard to pick it back up again. But after much rewinding of sections, I got to the end. I feel like it has done me good, and I may give it another listen after a few months of rewarding myself to easier digested ear-candy!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeremy
  • 08-01-12

Excellent! Reverse engineering for the mind.

With Stephen Pinker, you always get a lot of book for your bucks! This one is no exception.

I expected a book about CBT and neuroanatomy. However, I found the first sections of this book unusual - a detailed reverse engineering of our misperceptions to uncover the tricks the brain uses in giving us meaningful information about the world in the form of 3D colour vision, stereo hearing, tactile sensations, heat, cold, pain etc. It is almost a book of AI about how you might go about building a brain from scratch.

Yes, I liked his advocacy of the "computational theory of mind" - combined with the "selfish" gene centred model of evolution. This has rich explanatory power, and he is at pains to show how it differs from the prevalent "academic" view of the SSSM (Standard Social Sciences Model), based on the mind as a blank slate.

My only gripe with him here is that many of his evolutionary examples were a bit cliched - I wish he had tackled some of the more problematic areas of the theory such as the adaptive value of homosexuality, suicide, empathy etc. To be fair, he did do a whole section on altruism.

Perhaps the best bits for me were his detailed analyses of humour and music, not as adaptations, but as biproducts of other adaptive modules like language and status - ways we found to tweak our brain physiology in pleasurable directions, and which we thus developed. He also looks at free will, religion, "the hard problem" of consciousness, and every aspect of what it is to be human.

If you like Pinker's down to earth scientific approach, as I do, this book gives a very interesting perspective on the sometimes odd way our minds work, to envisage the world. Some parts are very detailed, and your interest may sag at times, but the pace and interest soon pick up.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 05-26-14

Everyone should be familiar with Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker, a Harvard-based, evolutionary psychologist, is one of the world's top thinkers. You simply have to come to terms with what he has to say about the mind, language and human nature. His books are long. Having read some and listened to some, I'd say listening is best. This is probably his seminal work - it is certainly the one he is most proud of. I enjoyed 'The Blank Slate' and ' The Better Angels' more because they apply his ideas more widely to politics, history and society. But in this book he is developing his core idea - that the mind is a natural phenomena, a product of evolutionary change, and that if we understand how it has adapted, particularly during the millennia when we were hunter-gathers, we will appreciate both how remarkable it is and what its limitations as a tool for thinking and perceiving are.

As other reviewers have said, it is very detailed. This is essential for Pinker to show how deeply he has thought about the issues and to display his command of the available research. Some bits will appeal more to some readers, I was more interested in the behavioural stuff about the way we interact with each other, than the way the mind interprets and uses data from our eyes. All in all it is a tour de force, which lives up to its title. I was utterly convinced by it and have accepted what he calls the 'computational theory of mind'. Now I want to read his crtics to see if there is a viable alternative view.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • P D
  • 12-23-12

How The Mind Works

Very thought provking, full of facts and interesting new ideas, bur a little boring if read all in one go. A good book to take in small bites.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Georgi Vladkov Petkov
  • 01-18-16

Mind blowing

It feels like everything you have learnt could be turned upside down in a flash and it still makes sense.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • DR
  • 05-30-13

the best book I've read about the way we work

This erudite Harvard professor explains in minute detail the functioning of the mind. This is achieved from first principles and evidence based.
It gets better and better on the way through and is endlessly applicable to life.
The post-script where he considers how the modern evidence has affected it is fascinating.
There is a lot of detail but he explains to a non-medical audience in terms that are easy to grasp.
I'm a doctor by training and wish I'd read this twenty years ago. Brilliant stuff.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ross
  • 12-23-12

Fascinating explanations of human behaviour

This is a long book, but a thoroughly good listen, giving some fascinating insights into human behavior and make-up. If you are struggling with the first few chapters stick with it because the last 4 are worth the wait

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mrs
  • 07-10-12

Far too detailed

...for me at least.

I wasnt expecting this book to be so detailed. I found alot of it just went over my head. If you are studying this subject then I am sure this is the book for you. If you are just looking for some thing to listen to while driving just to entertain then look else where. I had to stop after the first section.

Well narrated and I am sure for the right person this is a 5 star book.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Leigh
  • 06-21-17

Not sure how this book became a best seller

What disappointed you about How the Mind Works?

This book needed a good edit. I struggled to remain interested while waiting to find out the point of what was being expressed.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Boredom

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Brendan
  • 03-05-17

An awesome book in every sense

Though the title is ambitious, Pinker's explinations are logical and clearly thought out. A truly fascinating read.