cover image Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why We Forget

Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why We Forget

Rebecca Rupp. Crown Publishers, $23 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70321-2

An ant's brain is smaller than a grain of salt, but ants have superb memories that permit them to recognize each other by body odor; elephants do, indeed, seldom forget; and the French surgeon Paul Broca attempted to demonstrate that the brains of Frenchmen are larger than those of Germans (owing, he thought, to the Germans' proclivity for beer versus the French taste for wine)--although the implications of this were uncertain for its effect on memory. In this collection of brief essays on memory and the brain, scientist-writer Rupp (Everything You Never Learned About Birds) offers a sprightly melange of entertaining, easily digested bites of science, legend, myth, jokes and stories of little-known and famous political, literary, religious, scientific and otherwise historic figures. Her many quotations--from Homer and Shakespeare to Toscanini--are collectors' items. ""Through memory,"" writes Rupp, ""we shape our characters, build our careers, forge our relationships and write our mental autobiographies, the unique and irreplaceable histories of ourselves."" Her explanations of the scientific history of brain studies are lucid, and she makes an exciting story of the functions and malfunctions of memory. (Jan.)