Alchemy of Mind hardcover










Does the mind reflect or dictate what the body sees and feels? What is the language of emotion? Is memory a function of our imaginations? Are we all just out of our minds? 

In this ambitious and enlightening work, Diane Ackerman combines an artist's eye with a scientist's erudition to illuminate the magic and mysteries of the human brain. With An Alchemy of Mind, she offers an unprecedented exploration of the mental fantasia in which we spend our days. In addition to explaining memory, thought, emotion, dreams, and language acquisition, Ackerman reports on the latest discoveries in neuroscience and addresses such controversial subjects as the effects of trauma, nature versus nurture, and male versus female brains. In prose that is not simply accessible but also beautiful and electric, Ackerman distills the hard, objective truths of science in order to yield vivid, anecdotal explanations about a range of existential questions regarding consciousness and the nature of identity.



"Ackerman [is] our poetic chronicler of the natural world." — Chicago Tribune

"Partly close observation, partly free association, Ackermann's paean turns the inside of our heads into... [something] gorgeous, tender, jewelled. — New York Times Book Review

"Evocative and meaningful." — Carl Zimmer, The Washington Post

"A love song to the brain... combines flights of lyricism and autobiographical reflection with a cooler, more cerebral amalgam of science, anthropology, psychology, history and literature." — Francine Prose, More Magazine

"Poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman ponders personality, gender, emotion, and language in this intriguing tour of the human brain.  [She] leaves readers with nuanced understanding of - and gratitude for - that 'wrinkled wardrobe of selves' that makes us all tick.  Lyrically described highlights."  — People

"Combining a poet's sensibility with a scientist's love of fact, Diane Ackerman offers us An Alchemy of Mind, a brilliant distillation of the mysterious intersection of metaphysics, and the physical world, all delivered in miraculously readable prose." — Elle Magazine 

"The human psyche fascinates revered naturalist and poet Ackerman as much as any other aspect of the grand carnival of life, hence this agile, involving, and uniquely far-ranging and insightful inquiry into “how the brain becomes the mind.” As always, Ackerman is positively scintillating, thanks to the intensity of her observations, the imaginativeness of her interpretations of both natural phenomena and science, the splendor of her distinctive prose, and her flair for making her discoveries personal, relevant, and resonant. Erudite and playful, Ackerman explores the differences between the right and left brains and the brains of men and women, and cogently explains the chemistry of the “microscopic hubbub” generated inside our heads as neurons speak “an electrochemical lingo all their own.” She explicates memory, ponders the jumble of genetics and circumstances that engender personalities, delineates the mechanics and impact of emotions, and reveals how profoundly malleable and adaptive the brain is. Most movingly, Ackerman marvels over our creativity, especially our facilities for language, story, and metaphor. She writes, “One of the most surprising facts about human beings is that we seem to require a poetic version of life,” the very gift Ackerman bestows upon her rapt and illuminated readers. — Booklist


© 2022 Diane Ackerman