Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review #12: Original Minds - in conversation with Eleanor Wachtel

This book includes 16 conversations between CBC Radio’s Eleanor Wachtel and some of the most intelligent, visionary ‘minds’ in today’s world. The interviews each start with a two-three page biography and include novelists (Umberto Eco, Arthur C. Clarke), scientist/authors (Oliver Sacks, Jared Diamond) and thinkers (Jane Jacobs, Noam Chomsky). As an interviewer, Wachtel is excellent – thoroughly informed on the lives, thoughts and writing of her interviewees but not overbearing in her knowledge. She lets them speak. And what they have to say is almost always fascinating and engaging: from the profound, troubling questions about the Holocaust raised by critic George Steiner to the astonishing insights of author Jared Diamond (the vertical, hourglass shape of the Western Hemisphere restricted movements of agriculture that passed easily across horizontal Eurasia).

From filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, you will learn that he alternates the making of epic and small films and that he’s seeing his analyst again. Even in cases where the reader may not have a powerful interest in the subject, these voices are often so engaged, they draw the listener/reader in. Amartya Sen, Nobel-winning Indian economist on famine (seldom caused by the unavailability of food) and the absolutely fascinating voice of primatologist Jane Goodall are highlights. And if the interview with critic Harold Bloom doesn’t send you back to reread Shakespeare, nothing will. A feast for the mind. Highly recommended.

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