Field Notes from the AJC Decatur Book Festival: 2014

By Dora Guzman

As a budding neuroscientist, hoping to one day communicate with the masses, I ventured to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) Decatur Book Festival (Friday, August 29th –Sunday, August 31st) to see how science authors communicated their science. As the largest independent book festival in the United States, the Decatur Book Festival drew a diverse population from the metro Atlanta area and even had a “science track” that highlighted ten recently published science books. I attended three of these science events that peaked my personal interest: “The Organized Mind” by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, “Animal Madness” by Dr. Laurel Braitman, and “The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons” by Sam Kean.

For “The Organized Mind”, Dr. Levitin masterfully summarized recent findings in the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory, focusing on the downsides of multitasking and advocating for more daydreaming to “reset” our brains. Interestingly, Dr. Levitin also discussed the broader impacts of our current information overload and its potential effects on younger generations, urging for more “information literacy” to more effectively evaluate incoming information.

Dr. Laurel Braitman provided a more personal perspective during her talk for “Animal Madness.” She did two separate readings from her book—an author talk staple—and discussed her close relationship with her dog, who suffered from severe separation anxiety. She also focused on the close relationship between humans and other animals, specifically the importance of animal research to our scientific knowledge and the use of animals as both research subjects and patients—as our pets.

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Dr. Braitman reminiscences about her dog, Oliver, during a reading from “Animal Madness”.

For “The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons”, Sam Kean recounted several case studies of brain injuries in humans, focusing on cases where emotions and consciousness were affected. As a skilled storyteller, Sam Kean detailed the specific brain injuries, the behavioral changes produced by the damage, and more importantly what we learned from these case studies.booklist2014

Overall, I was elated by the crowds that attended these science discussions and their thought-provoking questions on these distinct topics. Questions from the audience reflected general societal concerns and a desire to better understand the subject, and included: How is technology (i.e. daily use of electronics) affecting the teenage brain? Are there long-term differences in the brain between reading on electronic devices and paper? What is considered madness? People were genuinely interested in learning about science and its impact on our society.

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