Memory binds our mental life together. We are who we are in large part because of what we learn and remember. But how does the brain create memories? Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel intertwines the intellectual history of the powerful new science of the mind—a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology—with his own personal quest to understand memory. A deft mixture of memoir and history, modern biology and behavior, In Search of Memory brings readers from Kandel’s childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to the forefront of one of the great scientific endeavors of the twentieth century: the search for the biological basis of memory.
When, as a medical student in the 1950s, Kandel said he wanted to locate the ego and id in the brain, his mentor told him he was overreaching, that the brain had to be studied “cell by cell.” After his initial dismay, Kandel took on the challenge and in 2000 was awarded a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking research showing how memory is encoded in the brain’s neuronal circuits. Kandel’s journey into the brain spans five decades, beginning in the era of early research into the role of electrical currents flowing through neurons and ending in the age of genetic engineering. It took him from early studies of reflexes in the lowly squid to the founding of a bioengineering firm whose work could some day develop treatments for Alzheimer’s and on to a rudimentary understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying mental illness. Kandel’s life also took him on another journey: from Vienna, which his Jewish family fled after the Anschluss, to New York City and, decades later, on visits back to Vienna, where he boldly confronted Austria’s unwillingness to look at its collusion in the Final Solution. For anyone considering a career in science, the early part of this intellectual autobiography presents a fascinating portrait of a scientist’s formation: learning to trust his instincts on what research to pursue and how to pose a researchable question and formulate an experiment. Much of the science discussion is too dense for the average reader. But for anyone interested in the relationship between the mind and the brain, this is an important account of a creative and highly fruitful career. ~ Publisher Weekly