Book review: Matter over mind

This brief book review by Frank Norman was first published in the 2013 Mill Hill Essays.

This short novel is an engaging and well-told story about Steve, a scientist at a critical point in his career and his personal life. He is a newish laboratory head, trying to make a name for himself as a researcher and thence to attain his dream – the holy grail of tenure. His research is on the molecular aspects of depressive disorders. The book chronicles his day-to-day activities: dealing with a stream of email messages, searching and reading the scientific literature, planning and running experiments, attending various meetings and discussing scientific results. He also has to handle crises with University bureaucracy, and squabbles within his lab and between his lab and other labs, particularly the large, well-funded and arrogant group of Prof Lewis Smithers.

In his personal life we learn about his ex-wife, and more or less serious liaisons with a couple of other women. There are flashbacks to his childhood and adolescent years where we hear about his depressive father and consequent difficult home life, his beloved grandpa, early experiences with girls and with bullies. Not surprisingly, we also learn that he himself now suffers from depression.

Between these different strands of work, love and family Caplan skillfully weaves his tale, keeping the action moving and the reader interested, with realistic and sparkling dialogue.

Matter over mind by Steve Caplan was published in 2010.

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