by Steven Pinker
The early chapters of How the Mind Works are slow reading; they discuss the basics of evolution, neural networks, how the mind differs from computers, and other low-level details. It gets a lot more interesting as Pinker works his way through stereo vision, coordination, and various human instincts. The chapter that I found most fascinating explains the "hotheads" theory of human emotion, which gives a plausible explanation for why humans have evolved to be irrational and even self-destructive in certain situations. In the final chapter, Pinker overextends himself slightly while glibly explaining our tastes for music, literature, and religion.
At the core of the book are the theory of natural selection and the computational theory of the mind -- these ideas influence every page. I don't have a good feel for how well Pinker's ideas are accepted in the cognitive science community, but he presents them clearly and doesn't seem to be unduly biased.
How the Mind Works is very good pop science; Pinker knows what he's talking about, cites his sources, and explains complex concepts clearly, using lots of examples. The writing style is informal and often humorous. I found this book to be insightful, and I learned a lot. Highly recommended.
copyright © 1999 John Regehr