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Science Books

July 26, 2007

Asylum: A Mid-Century Madhouse and Its Lessons about Our Mentally Ill Today
Enoch Callaway (2007)
ISBN: 0275997049

Even though there are few certainties when it comes to mental illness - allowing a carte blanche approach to "madness" in popular culture - we can learn from past mistakes regarding the representation and treatment of the mentally ill. In Asylum, author Enoch Callaway, from the University of California, San Francisco, sets out to make this perpetual learning curve apparent to all. Callaway is considered a leading figure among the many great minds that broke new ground with the development of biological psychiatry, and upon reading Asylum it's easy to understand how he managed to attract such acclaim. Asylum is centered on America's first state insane asylum, Worcester State Hospital, Massachusetts, founded in 1833, where Callaway details the often inhuman treatment of its inmates. But he explains that while some treatments may seem brutal by today's standards, the asylum also had its successes. Treatments using basic tools such as a hand mirror, together with a little patience and understanding sometimes led to surprising recoveries that the more dramatic approaches could never achieve. Callaway's examination of the fascinating, and at times chilling, history of the asylum, presents a picture of how our understanding and compassion towards mental illness and its sufferers has progressed over the years. With the decline of institutions specifically geared toward mental illness, and an increasing number of the mentally ill finding themselves ensnared in the criminal justice system, Callaway's message couldn't be timelier.

The Playful World: How Technology Is Transforming Our Imagination
Mark Pesce (2007)
ISBN: 0345439449

Unlike the building of real cities, which we have become accustomed to; the many cities, worlds, and entertainment environments currently being built by soda-guzzling geeks are mostly invisible to us. The very nature of virtual construction has generated a cultural shift that, according to author Mark Pesce, affects both our knowledge acquisition and how we express ourselves creatively. Pesce is best known for creating the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML), which allows 3-dimensional scenes to be distributed over the web. As a technological ideas man, Pesce continues to push the boundaries, and when he's not chairing the Interactive Media Program at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television, he's probably contributing to Wired or Pesce's take on the whole technological revolution is a playful one, with seemingly little time for a world where humans are overrun, zapped, squished, or vaporized by machines. Instead, he focuses on a rapidly diminishing distinction between the molecules that comprise our bodies and the gadgets and gizmos that we use. As well as examining up-to-the-minute ventures into nano research, Pesce reinforces his reality-bending vision of the future with a number of current (and playful) examples. Whatever your level of understanding regarding web-based toys and virtual environments, Pesce's The Playful World is sure to capture your imagination.

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