Scientists' Nightstand: Antonio Damasio
Internationally recognized neurologist and neuroscientist Antonio Damasio is M. W. Van Allen Professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Iowa; he is also an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. [In 2005 Damasio became the David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, University of Southern California.] The recipient of numerous awards, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books Descartes' Error (Penguin) and The Feeling of What Happens (Harcourt) are taught in universities worldwide. His most recent book, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, is published by Harcourt. His chief research interest is neurobiology of the mind—specifically, the understanding of the neural systems that subserve memory, language, emotion and decision-making—and his clinical interests include movement disorders and disorders of behavior and cognition.
What books are you currently reading (or have you just finished reading) for your work or for pleasure?
The Shroud, a novel by John Banville; Collected Poems, by Wallace Stevens; and Never, a book of poems by Jorie Graham. And I am re-reading A. S. Byatt's Possession.
Why did you choose them, and what do you think of them?
John Banville is a brilliant novelist and should be better known here. He writes achingly well and brings to his fiction the sort of scientific detail that makes it informative as well as pleasurable.
Another writer who achieves this same effect is Ian McEwan, author of Enduring Love and Atonement. I enjoy the music of Wallace Stevens' poetry, and it is interesting to read him alongside Jorie Graham, who, like Stevens, turns the hidden and the barely seen into music. As for A.S. Byatt, her book is an intellectual feast.
When and where do you usually read (specific location, time of day, etc.)?
Mostly in the evening.
Who are your favorite writers (fiction, nonfiction or poetry)? Why?
Too many to list really, even without including any living writer. Still, Shakespeare would always be at the top (I have worn out a few copies of Hamlet). Some great 19th-century writers would probably come next (for example, Portugal's Eça de Queiroz; France's Stendhal). Early 20th-century Americans would be in too—F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I have never outgrown the charm they held for me.
What are the three best books you've ever read?
The books of the following are indispensable: Charles Darwin, William James, Sigmund Freud, Jacques Monod, François Jacob.