Interview with Leonard Mlodinow (part 2)

ROBERTS What other nonfiction writers do you like to read?

MLODINOW That’s a good question. Strangely I’ve never thought about that.  I can name novelists I repeatedly read, but most nonfiction writers that I like write to subjects of their own expertise, and I pick up nonfiction books based on what they are about more than on who wrote them.

ROBERTS Such as what? Which books?

MLODINOW For instance, Carl Sagan if you want to go back a little bit. I enjoyed several of his books; they tended to be, obviously, on astronomy or issues related. I also enjoyed Freakonomics, and I like Oliver Sacks’s books on neuroscience.  And Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness; I don’t know if Gilbert will turn around now and write a book on geometry . . .

ROBERTS I don’t think so.

MLODINOW . . . these authors write about their own field.  Oh, I do enjoy Simon Winchester’s books and he tends to branch out. I think he’s a good writer.

ROBERTS Was he a professor? He might have been a PhD in geology.

MLODINOW I don’t know.  But I do believe he had a number of unsuccessful books before–I forget which was his first successful book . . .

ROBERTS The Professor and the Madman, I think.

MLODINOW The Professor and the Madman, right.  His wife, I think, pushed him to write that.  If I remember the story correctly, he wasn’t initially going to write it. I think I am unusual in that I’m a science writer who writes in a variety of topics.  I am finishing a new book with Stephen Hawking right now, called The Grand Design, on the origin of the universe, and of the apparent laws of nature.  Then my next book is going to be on the unconscious mind.

ROBERTS A friend just asked me about a book on consciousness. She said, ‘Well, what about this book by _____?’ (I don’t want to say his name), and I said ‘No, I don’t like that.’ And she said, ‘Well, what would you recommend?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think there are any good books on consciousness except the one my friend is writing.’

MLODINOW Well thank you; I hope to live up to that. I’ve found that there is a niche available in that field. There have been a lot of books but a lot of them have been case studies or people’s individual pet theories about what consciousness is and I think that for someone like me from the outside, who yet has a scientific understanding, there is room for a good book there. And there probably is room every five or ten years for another one because it is a very fast moving field.

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3 Replies to “Interview with Leonard Mlodinow (part 2)”

  1. Seth, what about The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel Wegner? It touches on most of the major themes, focuses on research, etc.

  2. Andy, I looked at Wegner’s book briefly on Google Books. It seemed to me poorly written. I didn’t get very far so I can’t say more than that. Thanks for the recommendation.

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